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The Private Life Of The Blue Angel—May Britt

The tall slender girl stood silently at the edge of the cliff, staring intently at the waves beneath her.

Her trenchcoat was wrapped tightly around her to ward off the chilly winds—but her long blonde hair kept falling crazily around her eyes—and several strands were trapped by the dampness of her tears.

Standing next to her was a dark-haired youth of twenty-one.

He too was watching the sea. And watching her. And struggling to refrain from drawing her tightly into his arms.

Instead he tenderly put his hands on her face and removed the wisps of stray hairs from her eyes.

They faced each other and the silence was broken. “I love you, Ed,” she said.

“You are the only one I love. You are the only one I ever loved. What are we going to do?”

The boy shook his head. “I don’t know, May. I love you too. I want to try again. But I want to be sure you do too. We love each other but there has been so much aloneness in our marriage. I must finish school. You know that. I cannot accept the position of being the son of a millionaire—who does nothing more with his life than follow his wife about from country to country while she makes pictures and is admired and applauded. You couldn’t respect me for that.

“And I can’t ask you to stay at Stanford with me. It would be so unfair. The whole world is talking about you now. If you remained here in Palo Alto and didn’t make another film for two years—do you think you would be happy?”

“I don’t think I can be unhappier than I have been since we separated.” she answered. “I didn’t want to do another picture. I didn’t want to do anything except come down here to you. The studio doesn’t know where I am. No one does—and I don’t care.”

The boy no longer struggled with himself. He drew his wife into his arms and kissed her hard, and kissed her long. And the wind and the sea became silent.

Later that evening they came to a decision. The decision of not coming to a decision. The problems they had would not go away. Wishing couldn’t make them go away. Working at them would not make them go away. Maybe time would. They would remain ‘separated’ but they would be together. Through their separation they would gain the long courtship they had never had. It was a unique arrangement. But there was never anything commonplace between May Britt and her husband from the very first evening they met. . . .

The man May preferred . . .

May was fancy free that January of 1958. She had been in Hollywood about a year but the run-of-the-wolf pack couldn’t get near her. Young men bored her. Young men who were actors bored her even more. She had had one date with Bob Evans. She didn’t even have one date with Marlon Brando, her co-star in The Young Lions, whom she thought was “kind but not very sexy.”

She preferred older men—she liked their soignee savvy. She dated the Earl of Suffolk and she dated a publisher named Bob Peterson and a Spanish banker named Antonio Munoz.

She also dated George Gregson, a distinguished widower who was a millionaire socialite involved in large real estate operations.

She dated George quite a bit in January of 1958—and when toward the end of the month, he invited her to a small dinner party he was giving in honor of his son Edward who was returning from Panama, May who usually said no to most party invitations said yes to this one.

Some friends have felt that George particularly wanted May at the party so his son could look her over as a ‘prospective’ stepmother. Ed had been only three months old when his own mother died. George seated his son on May’s right that night to give the two a chance to become acquainted.

They became very well acquainted during the soup course.

By the time dessert was served things had taken an unexpected turn.

Love at first sight? May didn’t know. All she knew was that she was interested. Very very much interested in this boy. And her interest wasn’t a bit motherly. The fact that he was just nineteen—three years her junior—seemed inconsequential.

This is the most enchanted evening I’ve ever had, she thought. He is the most wonderful, most handsome man. I thought I could never be interested in anyone who is under twenty -five. But now, I’ve met a boy who loves the things I love, who enjoys the things I enjoy.

And even George Gregson, watching his son dancing with the woman he had thought he might want as a wife, had to admit that it was those two who looked so right together. The 6 4 boy with the wide shoulders and the crooked grin, and the freckled face, lissome blonde in pink chiffon.

And the father realized that while he had felt fond of May, protective of her, proud of her, it would be wrong to think of marriage with a girl young enough to be his daughter. And he felt glad that these two young people seemed to respond to each other so beautifully.

Discovering each other

Ed took May home that night. Two niphts later they were having dinner together by candle-light at the Villa Nova on the famous Sunset Strip—and holding hands and laughing.

“Tell me about you,” Ed asked that night. “Tell me all about you.”

“No,” she said. “I shall be mysterious like Garbo. An enigma. A femme fatale. My desires shall lead men to ruin.”

“Such as,” he laughed.

“Such as—” she replied, her eyes dancing in the reflection of the candle-light, “I desire a big house with six children, with kids screaming everywhere and all eating at a big table together. That would drive any man to ruin, yes?”

She was only partly joking. The house, the husband, the six children—they were all in her scheme of tomorrow. And they fitted into his.

But he wanted to know more. He wanted to know the strange twists and turns that fate “took to bring this fascinating creature into his life. What had brought her to America, was she married before, what were her parents like, her home in Sweden?

Under his gentle prodding, the usually reticent girl told him everything. “No,” she said, “I’ve never been married and I’ve never had any scandal. Life was very simple in Lidingo where I was born. My father was a post-office employee, my mother was a housewife. No one in my family ever acted. I didn’t want to become an actress. If I ever wanted to become anything it was to be a professional photographer. How do actresses get a break? With me it was one-third luck, one-third talent, and one-third the type I am.”

May spoke of her commonplace childhood—one marred by no great shocks or heartbreak—other than memories of puppyless Christmases. Funny how that stood out. Each Christmas for years she had hoped for a puppy. And each Christmas she was disappointed. Her father, she recalled, was a kind man but strict. He felt that dogs were only for boys. And May spoke a lot about the sea that night; about the “way she used to sail with her family and friends among the islands that dot the sea near Stockholm.

So the next day Ed invited her to go sailing. And there was a stowaway aboard to join them: the cutest, most precious puppy May had ever seen.

“Merry Christmas, darling,” Ed said.

There were many dates. As many as could be crowded into three, full happy weeks. They went horseback riding together. They went to Malibu together and lolled on the beach. They talked about movies and the theater and May was amazed how whenever she asked him a question—any question—he always knew the answer.

At the end of three weeks—he asked her a question. And she said yes.

On February 22, 1958, May and Ed were married. At 1:45 p.m. in a little house off a hot crooked street in Tijuana, Mexico. They could have had the most lavish society wedding ever held in Bel-Air. But they couldn’t bear to wait that long.

They returned from Tijuana and found that in the excitement they had overlooked one minor problem. They had no place to live.

They didn’t want to set up housekeeping in Fd’s father’s house—so they went house-hunting on that first day home from the honeymoon. They house-hunted all evening—and in desperation at midnight rented a little house way up in the Canyon.

They moved in immediately.

The first night it rained. And they woke up drenched to discover the roof leaked.

The second day it rained even harder and they couldn’t even get down into the city. But it was their first house and every day was a new adventure.

May’s philosophy

May told a friend: “When two people marry after a courtship of three weeks, how much there is to discover. In our case each discovery is fun. I don’t believe in people going together for years and waiting and waiting to make sure they want to get married. If they are not sure, how can they ever be sure? And by the time they are sure, all the adventure and happiness will be drained from them.”

Every day was an adventure in that little house in the Canyon. And every day there were new plans to be made. Important things to talk about.

For one thing, there was the business of Ed’s future. Before he met May he thought he wanted to become an actor. He had had a small part in The Naked and The Dead and it was fun. He had plenty of money and no responsibilities and all the time in the world. Now he wasn’t quite sure. The fact that May was already on her way to becoming a big star by virtue of her performances in The Young Lions and The Hunters was partially responsible for his thinking. He had seen too many examples of career conflicts among his friends. He was aware of the dangers of becoming ‘Mr. May Britt.’ “If you do not want to have a career in films because of mycareer . . . well . . . then I give it up,” May insisted. “It is not that important to me. I give it up until you decide what you want to do.”

A few weeks later 20th told her to report to the studio for work on a new film and she said no.

That’s all. Just no. She wasn’t scared. She was put on suspension and she still wasn’t scared. She didn’t need Hollywood. She had Ed.

She and Ed kept on making plans.

Her plans included a trip to Sweden to visit her parents and introduce them to her groom. It was an exciting prospect—another adventure to be shared.

They had their passports ready and plane and ship reservations booked, and back in Sweden her family was making gala preparations to welcome their daughter and new son-in-law.

Then one day a few weeks before they were to leave, Ed came home—troubled.

May knew that look by now.

“What is the matter, darling?” she asked. “Why do you look so sad?”

“I got an offer of a job in a picture today,” Ed replied. “A good part. I know I said I wanted to give up acting—but it is still in my system. Maybe—if I did one more role I’d get over it. I don’t know. But I told my agent to turn it down. I told him I was going to be in Europe and I couldn’t accept it.”

“No, no,” said May. “You must call your agent and tell him otherwise. If this is still in your system you must get it out—otherwise you—we will not be happy. You must do what you want to do. In the same way that I must do what I want to do.”

“But our plans. Your family’s plans. They haven’t seen you for years—they will be heartbroken. I will take the picture, May, if you want me to, but you must promise me that you will go ahead with things as we planned them. That you will see your family and make them happy. Maybe I can join you later. Or we can go next summer together. But you’ve had your heart set on this trip for months. I want you to have it.”

The first of the many periods of ‘alone ness’ that were to follow had begun.

May returned to Sweden; to the love and hospitality of her family, to places remembered and cherished. Relatives made a fuss over her. The Swedish press made a fuss over her. But everything seemed terribly empty and lonely. She wanted this trip to show her native country to her husband. Without him—it was nothing.

She rushed home.

He finished the picture—and with it his acting career. It was out of his system.

Alone . . . and bored

When he was younger his family had always discussed the possibilities of his embarking upon a law career. He had resisted the idea because of his interest in acting. He now discussed it seriously with his father.

Stanford had a great pie-law course and it was a little less than five hundred miles away from Los Angles. A couple of hours by plane.

May was equally enthusiastic. Palo Alto was by the sea. When Ed was free from classes they would be able to do all the things they loved to do together—go swimming and water-skiing and sailing. He would start classes in the fall of ’58.

They flew up to Palo Alto and began looking for houses. They had just about decided upon one when Ed received a letter from the government. He had to serve with the Air National Guard for two months—in San Antonio, Texas. Beginning the fall term at college was now out of the question.

In late October, a few weeks before Ed was to leave for Texas, May was sent to New York to make publicity appearances for The Hunters. Ed came along. They planned on going directly from New York to Texas . . . together.

Then it was decided that May would not go to Texas after all. She would be in the way. She would be lucky if she was able to see her husband for an hour a day. It would be difficult for her, she felt, to make friends with the wives of the other air-men. She was still very shy with strangers. She was still confused by the English language.

She decided to stay in New York and resume the photography courses that were interrupted seven years before, when Carlo Ponti discovered her in a retouching studio and decided to turn her into a movie star.

There was another period of ‘aloneness.’ And of boredom.

With Ed she had never been bored. He kept her laughing from morning to late in the evening. They were so vitally interested in one another.

She liked New York. It “was filled with excitement, traffic and all that”—but she still was bored.

Her career was at a standstill.

The studio had taken her off suspension when she agreed to make those personal appearances, but she had no idea of what was going to happen next. She had heard rumors that she was ‘up’ for The Blue Angel. Then she heard that Marilyn Monroe was set for the part opposite Curt Jurgens and if it came to a choice between Marilyn and herself she knew where the decision would fall.

For two months she was miserable as she waited for Ed to return from service.

Finally in January of 1959 he was home again. He enrolled at Stanford. They rented their little cottage by the sea. She settled down to a career of being a housewife. She had one whole week of fixing breakfasts, and watching Ed do his homework and seeing that his books were in order — before the studio notified her to return at once for wardrobe and make-up tests. It was she, not Marilyn Monroe, who was to recreate the immortal Marlene Dietrich role of Lola-Lola in The Blue Angel.

So, it was good-bye to Palo Alto—except for week ends.

Apart again

Ed’s grandparents insisted she move into their large luxurious mansion in Bel-Air while she was filming the picture. She had tennis courts at her disposal, swimming pools, maids to take care of her every need.

But she didn’t have Ed—except on the telephone once an evening and on week ends—and the strain began to show.

Sometimes he’d come to Hollywood during his week ends—but even when he did the magic didn’t seem to be ‘quite the same. Her mind was on her role. It wasn’t easy. Aside from the pressure which came from knowing that everyone in the world would make comparisons between her and Dietrich; aside from the necessity of “having to think about sex from morning to night in order to play Lola Lola—which is not my usual custom,” there was the added burden of learning to sing. Tone-deaf, May spent three torturous weeks trying to lick the problem of putting over Falling in Love Again. She knew the total effect of her entire performance hinged on this number.

Maybe it would have been less of a strain if Ed were able to comfort and encourage her during the times he was around. But he had his own problems. He had two years’ work to make up in order to catch up with other guys his age. At twenty-one he was mature beyond his years. Competing with kids of eighteen made him feel uncomfortable.

The fact that he was married to a glamorous movie star didn’t help matters.

One week end when May came up to Stanford one of the students teased her about her bike riding. Said it was an affectation to make her appear down to earth. May who could blow up in a second—blew up. By the time she cooled down ten minutes later she had made a five-hundred-dollar bet that she could ride the nearly five hundred miles back to Los Angeles— and like it.

She won the bet and returned to Los Angeles a pretty exhausted girl.

But summer was coming again.

And summer meant another trip to Sweden. This time with Ed. This time they would have the honeymoon together which she had had alone the year before. This time there would be no movies and no complications.

She realized there was a strain in her marriage. But she thought: We are still young. We can still have fun together. I more than love him. I like him. It is horrible when a woman falls in love with a man she doesn’t like. I am so glad I like the man I love. Everything will be all right. Summer is coming again.

In late spring he told her.

“May, I’ve decided to stay on at Stanford and take summer courses. It will make up for the term I lost when I went into the Sendee. It is important to me.”

Maybe it was because she was tired. Maybe it was because she couldn’t take another disappointment at that moment. Maybe it was because she was afraid of loneliness again, but May—for the first time blew up before her husband.

For the first time she referred to his youth.

For the first time she wondered if she wouldn’t have been better off after all to have kept going with older men, and perhaps married one. An older man is settled. An older man has a responsibility to his wife. A teenager is a teenager no matter how mature he may seem.

An hour later she was sorry. She knew she was wrong—but the words were out.

Things grew worse.

There was talk of a separation.

Bittersweet decision

Finally a separation was announced. “Our marriage got bogged down by our being apart too much.”

For two weeks May saw no one.

Her studio wired her to report immediately for work on Seven Thieves. She wired the studio she was not going to do the picture.

Then she disappeared. Vanished.

But reports eventually began to filter down from Palo Alto about the girl with the long yellow hair and catlike walk and the tall dark grave-faced boy with whom she was constantly seen.

Reports about the way the two could bs seen swimming together and sailing together and talking very very seriously together.

It looked as though a quiet reconciliation was taking place. And everybody was happy.

Then from their vacuum of silence came another announcement. A sad one. May filed a petition for divorce. The charge was the usual meaningless one— ‘cruelty.’

That’s all.

What really happened?


During the weeks of their second courtship May and Ed had to face the saddest of facts.

Yes, they still loved each other.

Yes, the moments of carefreeness that they shared were still wonderful ones. But they were temporary ones that had to end with the first chill winds of autumn. Theirs was a summer romance and a summer marriage. Ed had to return to school. Ed had to find a future somewhere, a life, a goal. May had reached hers.

When she first married Ed, she said that “maturity is not a matter of the calendar. It is the matter of the heart.”

She learned that this was not so.


May stars in THE BLUE ANGEL for 20th.