The Story Of Guy Madison’s Heartbreak Marriage
Guy Madison sat unnoticed in his car outside a back entrance of Santa Monica City Hall at ten o’clock in the morning last November 27, while newsmen, newsreel cameramen and photographers jammed the entrance foyer of the building.
The newshounds, of course, were on the trail of the latest Hollywood celebrity to land spectacularly in the clutches of the law.
Guy, looking taut and troubled, was waiting for his wife of four and a half years, who, at the moment, was being arraigned on a charge of drunken driving. She had been separated from him for almost a year, but no matter what had happened during their turbulent married life, she was still Gail Russell Madison. And she needed Guy now, perhaps more than she ever had.
Gail looked very young and very small as she stood in the bleak courtroom. But she was noticeably calmer than she had been in the pre-dawn hours two days earlier when she was arrested.
Her lawyer was at her side, and Guy’s business manager was in the courtroom, too. But most important of all, Guy was waiting outside, ready to offer his strength, his solace. He would drive her home, and stay with her there, protect her from the curious, from the too-eager press, protect her from the chronic fear that was now overwhelming her—the fear of being alone and friendless.
The police officers read their evidence into the record in dry-as-dust voices: Miss Russell’s speech had been rambling and incoherent when they attempted to question her at the time of her arrest. She had failed to pass two sobriety tests.
Gail unconsciously clenched and un-clenched her hands as she listened, but she didn’t weep. Her voice was low and steady when she voiced her plea: “Not guilty!”
Her attorney asked for a continuance of the case to January 18.
Minutes later, she walked out of the courtroom to face the bright lights and the prying questions. Her head was high. She knew that beyond—in the shadows—Guy Madison was waiting.
How different she was from the girl who, two mornings before, had been irrational and nearly hysterical, who had touched the ordinarily stony hearts of jail-beat photographers when she flinched in the glare of their flashbulbs and made a pathetic little witticism: “I haven’t had my picture taken for some time.”
Only a few years ago Gail Russell had been one of the brightest young stars in Hollywood. Remember “The Uninvited,” “Our Hearts Were Young and Gay,” “The Angel and the Bad Man,” “Salty O’Rourke?” But lately her luck had failed.
Ironically (who knows how painfully for Gail?) Guy Madison’s once “dead” career had, on the merits of his Wild Bill Hickok characterizations on radio and TV, zoomed to new heights. “The Charge at Feather River” is a smash success, and more big adventure films loom for him under terms of his new million-dollar contract with Warner Brothers.
For Gail, this sordid arrest was just one more grim chapter in a success story which had turned sour. And, as on the day her name was smeared across the front pages in connection with the John Wayne divorce case, Gail was alone when it happened.
Two mornings before, while Gail was being booked and fingerprinted, Guy Madison had been fast asleep in his bachelor apartment, unaware that his wife had been driving about the city streets alone, dazed and lost. She was literally lost, as she explained to the police officers, and she was spiritually lost, for the moment, in the whirlpool of her own intense emotions.
But today Guy was loyally at her side, and Gail could feel confident and safe.
There have been speculations, since Guy rushed to Gail’s rescue in this latest heartbreak chapter in their lives, that the two would reconcile.
This is not likely.
Less than a week before the arrest incident, Guy had told Photoplay in an exclusive interview that there would be no reconciliation. But divorce, he said, was not an immediate possibility, because Gail was “recovering from a severe emotional disturbance,” and “thinking things out.”
It was apparent, as he spoke, that he would do no brutal slamming of doors. Perhaps, deep, deep in the recesses of his heart, there was a secretly buried hope—secret even from his conscious mind—that there was still a slim thread of hope for this battered marriage.
They had just returned together from Seattle where Guy had taken Gail in the hope that she would enter a renowned sanitarium where she could have intensive psycho-therapeutic treatment away from the tension-making Hollywood world.
For Gail needed such help, and at long last had agreed to accept it. The story had been kept out of the columns and away from the gossip-mongers, thanks to the loyalty of Guy’s and Gail’s co-workers and close friends.
But the tragic “mystery problem” which is the core of the Madisons’ marital troubles, and the reason Gail’s once brilliant career had come to a dead stop, had been hinted at. This highly sensitive, beautiful and talented girl has, for years, been subject to recurrent depressions of such morbid intensity that she had become increasingly unable to work, unable to cope with any of the responsibilities of her life.
These periodic “blues,” phases of dark, brooding melancholy in which she cuts herself off from friends and family, were characteristic of Gail long before she ever met and fell in love with Guy. Probably her deep-rooted unhappiness propelled her to him. He was happy, hopeful, as she never had been. She said, soon after they met, that talking with Guy was “like coming home to a warm house after you’ve been out in the rain.” But in the same breath she confided that she loved to go for long walks in the rain, alone.
Gail’s mother said frankly, soon after Gail was discovered in a Santa Monica art class and plunged practically overnight into film stardom, that her daughter was a lonely, shy little girl who “locked herself away in her room” for days at a time, refusing to talk even to her family.
Undoubtedly Guy, when he fell in love with Gail, was puzzled by her “moodiness.” But he was confident, as he is confident about everything, that once they were married, Gail would forget all about her old loneliness and her fears and be a happy wife. “I thought I could make her happy . . . otherwise I would never have married her,” Guy says. And Gail hoped so too. She had to hope. It was, she thought, her only chance. But marriage, new responsibilities of home-making, family planning, piled upon the already overwhelming strain of making four to five pictures a year, apparently, only hastened the spiralling pattern of self-defeat.
And Guy through all this? He was a man distraught, convinced that he had failed his sensitive wife, that somehow—in some terrifying way he couldn’t understand—he had not fulfilled his part of the marital bargain.
Desperately, he urged Gail to seek psychiatric help. And her closest friends joined with him in his entreaties. At their insistence, she had consulted doctors from time to time, but never consistently enough to fortify herself against the pummeling she felt she was being dealt by life.
She had refused to part with her husband and her home for intensive treatment, begging Guy not to “put her away.”
Until, that is, her name was dragged into the Wayne divorce case.
Gail recoiled from Chata Wayne’s charges—that John had spent a night with Gail and bought her an automobile—first with anger, then, characteristically, with despair. Despite John Wayne’s prompt defense of her reputation, Gail was crushed. She was alone at the time, except for the woman friend, a nurse, with whom she had lived since her separation. Guy was out of touch with the world, hunting in Idaho, not even aware that Gail was in trouble. She couldn’t face it alone. She went into an emotional tailspin which landed her in a hospital, sick and exhausted.
When Guy returned, Gail told him, her eyes bleak, that she was ready to seek help. She could no longer deceive herself that she could handle her problems alone.
Elated for her, filled with hope that Gail might help herself, Guy arranged for her stay at the Pinel Sanitarium in Seattle and took her there himself.
But it didn’t work. Gail couldn’t go through with it.
It was bearable so long as Guy was with her, but Guy had to go back to Hollywood. Guy, like any husband, had to return to work. Radio recording dates, television shooting schedules, pre-production conferences for his next film all were waiting.
“Don’t leave me,” she begged him. “Take me home.”
He brought her home.
“I couldn’t force the issue,” Guy said upon their return. “No treatment in the world does any good if you’re fighting it. Gail has to make up her own mind.”
So they were back in their separate homes in Hollywood, Gail “thinking things out” and Guy working with grim determination at his three-way career. “I work hard, and I play hard,” he said, when he was asked how he kept going in the face of his and Gail’s long-secret tragedy. And, he glowered, “I don’t want anyone worrying about me.”
Divorce plans were, for the time being, in abeyance. This issue, too, he made it clear, he would not force.
Ultimately, Guy indicated, he expected Gail to go to court to ask for her freedom, after she had had time to “face things, decide what she wants to do with her life.” And, he added, “Gail can do anything she really wants to do.”
Unless, he implied, what she wanted to do was to try again to patch up their broken marriage. That was over, he made it very clear. The inference was that if Gail did not sue for divorce after the “thinking things out” interval, then he would have no choice except to file suit himself. A property agreement had already been drawn up.
Their marriage was over. And not because there was any other man in Gail’s life. Nor any other woman in Guy’s. As Guy said: “Gail has always known that I am a one-woman man.”
His freedom would be an empty prize, when he got it, empty perhaps, as this stalemate their marriage had become.
“I loved Gail,” he said.
And Gail had loved Guy. Their early days together gave him, he has said, “the greatest emotional experience of my life.”
“There were happy times at the beginning . . .” He added, and after a moment . . . “and don’t think I’m laying all the blame on Gail. I know I’m not the easiest man in the world to live with.”
But the happy times grew farther and farther apart as the months went by. They separated for the first time six months after their July, 1949, marriage. Gail tersely told the press “we were unable to work things out.” Guy, characteristically, was in the mountains on a hunting trip, unavailable for comment.
They reconciled after a bit, but from then on, it was obviously a case of two heartsore people struggling to make the best of a union which already had been strained to the breaking point.
In January of this last, bad-luck year for Gail, they separated again, this time with no apparent hope for another try.
On the surface, at least, these two had—in the beginning—more in common than many young couples who make a go of marriage, a better chance than average to weld their lives together into a solid and lasting partnership.
They were an unbelievably handsome pair. They had their jobs, more fascinating than most young couples’, and more money by far than most young marrieds can lay their hands on.
They had made a conscious attempt, in the prolonged period of their courtship, to insure their future happiness by learning to like the same people, the same recreations. For Gail’s sake, ranch-bred Guy, who had hated night clubs, learned to dance; Gail learned to shoot and ride.
They waited four years to marry, to be, as Guy says, “Dog-gone sure.”
Why couldn’t their love story have ended, as fairy-tale romances should, with “they lived happily ever after?”
The reasons become evident as you look at the almost identical experiences which life meted out to Guy and to Gail from the time they first appeared on the Hollywood scene, and at their dramatically different ways of reacting to them.
Guy, summoned to Hollywood after a talent agent had seen his rugged good-looking face on the cover of a Navy magazine, was incredulous, but pleased. Now he could save up the money for the ranch he wanted to buy after the war. When David O. Selznick, the first producer to see him, signed him to a long-term contract, and rushed him into a specially written part in “Since You Went Away,” his only fear was that his Navy pals would laugh at him. Guy, without so much make-up as a pat of powder, played himself in the picture—fortunately, since he had had not a minute’s training as an actor. Nevertheless, audiences responded to his first appearance as the gum-chewing, wise-cracking gob with an avalanche of letters asking to see more of him.
It was “fluky,” as Guy admitted from the start. And he wasn’t going to let it throw him. “A fellow tapped me on the shoulder, and I was in the movies,” he said then, “and it’s quite possible that another fellow will tap me on the shoulder, and I’ll be out.” It didn’t really matter. He had never had any trouble finding a job since he was sixteen and needed money for college tuition. He didn’t expect to have any trouble now.
She balked at going to Paramount at all when word came that Talent Scout Bill Meiklejohn wanted her for a screen test. “Mother,” she said then, “practically dragged me.”
In her first picture, in which, despite her apprehension, she gave a good performance, she was “paralyzed with fright.” After her third, in which she was starred for the first time, she had a complete nervous breakdown.
She had worked too hard, and fought too hard—fought everybody, including her reluctant self.
Guy Madison, at the outset, was really no great shakes as an actor. His inexperience was especially evident in his first post-war picture, “Till the End of Time,” in which he was co-starred with and cruelly overshadowed by Dorothy McGuire. Nobody admitted his shortcomings more candidly than Guy himself, and he did something about it: signed up with a good coach to learn something about this business he had stumbled into by accident.
Gail, on the other hand, always had the spark, the “artistic touch,” as Guy himself said. “She has more talent in her little finger,” he put it, “than I’ll ever have.”
But so much of her energy went into the frenzied effort to do a good job, and then into even more frenzied worry because she hadn’t done better, that she was increasingly unable to work, turned down by producers who couldn’t risk the production delays that her emotional instability threatened.
Guy’s career hit the skids before Gail’s. The war was over and more experienced leading men were coming back to the films in droves. Also, Selznick, who held Guy’s contract, was temporarily out of production. Guy couldn’t have been less worried. He still got his nice pay-check every week, while his contract lasted, and he had all the time he wanted for once to hunt and fish and shoot, to live.
Gail, who had been “paralyzed with fear” at the very prospect of a movie career was now even more paralyzed at the prospect of losing it. When Guy, after a couple of lean years in which jobs were very scarce for them both, made his first really substantial hit as Wild Bill Hickok in 1951, it only intensified her own sense of failure.
She wanted to rejoice for Guy, and she tried. But what was observable on the rare occasions when they appeared publicly together, was a more and more anguished despair for herself. She felt uncomfortable with Guy’s outdoorsy friends and his new business associates; she felt miserable and unwanted in what she thought of as the role of tag-along wife.
It was tragic but it was true. Guy’s new eminence, which made it possible, financially, for Gail to put worry about career behind her once and for all, to start thinking again about the “round dozen kids” Guy had always said he wanted, actually was the final reef upon which their precarious marriage shattered.
Guy Madison had struggled long and silently to save his marriage, tried every tactic he could think of including “temporary” separation from Gail, but it couldn’t be saved. Guy’s simple, straight-forward way of dealing with life and its problem is out of reach for a girl as unhappy and insecure as Gail.
Unless, of course, she helps herself to the help available to her.
The trip to Seattle was a failure, and Guy, as he said, couldn’t force the issue.
But life itself, perhaps, will.
Whatever the judge decides in this case which a frightened Gail Russell is facing up to, it is probable that she will realize finally that the only alternative to a procession of even grimmer misadventures lies within herself.
Emotional disturbance, of course, even more than alcohol, can be held responsible for Gail’s erratic behavior on the night of her arrest. But if she had sought relief in drinking—as many unhappy people do, in Keokuk or Oakaloosa no less than in Hollywood—this new ordeal of trial by jury may force her at last to face her problems squarely.
Her fans, as well as her many loyal friends, will hope so. For Gail is too gifted a girl, and too good a person—as Guy says, “Her basic qualities are as fine and as sound as anyone’s I’ve ever met”—to be wrecked in the storm of her own turbulent emotions.
And as Guy says (and he says it with love and admiration and deep respect for the girl who is still his wife), “It’s up to Gail now.”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE MARCH 1954