The Strange Truth About Debra’s Rushed Marriage And Hushed Divorce
Sad-voiced but without bitterness, David Street told me, “Debbie felt she got married too soon. all of a sudden, she said she wasn’t in love with me. There’s no enmity between us, no anger. This is a wonderful girl, an honest girl. Debbie just believed she’d made a mistake. When you feel that you aren’t in love and you still try to go on, every little thing aggravates you. Then the other person tries a little more, a little harder, but it just gets worse and worse.”
So a beautiful, blond girl waited in the gaudy Mexican town. Around her were chattering tourists who’d thronged across the bridge from El Paso, but she couldn’t share the excitement of the neon’s glare, the crowd’s gaiety, the brassy music. Debra Paget waited in Juarez for the piece of paper that would dissolve a marriage—and a dream.
In Hollywood at the same moment, David Street was telling me their story for the first time: when they fell in love; why they made such a sudden decision to marry; why, in his eyes, the song—their song—was ending so soon.
Only a few weeks ago, “All the Way” was their song. Their paths had crossed and recrossed in the glittering bistros of Las Vegas. Debra Paget was an attentive listener when David Street caressed the microphone in the El Cortez Hotel with
“When somebody loves you,
“It’s no good unless she loves you “All the way . . .”
And at the Flamingo Hotel David was an appreciative audience for the beautiful girl in the white gown, singing the same song.
But they’d only come a few weeks of the way together when Debra called David from the Hotel Bamer in Mexico City, where she was on location for a picture, and told him she wanted a divorce. “I realize I rushed into it, and I shouldn’t have, and I’m sorry,” she said.
“According to the papers,” David was saying now, “our marriage broke up after ten weeks.” He was silent for a moment. Then: “We didn’t have anywhere near ten weeks! Not together. It would be nearer ten days. We went on a honeymoon for two days, then I had to leave for New York for a TV show and Debbie had to come back to Hollywood to do a TV film for ‘Wagon Train.’ I was gone ten days. When I came back we were together a few days—and she went to Mexico.
“But Debbie felt she couldn’t go on. She told me, ‘I feel like I’m tied. I can’t move and think the way I’d like to think. I can’t even get to know you this way! Little things that shouldn’t bother me at all. I know something is affecting my thinking. Perhaps if . . .’ ”
Perhaps. The sad post-mortem of a marriage. Perhaps, if they should meet all over again brand-new. Perhaps, if they’d known one another better. Perhaps, if they had not rushed into marriage so hastily. Perhaps, if there had not been so much publicity. Perhaps . . .
One thing sure, nobody who knows Debra Paget could imagine her repeating solemn wedding vows without believing in her own heart she was in love with her bridegroom.
“There were tears in her eyes when she was married,” David Street was saying slowly now. “After the ceremony we walked back into another room. Debbie still had tears in her eyes, and she stayed very close to me. There was one reason Debbie married me. She was in love.”
It had happened much the way Debra had always dreamed it would, but it wasn’t love at first sight David was remembering now, “I first met Debbie when she was about twelve years old. Her mother was doing ‘Rain’ at the Biltmore Theater here, and I went backstage. I was married to Mary Beth Hughes then, and Mary Beth’s former mother-in-law, Mike North’s mother, was in the same production. So we went back after the performance to say hello to Mary North, and I met Maggie and Debbie, who was with her. Debbie later joined 20th Century-Fox, about the time I left the studio, but I saw her there, too. over a period of years I’d run into her at parties or premieres. But I never got to really know her until we met again in Las Vegas, in December of last year.”
Debra was playing the Flamingo Hotel, and David was nearing the end of a twenty-week engagement at El Cortez. When he performed at a benefit for the Variety Club in Vegas, one of the owners of the Flamingo was there and later that evening suggested to Debra and her mother that they catch the singer at El Cortez—David Street.
“David Street?” Maggie said. “We know him.”
As she’d told me, “We took the dancers —the two boys who were working in the act with Debbie—and went over to the hotel to hear David sing.” He sang all the pop tunes, including a fine rendition of “All the Way,” and Debbie and her mother were very impressed with his phrasing and his voice.
Debbie wasn’t satisfied with the way she was performing the songs in her show. “I caught your opening,” David told her. “There are a few things you do when you sing that you don’t know you’re doing. I can help you correct them, if you’d like me to.”
As he recalled this, he added quickly, “Debbie’s a great dancer, and she’s a heck of a fine actress, and actually she’s a good singer. She just didn’t know how to eliminate these few little flaws. It was mainly a matter of working on one simple exercise.”
It was natural for David to go back to the Flamingo and watch Debra perform, and for Debra and her mother to bring a group and come to El Cortez to hear him again. Debbie finished her engagement first, and David Street saw her and her mother off at the airport. “That’s the first I knew I was beginning to care for her,” he remembered. “When I stood there watching her plane leave, I felt a tremendous longing.
“To me, there was an aura about Debbie. I don’t know quite how to put it into words. She’s a nice person, and she has a great deal of charm. She has a way when she talks with someone—she listens to them. She has a way of walking—with so much grace.”
But David was then waiting for the annulment of his marriage to actress Sharon Lee. “Sharon and I had gone together for about three years, and we’d planned to get married,” David says, telling the story the headlines didn’t tell. “We had been delayed because of a settlement with Mary Beth that dragged on. At the last Sharon and I weren’t getting along at all, but we figured, after going together that long, we owed it to each other to try, to see if we could make it. The day we got married, right after the ceremony, we had a big argument, and Sharon left for L.A. The marriage was never consummated. We both realized it was a mistake. There should have been an annulment, and there would have been, except that it would have involved more paper work than the divorce that was finally gotten, in short order.”
Debra and her mother returned from Las Vegas ten days ahead of him. Her mother has said, “I could tell there was something there—with Debra—but I don’t think even she knew what. When David closed in Vegas, he called up and asked if he could come out to the house, and that’s how it all started.”
One evening David stopped by the house on Crescent Drive, and when he left he and Debbie were engaged. “It wasn’t a date with Debbie really. I just went out to see the family,” David said. “Debbie and I watched television and we talked. When I got up to leave, she walked to the door with me. I touched her hand—and we both knew. It happened that fast!
“I said, ‘Debbie, I’m very much in love with you. There are several things I must accomplish before I can actually ask you to marry me, but I’m close to accomplishing them. When I have, will you consider it?’ ”
“Yes,” she said. Debra wasn’t surprised. She had always known it would happen just this way.
David and Debra had a long talk then.
“There’s something I want to tell you,” he said. “There are people I’ve been married to . . .” He talked and Debra listened. Her reaction? “That was history—yesterday,” David Street said to me, summing up her thought.
“This happened on Friday. I was with Debbie on Saturday, and again on Sunday. But then she was very quiet. I felt she’d pulled away from me, that she was hurt about something, and I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know her well enough to just ask ‘What is it?’ ”
For Debra the practical aspects of marriage, the business aspects, were not as important. Perhaps if they had to wait and wait . . .
“I told Debbie, ‘I think we ought to wait.’ I explained I was in the middle of a deal with Neale Sowers, a friend of mine, involving television and movie production in reference to foreign countries, but until I knew where we stood, I felt Debbie and I should wait.
“I’m not interested in remaining a singer. I’ve been moving towards production for a while. I co-produced the Arthur Murray TV show, and I’d produced my own. But in order to get there, you have to sacrifice a certain amount of performing and income. So I felt we should wait.”
Perhaps Debra Paget feared complications that could delay or prevent their marriage. Perhaps she was even more sensitive to them because of her earlier experience. Perhaps, knowing her own emotional makeup, she felt it would be better to marry then—or she might not marry at all. A friend of Debra’s, asked later why he didn’t advise her to wait, said, “A woman driven by her emotions is a woman who can’t be stopped.”
From the day the engagement was announced, complications compounded. Life with a capital “L” closed in on Debra Paget’s dreams of love and marriage. “All sorts of things happened,” David Street was saying wearily now. “A few things nobody knows—a few things the papers didn’t print. All that publicity hit us very hard, but what nobody knows is that it was the result of a well-planned and executed campaign, engineered with the help of a public-relations expert.”
The headlines descended, nightmare headlines, maudlin stories. “When a person says something of a sensational nature, whether it’s true or not, it gets front-page space,” David said tensely. “Among other pretty amazing things, I was charged with owing Sharon a great deal of money. Actually, it’s the other way around—and I have the cancelled checks to show for it. But this I didn’t want to go into.”
On the wedding day David was served with “non-support” papers from his first wife (Debra was his fifth). As he was saying now, “Arrangements in this case had all been worked out. That was another part of the ‘saturation campaign.’ I found out later my first wife had been called and fed a whole raft of stories.
“There are many things I can’t go into here, but the only time I ever had any kind of marriage was with Mary Beth. We were married seven years, we had a home in the Valley, bought a lot of furniture, put in lawns and gardens, and meant to settle there. I tried a thousand percent. Mary Beth finally divorced me for reasons of her own that had nothing to do with me.”
In spite of all the harsh words and barbed items, a beautiful wedding took place in the living room of Debra’s home, with Debbie, a misty-eyed bride in ivory, solemnly repeating her vows.
There was time for only a brief honeymoon, two days in the honeymoon cottage at the Apple Valley Inn. Those very first days together seemed happy. David put his love for her into a melody he called “Debra.” There are still no lyrics. He told me softly, “My feeling comes out in music, not in words. Debbie loved to hear it.” And David is sure Debra was in love with him—in her way.
“Love is an indefinable word, really,” David Street said. “To one person love means owning, to another love means giving.” To Debra? “To Debbie, love means romance,” David said quietly. “We had a long talk about this in the beginning. I told her, ‘There’s more than love in a marriage, Debbie. There’s knowing each other. And—very important—if a little thing bothers you about me, you must tell me. Just like I must tell you. We must never go on doing little things that aggravate each other. They may seem little, but they can grow big. Marriage is complete understanding and complete friendship—more even than love, almost.’
“But it’s hard for Debbie to say such things. She can’t tell you. And sometimes I felt there was an invisible wall between us.” One day soon after their marriage, Debbie seemed withdrawn and far away from him, and David was concerned. “I felt there was something wrong, and I asked her mother what it was.
“Her mother said, ‘She’s very quiet and unto herself, and she always has been. Give her time to loosen up.’ I wish I had known what was bothering her. Perhaps I could have . . .”
But there was so little time together, during the important first weeks when two people are adjusting to living as one. While Debra made the “Wagon Train” film, David flew to New York to keep his TV date. “An unfortunate thing happened there. I moved from the hotel to a friend’s place, and I left my new address and phone number—but they misplaced the note or threw it away. For two days Debbie couldn’t reach me at all. She was hurt, and it was just an unfortunate thing.” On the other hand David hesitated to call her because “I was working on some other things in New York I wanted to accomplish before we talked. I wanted to have something happy to tell before I called her.”
By that time, it didn’t matter. “I was supposed to have done ‘Today’ and we were working on my doing ‘The Jack Paar Show.’ But I noticed something in Debbie’s voice. I found out she was planning to go to Mexico City for five weeks—and I came straight home.”
Debra Paget had no sooner gotten to Mexico City to star in Benedict Bogeaus’ space epic “From the Earth to the Moon,” than a columnist rumored that for Debra and David it was the other way around—they’d come from the moon down to earth again.
Torn emotionally, Debbie seemed to welcome being back before the cameras. And one night she called David in Hollywood saying she wanted a divorce. “I couldn’t understand it, just couldn’t understand it,” David Street was saying now.
“Debbie, we’ve been together a total of nine or ten days,” he reminded her. “To make a decision of this sort based on being together ten days is pretty rash. We ought to know each other. We ought to try before we make this decision. It can’t be based on you independently. It has to be based on us.”
But during the weeks that followed, Debra decided, “I want to go through with it”
David said he was coming to Mexico to see her. “We’ve got to have some time together,” he said.
There was little opportunity even there. Debra was working from early morning until late at night at the studio, outside Mexico City. Her sisters and the children were visiting her. And Debra was making plans to go to Europe for one and possibly two pictures that would keep her abroad from one to six months.
She still wanted a divorce, and she seemed anxious for David to sign the papers there. “Debbie, if this is the thing that worries you,” he said, “if you feel pressure about this—if you feel I’m keeping you from getting a divorce down here—I’ll sign the papers now.” And he did. “Now you’re free,” he said. “There’s nothing holding you to me—except an honest try.” And he asked her to give them a little more time together, before taking this final step.
“When I left Mexico City, Debbie said she’d wait, that we would have a little more time together after she got back. And we did have a little, but the pressure from publicity was still there. Otherwise, she might have been able to look at it differently,” David Street told me.
Sadness and tension filled the big Mediterranean-style house on Crescent Drive, where they’d promised to take each other from that day forward. “They’re trying to make a go of it,” Maggie said. “I don’t know whether they will or not. I don’t know from one minute to the next what’s happening. I don’t think it’s either of their faults—they’re both nice people. David’s a fine person,” Debra’s mother said, “and he has a lot of talent. One of these days David’s going to be ’way up on top, because he really has what it takes. That’s one thing I am sure of.”
But as for the success of the marriage, Debra’s mother was just standing by, concerned for both of them and for their happiness. She, too, blamed much of the difficulty on publicity and rumors.
“The phone rang—until we had to leave it off the hook,” David was saying now. “Debbie wouldn’t go out anywhere because she didn’t want to bump into anyone. She can’t tell a lie—she just can’t. If we’d just been left alone, so we didn’t have people on our backs all the time. Not just columnists, but our friends, too, constantly calling, curious to find out what was happening, even offering ‘help’ where none was needed. Just talking us farther and farther apart.
“Then one columnist came out and printed flatly that we were thinking of getting a divorce. And then the phone really rang. If he hadn’t printed this, we would have had more time to try. But Debbie said, ‘I won’t go through it! I won’t go through it any more. I won’t have all this happening!’ ”
And Debbie took a plane for Mexico. This was the end. “At least for now,” David said.
Who knows why a marriage really ends? Or when? Especially one that never really began.
“It’s just that everything happened that could possibly happen—and there was no time. Debbie says she just fell out of love with me. She doesn’t know why. She just did.
“But she said something else—and this is a girl who speaks her mind. ‘If we were divorced and I saw you afterward and we saw each other more and more and I wouldn’t feel responsibility to you as a wife—I can’t feel that way now—maybe I would feel the same way I did before. Or maybe there would never be anything there. But if there’s ever going to be anything, it would have to happen that way.’
“I’m still in love with her,” David Street said slowly. “And I still have hope of our being back together. It won’t work right now. But perhaps . . ”
THE SONG “ALL THE WAY” IS PUBLISHED BY BARTON MUSIC CORPORATION.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JULY 1958