Welcome to Vintage Paparazzi.

The Three Weeks We’d Like To Forget

They were three weeks that seemed like something out of a nightmare, the kind of nightmare that leaves you spent and exhausted when you wake up in the morning, feeling vague about what it was all about and knowing you couldn’t remember the details if you tried. Your heart races, your fingers are clammy and your mind is a blank. It takes you a moment or two to realize you’re safe in the friendly familiarity of your own room, with yellow sheets on the bed and shafts of sunshine sifting through the light organdy curtains. Seeing that you’re up, little Pamela comes in to you to ask, “Could I go to Anne’s house after school today? Please?” And suddenly you know you’re back in the world of reality! You blot the nightmare out of your mind, and sometimes, when you’re busy, you think you’ve succeeded. Only every once in a while, little snatches of the dream come back to haunt you.

For Dick and June Powell, three weeks of nightmare started on February 22nd, when the newspaper head- lines screamed out to a startled public, “June and Dick Call It a Day” and “Dick Powells Separate After 11-Year Marriage.” June, the “perfect wife” of so many screen marriages, admitted painfully that she had not been able to make a go of her own. “We have not been getting along in the past few years, even though we have both tried very hard,” she said. “I have decided that Richard and I have the best chance for happiness if we are apart.” Dick verified the report. Speaking soberly and from the heart, Dick said, “It’s true that we have not been getting along, but I thought it was worth giving it another chance. Unfortunately, June did not agree. I think that There’s a good chance of us getting back together. I certainly hope so.”

After the initial shock, a few people in the Hollywood know said it wasn’t as surprising as it seemed. There had been rumors of trouble in the Powell household as far back as 1955 and June’s name had a habit of coming up on the gossipmongers’ tongues, linking her with a number of Hollywood leading men. Others summed up the situation with know-it-all candor: “June’s matured as a star and as a woman since their marriage, and Dick doesn’t realize it!”

And so, when I was invited for the interview, I accepted with mixed feelings, just as they had mixed feelings when they discussed it with me. As a longtime friend of both, I would have preferred not to write of their marital woes, and as decent, normal human beings, they would have preferred nothing to be written, but as stars, they know that stories will appear in print anyway, and they’d rather that this one were done from truth, than from hearsay.

When I interviewed them both, late one afternoon a few short weeks after their reconciliation, June was in her dressing room preparing for a dinner engagement and Dick arrived a few minutes later. For two hours we chewed over their difficulties and the possibilities for their future together.

It was neither awkward nor unpleasant, as might be expected in a similar situation with any other couple. They were, as always, full of banter. Their laughter came easily, as did the minute flare-ups over minor points of disagreement involved in our discussion. Beneath the surface of both the laughter and the arguments was a strong impression that here were two people deeply in love and profoundly disturbed over their seeming inability to iron out their differences.

Dick had suggested we talk about the three weeks they were separated, an unhappy period both would like to forget. It was evident, however, that neither had any intention of proclaiming that, now they were back together again, their basic problems had been solved. June and Dick are the first to admit that as of this writing, there is no obvious solution.

“We are fighting awfully hard to keep something together,” said June, and Dick nodded in agreement.

They are held together by a bond of love, a fact which complicates the situation. If they did not love each other the solution would be relatively simple: divorce.

To begin with, neither June nor Dick wants a divorce. The recent rift was a separation and only a separation, requested by June in the hope that such action, even though drastic, would enable them separately and alone, to see their troubles objectively.

“When you separate,” said June, “it is temporary. When you divorce, it’s permanent, and I don’t want that.”

“But,” said Dick, a hint of apprehension in his voice, “you wouldn’t have asked for a separation unless in your heart you really wanted a divorce.”

June looked at him in despair, the sort of look a woman gives a man when she is wondering if he will ever understand. It was a spark that set them off; June insisting she wants only to mend the marriage, Dick reasoning that if it couldn’t be mended at home together, then June’s request for a separation had meant she was thinking of a permanent split.

It was a small point, but indicative of the strife that stems from their lack, on so many subjects, of a central viewpoint.

In the instance of the Powell marriage, as in every other marriage, there are two sides to the story. Each of them is right on many points, and each is wrong to a certain degree—but each thinks he is right from beginning to end and it seems an endless rhubarb, held together by their love.

In reality the trouble began long ago, perhaps even as far back as the day they first met. There was immediate attraction; for Dick June was, in his own words, “the cutest little character I ever saw.” For June, Dick was not only attractive, he was Dick Powell the movie star, he was established and important in Hollywood, and he was an older man. The last is an important factor, for as such he held appeal for a girl who had grown up without a father.

It may as well be said; there is a strong possibility that June’s initial affection for Dick was the result of a father complex. It is further possible that any man June married would have been viewed the same way by her, because of her innate need. There could hardly have been a lonelier childhood than hers. Her very first memory is of riding in the back seat of a car, her mother in front with the driver, a man June doesn’t remember. It was a balmy day, spring as she recalls; she couldn’t have been much more than three years old. The man and her mother had been talking earnestly for a long time but June had heard none of it until her mother’s voice suddenly cut like a knife across her mind.

“Oh, I couldn’t do that! I couldn’t put her in a home!”

June was too young to comprehend the actual meaning of her mother’s words, but she caught the tone and the sense of it, and it is a painful memory that set the keynote for the remainder of her childhood. She grew up in a void of aching loneliness that cried out for love and companionship—and a mentor.

When she was twenty-one, Dick seemed to fulfill these needs. That he loved her there was no doubt. He was a charming man, an amusing companion, and he also filled the security gap. He was successful, he knew his business from the inside out, and inasmuch as it was a business in which June was newly involved, she looked up to him as her advisor.

As for Dick, the youthful June had all the appeal a man of forty could wish. She was gay and refreshing, and he was enchanted by her naivété.

Put these two together, joined by a love that grew as their years together proved that each was an even finer person than the other had hoped, and you would judge them the perfect couple.

But with these passing years came the rub. If time does not stand still, neither do people. When they were married in 1945 Dick was already a mature man, not likely to change in his habits or patterns of life, but June grew up, literally, as Mrs. Powell. As a matter of course she lost the naivété which Dick had admired. She became a star in her own right, and proved to be a shrewd businesswoman as well. She also became a personality in her own right, and with maturity, no longer felt the necessity of leaning on Dick for guidance and protection. If there had been a father complex, it was gone now. She viewed the marriage as a normal partnership in life. Dick, on the other hand, continued to regard her as he had from the beginning: a child-bride who needed direction. It would be difficult to find a more kind-hearted man than Dick Powell, and in his affection for June he continued to make household decisions and assume the responsibilities.

Dick also felt that June put too much emphasis on affection, that she needed continual reaffirmation of his love. In discussing this need he throws up his hands in a gesture of helplessness. “I’ve tried, but I can’t reassure her enough. There isn’t enough love in the whole world to make that girl happy!”

For at least two years they have been admitting to each other they cannot find a common ground. In February, chafing under what she felt was over-direction, June blew up, much in the manner of a teen-age girl who has been spanked by her father. She asked that they separate.

On the morning of Friday, February 22, June packed her luggage for a trip to Palm Springs, with her secretary and daughter Pamela. Dick stood in her dressing room watching her, and arguing the point of separation.

“You can’t go without me,” he said. “You can’t live without me and you know it.”

June folded a pair of slacks neatly into a suitcase. “I’m tired of being told what I can and cannot do,” she said coolly.

“You don’t even know how to get to Palm Springs,” he said.

She flared up at him. “I’ve been there a million times with you! I’m not an idiot! I don’t want you telling me how to get there—I can find it myself!”

He told her regardless, and when June reached South Pasadena, a point not vaguely en route to Palm Springs, she also reached her Waterloo. She stopped the car, went to a public phone and dialed her home telephone number.

“All right!” she said. “Where is Palm Springs?”

To Dick’s credit, he didn’t say I told you so. He is not that kind of a man. Instead he laughed, and so did June. It is this humor they have in common, the happy faculty for laughing at themselves, that makes the marriage more than worth saving. In the midst of the most serious argument one will say something that strikes the other funny, and the ice is broken as well as the argument itself.

When June eventually reached Palm Springs, admittedly via Dick’s explicit directions, she flew to a telephone to advise Dick she had arrived safely. She called him a second time, to say goodnight. Of such stuff is marriage made. Eleven years together make a bond, a sharing of the little things, that few people can ignore.

The next day, Saturday, despite the company of Pamela and her secretary Barbara Salisbury, June was lonely (the unspoken assumption is that she missed Dick), and at noon the threesome left for Los Angeles.

In the interim, the Edgar Bergens had unknowingly put themselves in the middle. Edgar had flown to Palm Springs to make certain June was all right, and after he flew back to Los Angeles on Saturday he had phoned Dick and asked him to come for dinner that night. Unaware of this, Frances Bergen, also worrying about June, had telephoned her in Palm Springs and invited her for dinner on Saturday. The upshot was that the ‘separated’ Powells had dinner together that evening with the Bergens.

“She ate,” says Dick. “I wasn’t hungry.”

“You know the first thing he said?” June asked me. “He walked in and said, ‘Darling, you look terrible. You look as though you’ve lost five pounds.’ I said ‘I look fine, thank you.’ And then I looked in the mirror and he was right. I looked absolutely awful.”

During the three weeks of separation the Bergens as well as other friends spoke to them frankly, pointing out the difficulties each already knew existed. Without exception their friends hoped for a reconciliation, not only for the sake of the children, but for June and Dick themselves. Says June, “But you can’t learn anything from your friends. We must work it out for ourselves.”

That Saturday night June stayed with the Bergens, Dick went home. On Sunday he arranged to move to the apartment of his daughter Ellen, in New York attending to the birth of her brother Norman’s first child. When June returned home from the Bergens, she saw Dick’s trunk on the front porch, his suits laid over chairbacks, hangers strewn here and there. The finality of it struck her forcibly, and she had to consciously restrain herself from wavering. She must not give in; their only hope lay in sorting things out while apart from each other. She asked Dick to come back for dinner with her and the children after he had moved his things into Ellen’s apartment.

Almost every night of that following week, Dick had dinner with June, mostly at home. Separately, they made dinner engagements with other people, then broke them at the last minute, irresistibly drawn together.

“I don’t know what we talked about,” says Dick. “Mostly the kids, I suppose. We spent some time talking about a new school for Rick. And of course I kept telling June that our separation was ridiculous, that it was serving no purpose.”

Neither does June recall clearly the conversations of that week. “All I remember is that suddenly we found ourselves behaving as we should have before we separated.” If there was occasional laughter, there were also many tears. It was a bad week, so bad that June reacted as she always does to unhappiness; she became ill. On Friday she went to work in “My Man Godfrey,” feeling half alive. The studio doctor was worried about her and offered to go out to the house the next day to check her condition, but June declined on the basis she didn’t want to spoil his weekend. That night she went to her mother’s house for dinner. Saturday she felt worse, and lonely to boot, because Dick had gone to Palm Springs for the weekend, unaware of her illness. On Sunday she wakened with a fever of 104° and telephoned her personal physician. Dr. Corday put his stethoscope to June’s chest, and shook his head. “You have pneumonia,” he said. “Have someone take you to the hospital right away.”

When Dick returned to Hollywood that night he went straight to the house, heard the news from the servants, and dashed off to the hospital. He couldn’t stay long because he was due at a dinner given by the Justin Darts, and in all courtesy could not break the engagement at such a late hour.

“But,” he says, “I had dinner with her at the hospital every night from then on.”

“No you didn’t,” says June.

Dick shuts his eyes tight for a minute, trying to remember. “All right, half the nights, anyway. Besides, you ordered it from a restaurant and it was too cold to eat.”

“I had it catered because the doctor wanted me to eat lots of red meat. And the night it was cold, you didn’t get there until 8:30, when I was half finished. It was warm enough for me.”

They spar like this, and at the same time Dick is wondering if June has had a decent lunch that day. As Dick says, “When you live together for eleven and a half years it can get pretty frightful. But when you separate from somebody after eleven and a half years, that’s more rightful.”

“At home,” says June, dinner every night at seven, and then he gets home after eight o’clock.”

“That was a very important meeting that night,” says Dick.

“Business, always business,” says June. “You should have married a telephone.” Unexpectedly, they grin at each other.

June was in the hospital six days, and the following Saturday Dick drove her home.

“He put me in the living room. And then he went flying.”

“Well, you were healthy, weren’t you?”

“So there I was,” says June, “eight pounds lighter, and healthy—and lonely.”

And Dick refrains from making the male observation that, after all, she had asked for a separation.

She suggested that day that when he finished flying, he come back and have a cocktail with her.

“You really want me to?” said Dick.

“Of course. And besides, it’s your house.”

Not quite knowing whose house it was, Dick took off for the wild blue yonder, and that evening over his cocktail he said to June, “I love you with all my heart. And besides, when you’re not around I have no one to do things for.” 

Out in the kitchen, the cook was startled by the peal of June’s laughter that rang through the house.

Nevertheless, Dick returned that night to Ellen’s apartment, a comfortable place that failed to make him happy, and called June before he went to bed to let her know he had arrived safely.

On Wednesday June returned to work at the studio and, still exhausted from her bout with pneumonia, to say nothing of her emotional turmoil, somehow got through the rest of the week. “The only thing I could think of that week was getting all the rest I could. Richard called each night—and each night I waited for his call.”

On his part, Dick lived through the next few days by inhabiting his producer’s office at 20th Century-Fox during the daylight hours, and thinking about June. “I missed going home and seeing her in the house, I missed laughing with her. And I missed her when I was closed up in a room at night.” In the evenings, inasmuch as the separation seemed to be straggling along in its inimitable fashion, he looked at houses for rent, and thought of June.

Thursday June went to see a preview of her new picture “Interlude,” with Barbara, her secretary. She asked Dick to go with her, but he was committed to attend the preview of a Fox picture that night. “Hmph,” said June to Barbara. “Business—always business!”

“But,” Dick had said, “I’d like to take you to dinner tomorrow night.”

When Friday night came, Dick was hopeful that he might break down June’s resistance. “I never had any other feeling than that we would go back together. I don’t think she really wanted the separation in the first place.”

I mentioned to him the complicated tangle there would have been, had there been a permanent split. The accumulation of those years of marriage is staggering, including not only their home, but its accompanying dogs, horses, hens, heifers, etc. Dick laughed. “When I told Morgan (their business manager) about it he groaned and took a phenobarbitol. “You kids can’t do this!’ he said.”

For the hopeful husband that evening, there seemed little hope. They had dinner at Jack’s At The Beach, and all through the meal and into coffee and dessert, Dick argued with June that their separation was nonsensical, that it was serving no purpose. June, still physically exhausted, was on the verge of tears. She must stick it out; if he missed her as he said he did, perhaps in time he would come around to seeing her viewpoint. She had read somewhere that we quarrel only while there is still hope of understanding. If that was true there was still hope, but there was certainly more of it if they could see each other occasionally and discuss their differences, rather than facing the same old situations day in and day out at home.

The upshot was that they drove home, still separated, and Dick was angry. He dropped her at the house and left, tearing around the lake on two wheels of his car. It was the first real clash they had had since the separation, and June stood at the door and listened to the fading sounds of his car winding down through the trees to the main road. She went to bed, but she couldn’t sleep. If he was angry enough to drive that way, he might kill himself. For hours she imagined all sorts of horrible things happening to him, and at 2 am. she picked up the phone next to her bed and dialed the number of Ellen’s apartment.

“Richard? I love you and I miss you, and I want you to come home.”

“Oh damn!” grumbled Dick. “Now I have to get dressed all over again.”

But it was a happy-type grumble.

Thus ended the three weeks.

As I talked with them there in her dressing room, June slipped out of her robe and into a dress that zipped up the back. “I wish they wouldn’t insist on rear zippers on these new clothes,” she said, and backed up to Richard. “Please,” she said, and as he obliged she grinned at me. “That’s another reason I need him.”

They need each other for many reasons. With all their differences they have a great deal in common. There is their love and their laughter and their children (neither of whom is old enough to realize the recent rift), and a life together of twelve years this coming August.

But they also need understanding, otherwise their love and their conflict make an insoluble combination. It would seem this common viewpoint can be attained only if Dick will realize that June has grown up, and that given the chance, June will prove it to him.

If the understanding did not come with a separation, it will have to come out of living together in the future. The separation, in its brief duration, proved nothing. It was a bitter experience for both, a three-week period they would like to forget. The one thing they learned from it is that while they may not be able to live in true happiness with each other, they most certainly cannot live in a state anywhere near approaching happiness when they are apart.

The three weeks of the nightmare are over, but the shock of it remains. Perhaps now that it is over each of them will be more ready to give, to understand, to change and to grow. It’s been said that “the anger of love renews the strength of love” but love needs more than either anger or strength. It needs flexibility if it is to survive at all.




No Comments
Leave a Comment