The Vacation That Told Us We’d Better Get Married!—Connie Stevens & James Stacy
It was the most fantastic time I’ve ever had. I’ve always dreamed of traveling through Europe wild and free. Not as an actress or a star, but just as me, like any American girl tourist swinging from place to place, making friends with all kinds of people, singing and laughing and learning all about life. Just having a ball! Well, Jim and I made it. You should have seen us on our Vespa, flying through the streets of Rome, up and down the hills. Jim’s a great driver—but the traffic! And I’m holding on for dear life saying, “Jim, don’t look now but I almost lost my leg.”
JIM: She looked so cute with her kerchief tied under her chin, no makeup and her bare legs flying and her skirt blowing in the wind. She rode sidesaddle and she was really a great sport. I suggested the Vespa. I knew it was the only way to see Rome.
We even went to the Pope’s Coronation. Oh, this is a story! In Manchester, we’d gone to mass, Jim’s Catholic, too, and the people were very polite but there was a little commotion because somebody did recognize us. And so we were introduced to the father who was head of the rectory. Father Cavanaugh. We had tea and a little brandy with Father Cavanaugh, and you know what he said to me? “You’re a wow!” he said. And when we told him we were going to Rome for the coronation, he wrote his friend Father Cunningham ib Rome. So in Rome, we went zooming up a hill on the Vespa to the church, there were a group of priests talking and I jumped off and said to one, “Do you happen to know where Father Cunningham is?” He watched me jump off the motorcycle and he laughed and said, “Yes, I think I can find him for you.” And he was Father Cunningham. And this darling man gave me his ticket for the coronation and somehow managed, late as it was, to get another one for Jim.
“But what are you going to do?” I asked him, I really felt bad about accepting his.
“I’m going home where I can take my shoes off, put my keester in a big easy chair and watch it all on TV,” he said. He’d had duty all day and was tired, poor man.
So we went to the coronation. Mr. Stacy said we should get up close as possible. There were only a few hundred thousand other people with the same idea all jammed into St. Peter’s Square. Jim had the camera and was taking pictures like crazy. I got stuck in the middle of seventy Sisters all speaking different languages. It was a riot. Here I was in a pure white dress with a white scarf on my head, I looked like a spotlight; and suddenly Jim’s missing. He’s way up in front with all the cameramen, taking pictures and waving to me.
JIM: You should see the pictures. I used the zoom lens and still all you can see is this white spot and white arm waving among all those black-robed Sisters.
The next thing I know, CBS and NBC are moving in with their cameras and there’s Mr. Stacy, sixty feet in the air on a platform grinding away with his little camera. They’d put on the lights for the network cameras and he’d get in a shot. It was so exciting. . . . For that matter, I can’t imagine any of this trip without Jim and when I started planning it, I didn’t even dream of his going. He was going into rehearsal for a Tennessee Williams play and I was going to Europe with my cousin Carol, who suddenly up and got herself married, how do you like that? Jim and I were at the wedding and all, having a great time because we’d been dating for several weeks, every minute. And four days before I’m leaving, he calls me . . . and tells me . . .
JIM: Walt Disney’d got hold of me and said there was some publicity to be done over in London for “Summer Magic.” I didn’t give the play a second thought.
The next thing, we were flying to London. Of course we had some business things to do. I rushed right from the plane to this benefit for the blind, we got a great reception there, and Jim had publicity interviews set up, but in between we went tearing around London. We stayed with old friends of mine, so we really felt like insiders, not outsiders. No big hats for me this trip, no fancy clothes, Mr. Stacy lowered the boom. When we went to “Midsummer Night’s Dream” we were just spectators up in the balcony and we almost fell out of it with excitement. This was the first time either of us had ever seen Shakespeare and it was fantastic! Can you imagine hearing about Shakespeare all your life and your first time it’s the Stratford-on-Avon company, and the staging and costumes—everything so magnificent.
JIM: Don’t forget Wimbledon.
How could I forget! We took pictures of everything. Movies—we have reels and reels of pictures—but you know something? The only time I got a really exciting moment on film ever was at the bull fights. Luis Procuna was fighting brilliantly but he goofed and was gored and I got the shot. I was stunned, I just kept the camera on him and it’s all there. Jim gave me the camera and I know how to work it even if he thinks . . .
JIM: It’s a Bolex with a zoom lens. Everything she takes she’s zooming in on. We had arguments on top of arguments over that camera. We fought all over Europe. She insisted she knew how to work that camera and I knew she didn’t. (But he looks at her with the softest bluest look imaginable and Connie just bubbles.)
We went to see Sophie Tucker and oh, I was dying to go backstage and tell her she’s wonderful but this panics me, I hate to bother a great star. But I kept wishing she’d spot me, like Ella Fitzgerald did at Basin Street and ad libbed me right into her song. And we went to the Royal Tournament, a wonderful spectacle, the army and navy compete in games and maneuvers, disassemble a cannon on one side of an imaginary river, ship it across and reassemble it on the opposite side. The first team who completes all this and shoots the cannon wins. How we screamed and yelled . . .
JIM: And how Connie used that zoom lens!
Then we flew to Rome to meet more friends. (At that moment Connie clutched her chest and screamed.) Look! They’ve given me an air conditioner! Jim, right behind you in the wall. I’m going to have a heart attack! An air conditioner in my dressing room. I’ve arrived!
JIM: So far as this interview’s concerned, you’ve arrived in Rome!
Yes—well, we told you about the coronation. And next day we climbed on the Vespa and went skimming twenty miles out of town to visit the catacombs. Before it was time for them to open, we walked around and found a tiny shrine in a vineyard that overlooked some ruins. I’ll never forget that day, will you, Jim? It was so lovely. At first we felt kind of holy, talked in hushed voices, grew serious and ethereal, alone in this enchanted place. Then we started running around through the trees. We were on top of the world! Well as we felt we knew each other before we ever started on this trip, our knowing each other really started at that shrine.
JIM: Which doesn’t mean we didn’t have some marvelous battles. Here we are together all day—we’ve only known each other a month and a half but figuring up the time in hours, we’ve been dating for eight months. So here we are seeing each other sixteen hours a day and suddenly one night in Rome when I suggested we dine at a certain place, she says, “Let’s not take this for granted, we’re still dating, you know.” And I’m darned if she doesn’t swing it so that five minutes later, I’m phoning her from the lobby asking her for a date. I really did it. Here I am with the responsibility for luggage, for planning our itinerary, and our plane tickets and she’s talking about dating!
I think not taking each other for granted is very important! I didn’t want the romance gone. (Then they exchange smiles and you know the romance isn’t gone.)
We were told the best restaurant in Florence was a little place called Sustanza. They seat you family style and for the first few minutes I was a little embarrassed—as I always am for fear people will stare at me. I don’t mind people looking and maybe saying something about the show, but there are people who stare you down looking for faults and flaws—are your shoes dirty, have you a glass eye or a wooden leg, what’s different about you than on screen? Just before we left home, I’d had a terrible time at Disneyland. Jim was making an appearance there. I went with his parents, and suddenly I’m like a fly on a pin and people are crowding around wanting to know what Rock Hudson’s really like and the whole thing unnerves me.
JIM: I didn’t understand this at first, why Connie suddenly ducks and starts off in another direction fast. It used to annoy me. Then I realized . . . she’s shy in a way.
I was shy at Sustanza and then in a few minutes, we were jabbering away with the people at our table and everyone was picking things off each other’s plates, tasting different dishes and acting as if we’d known each other forever. The lady across from me had scampi, a whole plateful, they looked absolutely divine. Jim told me not to touch those shrimp but I sampled one, and wouldn’t you know . . . I got ptomaine poisoning. Poor Jim, he was out looking for a doctor at two in the morning.
JIM: Have you ever tried finding an English speaking doctor in a strange country at two in the morning? Take it from me, you can’t. I’d follow every suggestion, then rush back to do what I could for Connie, and go out again doctor hunting. At six in the morning I see this man walking down the hall with a satchel in his hand. The way I rushed up to him I must have looked pretty wild. I told him how sick Connie was and emphasized the pronto . . .
A man knocks and I think it’s Jim and say, “Come in.” Well, he does. Six o’clock in the morning and this apparition looks exactly like Peter Sellers, really scary with his glasses. “Who sick?” he said. “I meet young an in hall . . .” I didn’t believe him. It couldn’t be true, Jim wouldn’t do such a thing. Who’d have the nerve? And all the time, this Peter Sellers character is poking my stomach and muttering, “Terrible, terrible. Knots. Inflammation. Take off your clothes!” That really scared me. “What, what?” I yelled. Then Jim came in. He was eating a peach or something and the doctor jumped at him. Really jumped. “She has low blood pressure. It’s all your fault. This girl is very sick.” Poor Jim was so completely surprised he swallowed the whole peach.
JIM: All my fault. It’s the first time I’ve ever been accused of giving anyone low blood pressure.
He gave me some pills, gave Jim instructions to see that I took them. And they worked. In a few days I was well again and on the train so we could see the Italian countryside en route to Greece. We rode in the coach and some of the people were peasant folks, they hadn’t the slightest idea who we were and yet, the strangest thing, they did ask if we were in motion pictures. We looked it, they said. And then, there were exchange students on the train and they did recognize me, peasant dress and all, and were in and out of the compartment. After Southern Italy, we flew to Athens. At the airport there, in the peasant get-up, I’m spotted by two hundred teenagers on tour from Hawaii. They heard me talking to the customs man and then it was a riot.
We had terrible troubles at the Greek customs. The Greeks do not speak English and do not want to. That’s the reason I’ve been mad to go there. They have no TV and I figured if there was anyplace where they didn’t know who I was, Greece was it. I was so right. They did not know, they couldn’t have cared less, it was hot and sticky, there was a gale blowing so hot I couldn’t breathe.
JIM: The language barrier is fun sometimes but you can get tired of it. I was carrying the luggage and it was hot and I was trying to look urbane and in charge of the situation.
We stayed at the Grande Brittania and I kept putting cold towels on my neck and chest, trying to breathe. We drove down to Piraeus and had dinner at the Royal Yacht Club, went to “Sight and Sound” and saw a brilliant presentation of the Persians conquering Greece and the Greeks reconquering the Parthenon. Old Jim got so carried away he left his seat and watched the performance standing at the very back; high on a rock with the wind blowing, he actually seemed to have a toga on. It’s pitch black with little lights illumining each player and Jim silhouetted against the sky—quite beautiful. The next day we went back to visit the Acropolis by day and it was wonderful but what a walk! What heat! And no water.
JIM: We looked at each other that night and said, “We’re taking the first boat out tomorrow.”
We missed the Hydrafoil, took a little cattle boat and arrived at this island, Hydra, which is unbelievable. We stayed several days, diving off the rocks into the Mediterranean, found a little cove all our own—it was everything we’d wished for. The whole town scrambles up a hill, is all whitewashed and we paid thirty cents a night for a meal.
JIM: You sat at a rickety old table with the dogs all there at your feet . . . and the kids . . . and the food is exquisite: stuffed cabbage, stuffed tomatoes with rice, eggplant in batter, a little chicken, but mostly lamb. Kebob.
We came back to Athens on the Hydrafoil boat and this is an experience—you travel seventy-five miles an hour and you just sit up over the surface of the water. We went below and both of us fell asleep and then when we wakened, Jim was trying to get a good view out to sea and he cracked his head on the window. Cracked it open! Here he was with a great big gash and blood all over and he can’t understand why I’m nursing him.
JIM: Connie made a big fuss and mothered me. I loved it.
After that, we parted. I wanted to go back to England and visit friends P in Blackpool, and Mr. Stacy wanted to visit Barcelona and see the bull fights. We couldn’t agree on that, so
I went on to England like I planned.
JIM: It was terribly important for Connie to assert her independence, prove that she wasn’t a bit dependent on me. She’s a doll. And once we parted, we were terribly lonesome for each other. One night I called her from Barcelona and an hour later she called me back.
The whole trip was the greatest thing that could have happened to the two of us. We were sharing an adventure, Jim and I, getting to know each other. You can date a boy for years and not get to know him the way you do someone you’re traveling with every day, through fun times and troubled times, when you’re having a ball and when you’re tired and weary. When I was so sick in Italy, I knew Jim was someone I could depend on absolutely. He took really good care of me and I couldn’t have been less glamorous.
JIM: Oh yes, I really got to know Connie. I saw her happy and angry and well and sick, all glamour or without makeup—really herself.
What we’re saying now is that our lovely time will go on and on and on—because we’re getting married. That’s right! We’re getting married on October 12, in the San Fernando Valley Church. I’ve always wanted a church wedding, with all my relatives and friends around. I know that when Jim and I went on our trip, there were rumors that we were married, secretly. But that’s exactly what they were—rumors. No marriage of mine will ever be a secret—I’m the kind to shout it from the housetops.
JIM: And when we go on our honeymoon, Connie’s not about to leave me to visit friends in England while I go on to the bullfights in Spain. We’re taking our honeymoon together.
That’s right—we’re honeymooning in Hawaii and Mexico. And as Jim says—together. But I’ll say one thing for this adventurous European jaunt of ours, it certainly proved that we’ll enjoy spending the rest of our lives together. I guess you might call it the vacation that told us we’d better get married.
—BY CONNIE STEVENS AS TOLD TO JANE ARDMORE
Connie’s in “Palm Springs Weekend,” WB. Jim’s in “Summer Magic,” BV.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 1963