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Trouble In Paradise?—Jean Simmons & Stewart Granger

The question came up suddenly. “What’s a house without a dog?” asked Jean. “I must have a dog.”

Granger beetled his brows at her. “Dogs are like children. They need sustenance, training and care. You can’t just—”

“I know. I’ve had dogs. Before we were married.”

“And who did the dirty work? Your mother. You cuddled them and that’s all.”

Her soft eyes went softer. “I want a little dog to cuddle.”

“No little dogs. Not till you get used to running the house.”



Time passed and brought knottier problems. Sidney Franklin of M-G-M had offered Jean the title role in “Young Bess.” It would have been a lily on any terms, but this lily was gilded because she’d be playing opposite Granger. There remained, however, the small matter of prior commitments. Would RKO lend her when M-G-M needed her? By turns, the situation looked hopeful, dubious and black. On one of the blackest days, she sat in the kitchen to be close to her husband, a handy man at the range. As he eyed the small disconsolate figure, his heart smote him. So did an idea. “You stir this stew, darling. I’ll be back in forty-five minutes.”

His errand took longer than he’d expected. By the time he got back, Jean was tapping a foot. On her lips, speech blazed, sputtered and then died, as she saw the little gray poodle peering from under his coat. Next minute the creature was clutched to her heart, sprinkled by her tears. Granger’s arms swallowed them both. “She’s ‘Young Bess,’ ” he explained gently. “And sure as you’ve got her, you’re going to get that part.”



He proved a true prophet. The above-noted incident illuminates their relationship as summed up by the guileless-looking Jean. “He’s very firm with me. I can wrap him ’round my little finger.” But that incident also suggests an attitude better suited to honeymoon days than to the long haul. Are the Grangers going to make it? Stewart Granger’s already a Hollywood legend. As a rule, it takes years to build up a legend. His sole contribution to this phenomenon lies in being himself, a gentleman of wit, mettle and style. Such is the impact of his personality that myths gather ’round him, and his name starts hot-and-cold running paradoxes. They say directors can’t stand him, yet directors scream to get him into their pictures. They say he doesn’t know how to make friends, yet those he makes are his friends for life. They said his marriage was headed for the rocks even when it looked as if he and Simmons formed a mutual-adoration society. Of these hit-or-miss shafts, only the last ever got under his skin. At first it confounded, then it infuriated him. So he armored himself in irony.



“I gather we’re not original. In fact, we were warned, ‘Wait six months, and they’ll start taking potshots at your marriage.’ We laughed—till a columnist rang up one evening. ‘I hear you’re getting divorced.’ ‘What the devil are you talking about?’ ‘Do you deny it?’ ‘Of course I deny it!’ Next day, another call: ‘What about this denial of divorce?’ You smell a trap, but you’re still bewildered. ‘Where did that come from?’ ‘Says so in the paper: GRANGER DENIES DIVORCE RUMORS. No smoke without fire, you know, old chap.’ Then you lose your temper and let the expletives go! Which makes you not only a candidate for divorce but a heel, to boot, and no pun intended.



When you’re hot copy, any wisp will serve to hang a rumor on. Granger’s an ardent fisherman, Jean isn’t. If he took off to Las Cruces with Alabama, his stand-in, the presses clacked. For reasons good and sufficient to themselves, the Grangers decided on separate bedrooms. She wants her windows all but shut; he’s got to have a gale tearing through. He threshes about in slumber like a wounded whale; she curls up like a little dormouse and sleeps through earthquakes. Many wedded couples use separate bedrooms without stirring up a murmur. The Grangers followed suit, and up rose howls of doom.

Stewart—or Jimmy, his real name, used by all those close to him—has emerged from his earlier state of ferment on the subject. With some detachment, he’ll point out not only what started the last rumor but what’s going to start the next. Maybe he’s decided it’s useless to defend his marriage against the rumors; maybe there’s little left to defend.



The latest rumor began when the children of his former marriage arrived in Hollywood for a long stay. Lindsay, the six-year-old, looks like an angel. Eight-year-old Jamie looks like his father, though his father says ruefully, “I wish I did look like that.” He’s mad about both of them. So is Jean, who grew to know them well in England.

It happened, however, that their arrival coincided with the end of her stint, a grueling one, at RKO. She’d made “Androcles and the Lion” and “The Murder.” She’d been planning a motor trip with her friend Valerie Douglas. What with work and lawsuits, Jean had had a pretty rough time. She needed to get off and be quiet for a little while. Jimmy couldn’t go with her. After “Prisoner of Zenda” he was to do “Salome.” He couldn’t leave the children so soon after they’d come, either. “I’ve known Jean for six years,” he explained. “We’ve been married a year and a half. Loving her dearly, I’ll still be able to live without her for ten days, and I have an idea she’ll also manage to survive. But unless I miss my guess, our newspaper friends will have us battling. And there’s a scoop for you.”



What amazes the Grangers most is the way people they’ve never laid eyes on go blithely to work dissecting their private lives, exploring emotions, thoughts, words that no outsider could possibly know.

They were sitting in the outsize living room of the mansion they’re about to give up. Much arrant nonsense has been written about this place. It’s been cited so often as the sinister source of trouble that you half expect to see Dracula scaling its walls. The facts are much simpler. Inexperienced in Hollywood home-buying, eager to carry his bride across the threshold of some architectural paradise, Granger fell for the beautiful, sunny-faced house sprawled over a hillside. Its initial effect on Jean was all he could have hoped. “It’s magic,” she whispered. “It’s out of ‘The Arabian Nights.’ ”



But Ali Baba’s lamp didn’t come with the premises, and reality presently reared its prosaic head. At best, Jean’s no great shakes at running a house. This big one had her buffaloed. In addition, it became clear that the whole project was proving too costly and cumbersome. Granger freely admitted that he’d bitten off more than they could chew, and they set out in search of a more manageable dwelling.

By the time you read this, they’ll be in it. It crowns a hilltop, and its only magnificent feature is the view; skies everywhere, since the place is all windows; sea and city below; a backdrop of the distant Sierras, snow-capped in winter. “Not to mention the spectacle of Warner Brother,” said Jean, “when Warner Brothers is on fire.” For the rest, it’s a modest, informal house with a small garden. On a neighboring peak, they can spot the home of their best friends, Liz and Mike Wilding.






Jean stroked the silvery head of the pooch in her lap. “I plan to install Mr. Granger as interior decorator. Of course, I’ll help. I’ll say, ‘Can’t I have a couple of pink things in here?’ ”

“And I’ll say No.”

“Come up and see us some time,” Mrs. Granger suggested. “I’ll show you the pink things.” She said this serenely, as if in the assurance that their system of airy compromises will hold good, and that you may count on finding host and hostess together in the hilltop house no matter how far in the future your visit may be.

But then you remember that both are of the acting profession and both are British. Their manner on this occasion indicated that she’s the gal cherished and he’s the guy adored. Not that they bill and coo over each other. On the contrary, banter their idiom. British reserve, especially his, forbids public display of feeling. So with obvious relish, they toss the ball of comedy back and forth—only you sometimes wonder what feeling is being hidden. This constant exchange of pleasantries ha probably given rise to stories of strife.



Take, for example, the case of Jean as a housewife. “She can burn water,” Jimmy observes with calculated gloom.

She considered this dreamily. “Oh, I remember once giving you scrambled eggs for breakfast.”

When?!”

“The date escapes me. Besides, unlike certain Grangers who shall be nameless, I went to work at fourteen. I could only cook Sundays, and Mother refused to let the rest of the family suffer.”

“I feel for Mother.”

“Then why keep saying, ‘Come to the kitchen and watch Dad?’ ”

“Because you’re decorative. That’s your sole function in a kitchen.”

“And who does the washing and clearing up?”

“Not you, by any implication?”

“Good. I just wanted that on the record.”



Certainly, these two are a study in contrasts. Jimmy’s an epicure. He knows all about good food. He knows what wine to order with what course. He’s fastidious about the pleasures of the table. Jean’s at the opposite pole. When she’s hungry, she eats something, never mind what. Jimmy feels she could do with a few culinary fundamentals, merely for the sake of not starving if left on her own. Jean assures him that so long as there’s a drive-in around, she won’t starve. But Jimmy told me that he doesn’t give a thin dime whether she learns to cook or not. He feels profound respect for her as an actress. As between the career and domesticity, he says, the latter can go hang. It’s a theme for kidding. Cornered into a straight statement, he made it. “She can’t cook to save her little life. By some fluke, I can. To me it isn’t a chore, to her it is. Why should I saddle her with that boredom?”



Neither, he remarked, does he consider it of shattering consequence that his love is less orderly than she might be. But it makes good jousting material. This time he started it. “She’s the untidiest girl in the world.”

“You’re not so hot yourself.”

“She also loses things.”

“I’m passive about it. They lose me.”

“There was a pair of pearl and diamond earrings. She dropped one some place. ‘Give me the other,’ I said, ‘for insurance purposes.’ ‘Can’t find it,’ says she. ‘Must’ve got lonely and gone in search of its mate.’ ”

For the first time she put on a penitent face. “I lost the first thing poor dear Jimmy ever gave me.”



This was a ring. Jean was eighteen. They weren’t engaged, so it couldn’t be a diamond. Nor anything flashy, since flashiness didn’t go with the girl. Hunting in all directions, he unearthed a treasure—a beautiful old French ring that was perfect for her. “She lost it in two weeks.”

“I had it longer than that. Three weeks at least. And,” with modest triumph, “I still have the bracelet. That was my first big present.” She brought it out. On a narrow rope of gold, four golden squares bore the name Jean spelled out in diamonds. “He gave me this, thanking God that my name wasn’t Esmeralda.” She turned it over to show the inscription, while Granger squirmed. “My love to you, my darling, from Vicy Versy.”



To an obligato of protests from the head of the house against such intimate revelations, Jean tranquilly told the story. At fourteen she worshipped Mr. Granger from afar. Attending premieres in England, she’d wave at this great big film star and he’d wave back. That her wave was anonymous among hundreds of others didn’t prevent her from feeling warmed. She was hardly less shy when he first declared his love. “I’m mad about you,” he’d say, and while her eyes said it back, her bashful tongue couldn’t. But she found a way out. “Vicy Versy,” she’d murmur.

A reminiscent smile on her lips, she turned to her husband. “How can you possibly ever get angry with me?”

“Looking at you now, dear, behaving yourself, I wonder—”

The words may not sound very romantic, but any girl would have settled for the note in his voice.



Granger’s not one to dish up the compliments. His tendernesses take more practical form. Like creeping downstairs to fix her breakfast, when her call’s at six, though his may not be till eight-thirty. Like seeing that she takes a taxi home from work instead of bucking her weary way through traffic. Like being constantly sensitive to her moods. Let her come in at night and, if something’s upset her, he doesn’t have to be told. “Out with it, darling. Let’s have the gory details.” Whether it’s mountain or molehill, whether he talks or laughs her out of it, nothing seems half so heavy once he’s lifted the load to his own broad shoulders.

When he’s moody, he sits and reads and she leaves him alone. When he heads for the kitchen, she knows the skies have cleared. Both own up to tempers, and each lays claim to the worst. “Jimmy blows up and forgets it. I boil for hours.”



“On the other hand, I explode more frequently. And possibly with less cause. If I must be candid.”

Her eyes strayed, as if by accident, to some pictures on the wall. Granger’s an art lover. In a gallery one day, he stood long in front of these canvases by Lepine, coveting them fiercely but feeling he couldn’t afford them. That evening Jean was late in coming home. He read her a lecture. She let him run down, then like a martyred lamb, produced the pictures. “I was out buying these for you.”

Remorse still haunts him. “I groveled,” he reported.

“You gave me hades,” she reminded him sweetly, “for spending too much money.”



Either way—or both—the pictures now decorate their walls. “Adding color,” said he, “to our drab existence.” This, of course, indicated slight color blindness. Under any conditions and even without the aura of stardom, these two would sparkle with their own spirit and vitality. Still, Granger insisted that they lead dull, ordinary lives, “same as everybody else.” What he meant was that they eat, sleep and work so hard at their jobs that, come evening, they crave only peace and quiet. He listens to her troubles, she listens to his, they watch TV—feeling slightly disloyal, but not disloyal enough to throw the set out—and go to bed. On Sundays they relax by having ten chums in.



Their circle includes the Mike Wildings, James Masons, Bert Allenbergs, Louis Calhern, Deborah Kerr and Tony Bartley, Sidney Franklin, Mary Taylor, Sam Zimbalist. Being fond of their tummies, they eat quite a lot and vow they won’t talk about the industry. So they start on politics and, to no one’s amazement, are soon hotly arguing the quality of X’s last picture. Jimmy loves to argue. So does Sam Zimbalist. Their viewpoints run closely parallel, yet for the sake of mental exercise, they’ll take opposite sides and happily stamp their feet at each other.



With Jean around, there’s always a musical background, preferably Ray or Clooney, Frankie Laine or Kay Starr. To Jimmy, music is something you listen to with both ears, not something you have to drown out in order to talk. It pains him that his pet can’t drive one block without the radio on. But he’s very firm with her, so the radio stays on. This curious state of affairs holds good in other directions as well. He can’t abide blue jeans. “If girls are made as they should be, and Jeannie is, blue jeans do not become them.” So Jeannie, finding them comfortable, wears blue jeans. It practically broke his heart when she started smoking. This happened three years ago on a personal-appearance tour in Germany. Waiting to go on, Jean grew jittery. Someone offered her a cigarette. “Thanks, I don’t smoke.” “Try one, anyway. It helps.” It did help, but Jimmy hated it. Seeing that it made him truly unhappy, she tried giving it up. Seeing that she missed it, he threw in the sponge.



It’s plain that he dotes on her exquisite femininity. Hence, his objection to such things as smoking and blue jeans. Hence, his interest in all that concerns her adornment—an interest she welcomes. His likes and dislikes are definite, and he’s vocal about them. In cosmetics, he loathes that made-up look but also frowns on her going around without any. He delights in buying her perfume. From Italy, where he made “The Light Touch” with Pier Angeli, he brought back a huge case of assorted scents. She gloated over them. Next day she nipped into his room as usual and pinched his Knize Ten.



“Why?” he demanded. “With all that stuff from Paris and Rome, give me one reason why?”

She dabbed the eau de cologne behind her ears. “So I can smell like you.”

He enjoys shopping with her. “I like to take a look,” he explained, “at anything over ten dollars.” The truth is that Jean has been reluctant to buy without him ever since the day in London when she tried on a dress by a very famous designer. “If you rip this gadget off,” advised Granger, “and stick another one here, you’ll have a beautiful dress.” They ripped and stuck, and the results were such that they changed the model.



He likes Jean in simple clothes for a simple reason. “When a girl has a pretty face, you don’t doll her up to distract attention from her face.”

Sartorially speaking, what’s sauce for the goose isn’t sauce for the gander. She likes him in suits, all dressed up. He prefers the Hollywood uniform of slacks, loafers and an open shirt. This is a minor, call it an invisible, issue. What they really disagree about are night clubs.

To her, they’re glamorous. To him, they’re hot and crowded. She’d rather dance than eat. “I’m a jitterbug,” she proclaims. He can take dancing or leave it, and would rather not take it in the bistros of Hollywood. “Therefore I get dirty looks now and then from Miss Simmons.”



Her professional efforts draw a different reaction. Jean has danced from childhood. Her early ambition was to open a school with her sister. Bored by the idleness of her first months in Hollywood, she wandered over to M-G-M for diversion and came upon Alex Romero doing exercises with Leslie Caron. He invited her to join them. After a while, he began teaching Jean routines when Leslie was shooting. Having mastered four, Jean broke the news to Jimmy. “Why don’t you come and see me?” He looked embarrassed and didn’t have to tell her why. He’s thinking, she thought, that I’ll make an absolute fool of myself.

Like a dutiful husband, however, he came and saw. After that it was her turn to be embarrassed. He kept rushing around saying she ought to do a musical. He still says so. She still tries to hush him up. Not that she wouldn’t like doing a musical. “Only I’m not that good. Maybe I will be some day if I work hard enough.” He thinks she’s good enough now.



Charges of this and that have been hurled against Granger. He’s belligerent, they say, opinionated, tough to get along with. It seems only fair to present the other side. His advocates call him courageous, honest, uncompromising on principles. It’s true that incompetence makes him blow his top, not because he feels himself superior, but because he’s forever striving toward some goal of perfection forever beyond reach. It’s true that he often leaps before looking and wishes he could emulate his friend Peter Bull, British stage and screen actor, who thinks first and acts afterwards. To Granger, Bull represents an ideal of goodness. He reveres him as a kind of saint. “I’m a bull, too,” he observes ruefully, “in a china shop.”



Whatever his faults, they’re those of a generous nature. There’s nothing mean-spirited about him. He’s incapable of bootlicking. He can’t twist himself into some alien pattern to curry favor. He refuses to be pushed around, and for a conviction he’ll battle to the bitter end. What he thinks, he says to your face, not to your back. If he’s ready to blame what he finds blameworthy, he’s still quicker to pay tribute to quality. In England, after the war, he helped to put many good actors back on their feet by dogged and selfless plugging. When they take Granger apart, this is the kind of thing you don’t hear.



But let’s grant that his wife should know him better than most.

“Jimmy’s a strange mixture. Nobody’s going to believe this, but he’s shy. I don’t mean the kind of shy that creeps into a corner. But if there’s something he’s nervous about, he’ll cover it up with a big flourish of assurance. That antagonizes some people. They take it as an attack,

when it’s only a form of defense. Of course he’s a very straightforward guy, too. If somebody’s rude to him, he’s rude right back, which is usually criticized. But I think any normal male would act the same way. And I’ve never known him to take the first step in rudeness. In frankness, yes.



“He likes people, but he doesn’t make friends easily. To Jimmy, a friend isn’t just someone you like, but someone you’re really close to, who’d leave a great hole in your life if he left. None of us find too many friends like that. He’s satisfied with the few he has. Wilding’s been one for twenty years. They’d die for each other.

“It takes time and pains to get to know Jimmy, but he’s worth it. We have a wonderful relationship, and I couldn’t be happier. We also have tiffs, but they blow over quickly. He nips my neck, I pull his ear and that’s that. When married people say there’s never a cross word between them, it makes me cringe, because it’s either untrue or unnatural. If things were all sweetness and light, they’d be very dull. As it is, my husband’s a fascinating man to live with. I like him just as he is.”



Was there a shade too much defiance in those last words? Was Jean, perhaps, arguing with herself as well as with Jimmy’s detractors? Her character sketch suggests a man indeed fascinating—but not too easy to live with.

Looking at their relationship from Jimmy’s viewpoint, you wonder, too, whether the youthful Jean has done all the adapting that’s vital to a successful marriage. Their running fire of pleasantries indicates plenty of humor on both sides, and a sense of humor can solve many a touchy problem. But when real and deep-rooted differences may be the inspiration, bantering can turn to bickering. And as to whether or not their marriage will survive, the months ahead will bring the answer crystal-clear.

THE END

BY IDA ZEITLIN

 

It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE DECEMBER 1952



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