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    . . . We Knew It Was Love—Dianne Lennon & Dick Gass

    Dianne Lennon says it isn’t always easy to tell, thought she confesses she proposed to Dick Gass the second time that she ever met him. But she admits now that she didn’t actually fall in love with him until years later. Confusing?

    It all really began as long as thirteen years ago when seven-year-old Dianne Lennon was in the third grade of grammar school in Venice, California. She was visiting her grandmother who lived down the street, one day, when a boy from her class, Michael Gass, asked if she’d like to shoot marbles. Michael was a pretty good shot, and she really had to concentrate to stay even with him.

    Suddenly, as she was kneeling in the center of the shooting circle, carefully aiming at a marble more than a foot away, a shadow fell across the ground just as she shot. She missed. She groaned, glaring up at the boy who had made the shadow.



    “That’s my brother,” said Michael, pointing to the intruder.

    “Hi,” Dianne grunted, unimpressed, and turned her attention back to the marbles.

    That was her first—and brief—introduction to Dick Gass.

    It wasn’t until she was a freshman at St. Monica High that Dianne saw Dick again, although since the day he’d made her miss a marble-shot, she’d certainly heard a lot about him from Mike. During this time, Dick had gone away to study to be a priest, and then one day Mike told her that Dick had changed his mind. “Dick’s coming home!” was the way Mike put it.



    “Oh, that’s nice,” Dianne thought to herself, unconcerned. And she put the whole thing out of her mind.

    Then one afternoon soon after, in the school yard at St. Monica’s, she met Dick. It was Gail Armstrong, a senior, who brought them together, during a freshman initiation Dianne was going through which included doing crazy, foolish things that upperclassmen ordered.

    Gail said, “Do you see that cute boy over there?” Dianne nodded as she pointed to a good-looking fellow on the other side of the yard.

    Dianne gulped as Gail continued. “Well, he’s Dick Gass . . . already a V.IP. in the Junior class . . . now, can you guess what I want you to do?”



    Dianne shook her head.

    “I want you to walk over to him,” Gail said, “get down on your hands and knees, and ask him to marry you. And make it real good. From the heart. Or I’ll make you do it over again.”

    Somehow Dianne, blushing already, got across the schoolyard to where Dick was standing. She got down on her knees in front of him, closed her eyes tight, and blurted out, “My name is Dianne Lennon. I love you very much. I can’t live without you. Will you marry me?”

    “What?” Dick asked, somewhat astonished.

    She opened her eyes slowly and looked into Dick’s bewildered face. She actually felt her cheeks turning beet red. Then slowly and torturously she repeated, “My name is Dianne Lennon. I love you very much. I can’t live without you. Will you marry me?” When she reached the words “marry me” she choked.



    Dick reached down to help her to her feet, but she was too embarrassed to take his outstretched hand. All she wanted to do was to disappear into thin air. So she scrambled to her feet by herself and ran across the schoolyard into an empty classroom, peeking over her shoulder only once to see if Dick was looking. She saw that he was still shaking his head in bewilderment.

    She wasn’t aware of purposely avoiding Dick Gass after that, but somehow they never managed to run into each other. So she was completely surprised in June, 1957, when Dick—who had by this time graduated from school and become a cable-splicer for the telephone company—called her and asked for a date.

    She was already singing on the Lawrence Welk show by this time and had a busy rehearsal schedule that week. So she turned him down, convincing herself the old embarrassment when she’d been a freshman had had nothing at all to do with it.



    She didn’t hear from him again all summer and had practically forgotten he existed, when one day her phone rang. It was Dick again. He’d been away, he told her, traveling all over the United States. Now that he was back, he wondered if they might go out on a date.

    For her, it was another tight week of rehearsing, but there was something attractive about his voice . . . “Yes,” she heard herself saying. “When?”

    “How about next Saturday?” he asked. “Pick you up right after lunch. Want to go someplace special?” Dick asked.

    “No. Wherever you want. It’s up to you.”

    As she put the phone back on the hook, she suddenly wondered if she’d recognize him when he came to the house. After all, the two times she’d met him, so far, she’d been down on her knees and the only thing she remembered clearly about Dick Gass was his shoes!






    Saturday rehearsal didn’t go too well. She kept wondering if she’d be home and ready when Dick arrived. She hated to keep a boy waiting, especially on a first date. And then her sister, Peggy, wasn’t much help. Peggy was all excited. She had a date for the St. Monica homecoming football game and dance, and every time there was a break between numbers she kept chattering about it. A couple of times she hugged Dianne and said, “Wouldn’t it be great if you and Dick came along to the game and dance with my date and me?” Dianne wanted to say that she really didn’t want to go, but Peggy just chattered on all the way home, not letting her get a word in edgewise. From all this, their dad, Bill Lennon, got the idea that Dianne and Dick planned to go to the game and to the dance, too.



    Dianne was upstairs dressing when she heard a car pull up in front of their house. As Dick walked toward the door, she saw, from her upstairs window, that he was good-looking.

    Downstairs, her father let Dick in, shook his hand, and said, “I hear you and Dianne are going to the football game and dance?” Dick blinked for a moment, and then he smiled and nodded “Yes.” He hadn’t planned to go, but if that’s what Dianne wanted. . . .

    At this point, Dianne came downstairs and joined them. “Let’s hurry,” Dick said to her, “or we’ll be late for the game.” She didn’t really want to go to the game and dance, but if that’s what Dick wanted . . .



    When they got outside, Dick opened the car door for her and she started to step in. She just took it for granted that there was a running board and didn’t bother looking down. But there wasn’t, and she stepped down into a large mud-puddle at the curb. Her shoe, her stocking, and the bottom of her skirt were covered with mud. She was so embarrassed.

    It was too late to go back to the house and change. So they drove on.

    St. Monica won the football game but neither Dianne nor Dick really cared. They tried to make small talk, but in their hearts they both knew their date was a miserable failure.

    At the dance, Dianne wanted to fade into the background. Even though she’d done her best to make the necessary repairs to her clothes, she felt awful.

    The music started, a fast, snappy number, and Dick turned toward her, ready to dance. “It’s a good song for a jitterbug,” he said.

    “I don’t know how to jitterbug,” she answered.



    So he just shrugged and went off and danced with his sister who was also there. Dick danced a lot with his sister, that night, because somehow the band seemed to play mostly fast numbers. He didn’t offer to teach Dianne to jitterbug; he’d just listen to the first few bars of the song, shake his head if it was a fast number, and leave her to dance with his sister. She just couldn’t wait to get home.

    She wouldn’t have minded at all if Dick had never wanted to see her again, but during the week it seemed he decided to give it one more try. He phoned and asked her to go to a movie Saturday. She found herself saying “Yes” once again. On Saturday, she woke up with a terrible sore throat and had to cancel the date.



    It was pouring rain when they finally went out together again, and she found herself sloshing through puddles in her galoshes to reach his car. This time he not only held open the door for her, but he also helped her into the car, and for the first time they both laughed. During the next few hours, it seemed that everything they did made them laugh. She could hardly believe the change.

    It was a crazy date. It had been raining for days and the streets were flooded. The telephone company had been called upon to make many repairs all over Venice and the surrounding communities. So Dick drove Dianne out to Ocean Park, in the middle of Highway 101, to say hello to his friends down in the manholes—the fellows doing emergency repairs.

    In the days that followed there were many more fun dates. And whenever Dick was working for the phone company near Dianne’s house, he’d attach his test phone to the main line and call her.



    By the time November 1 rolled around, the date of her eighteenth birthday, they knew each other well enough for Dianne to ask Dick to be with her on that special occasion—a party at the Aragon Ballroom.

    Unlike that time at the St. Monica victory dance, the music was all sweet and slow, and Dick and Dianne danced almost every dance together. He’d given her a statue of St. Joseph, her favorite saint. And she’d jokingly slipped a carrot on his plate at the table—he loved carrots.

    The slow, haunting melody of “My Funny Valentine” added to the illusion, and, as they danced, Dick’s lips brushed her cheek. She kept her eyes closed tightly, wanting to hold on to that precious moment forever.



    They went everywhere together, after that, but their favorite date was just riding the little open-air tram from Venice to Ocean Park to Santa Monica and back again.

    Gradually, Dianne felt she was falling in love. “It didn’t happen any one special day,” she explained. “Trumpets didn’t blow and drums didn’t rattle.” It was just slowly that Dianne realized Dick was the only one for her.

    “I think it had something to do with the fact that he felt the same way about so many things as I do,” she said. “He’s also deeply religious, and we both found we enjoyed so much together, like listening to records and going for long walks by the sea. He also wants lots of children, like I do. And I loved the way he would make me laugh at so many little things that happened. Perhaps, also, it was because he conveniently forgot that first time I proposed to him!



    “I admired the way he took pride in his work and the way he dreamed a home should be. And,” she added laughingly, “I loved him just because he was crazy about raw carrots!”

    On the night of February 28, 1958, Dick proposed. He parked in front of her house, late that night, and asked her to sit with him a while. The moon, which had been hiding behind the clouds for hours, suddenly popped out in full view. This seemed to be some sort of omen or cue for Dick, because suddenly he said softly: “Deed?” He called her by the pet name he alone used. “Deed, I know it’s kind of soon because we haven’t been going out long. But Deed, you know . . . you must know how much I love you.” Then he paused and said simply, “Will you marry me?” Then he looked down, somewhat embarrassed.

    “Yes,” Dianne whispered as she leaned toward him. “Yes, yes, yes!” And they kissed, very gently and softly.



    They wanted to rush into the house and tell her folks and then hurry over to his house and tell his family. Instead, they sat in the car and tried to talk rationally and make plans. They wouldn’t tell anyone, they decided. Dianne’s singing contract had at least two years more to run, and they couldn’t marry until those two years were over. After all, he was determined to be the breadwinner of the family—not her. For them, too, it was silly to be formally engaged because neither believed in long engagements. Each knew how the other felt, and for the time being, that was enough.

    For weeks, Dianne walked on air. She had never kept a secret before—a really important secret—from her parents and sisters. She wanted so much to tell them but she couldn’t. So she walked around, keeping her happiness locked up inside.



    Then came the evening, less than a month later, when Dick phoned and asked, “What would you say if I told you I was thinking of going into service?”

    She wanted to cry out “No” and “I’d feel awful,” but instead she controlled her voice and said, “I’d be very surprised, I guess.”

    She listened as he went on to tell her that there were more advantages to enlisting in the Army than waiting to be called. “Deed,” Dick said finally, “I know this means I won’t hardly see you at all for two years. But isn’t it better that I go now instead of after we’re married?”

    “Of course it’s better,” she answered. “I understand.” But as she hung up the receiver, her hand trembled. And there were tears in her eyes as she walked away.



    The following Saturday, Dick phoned her at the studio to say he’d signed up. But somehow she didn’t really believe he was going until she actually saw his official induction notice two weeks later, ordering him to report for duty on May 29th.

    After he left, she sent him silly, sentimental letters in which she enclosed souvenirs of home: white sand from the beach, a piece of icing from one of mom’s marble cakes, a tram ticket, a sliver of raw carrot, a menu from the Aragon. And she marked off the days on her desk calendar, one by one, waiting for Dick to return.

    In July, he came home on leave and they spent a marvelous week together. Then, in October, Dick drove all night from Fort Ord to Venice, and waited all day at the studio while Dianne and her sisters rehearsed. And then they were able to go out Saturday night and to spend part of Sunday together before he returned to camp.



    Yet, apart from Christmas, Dianne didn’t see Dick again until June, 1959, when he came home for twenty-two glorious days. The first night he came over to her house in his new paratrooper uniform, and her sisters and brothers treated him like the conquering hero. He whispered to Dianne that he wanted twelve babies just like her. Then they went over to his house where all his friends had gathered to greet him.

    On their first Sunday, Dick took her for a drive. He headed the car out to Route 101 toward Malibu, and then pulled over to the side of the road. “Deed,” he said, “I’m going to ask you something. I won’t be out of the Army until June, 1960, but what would you feel about getting a ring now?” He watched her eyes open wide.

    “Yes,” she said, delighted. “Yes.” And Dick whooped so loud that she was sure his buddies down in Fort Bragg heard him.



    They decided to tell their families on the next Saturday night, the Fourth of July. Bill and Sis Lennon always took all the kids to the beach to watch the fireworks display and that seemed like a good time and place to break the news.

    Dick took Dianne out to dinner first and slipped a ring—a beautiful ring they’d chosen together—on her finger, and then they went looking for her family. They found the Lennons’ car parked, back end to the ocean. All the kids were sprawled out on the sand watching the fireworks in the sky, when Dianne and Dick walked over.

    “Hi folks,” Dick said, clearing his throat and feeling Dianne’s fingernails pressing into the back of his hand. “We have something to tell you. Deed and I are engaged.” Dianne held up her ring-finger for her parents to see.

    They all shrieked and cried and embraced Dianne and Dick.



    Finally they both broke away and drove over to tell Mr. and Mrs. Gass the news. “I knew it! I knew it!” Dick’s mother cried. Dick’s dad didn’t say much, but his eyes showed how pleased he was.

    The next day, Dick and Dianne went to Mass together. The feel of the engagement ring on her finger was still so new, that she was aware of the pressure almost every moment. “A year isn’t so very long,” she thought. “Then Dick will be out of the Army and we’ll get married.” She turned to look at Dick at her side and found that he was looking at her, too. And she wondered if Dick had been thinking the same things she had. His fingers locked with hers, and they both gazed thoughtfully down the long aisle that led to the altar . . . the aisle they’d soon be walking down together.

    And, as she looked along it, Dianne thought again about love, about how she knew she loved Dick. “Love,” she decided, “is knowing you want to be with someone always, realizing how very special life suddenly seems when you are with them and how empty it is otherwise.”

    JIM HOFFMAN

    THE LENNON SISTERS CAN BE SEEN ON THE “LAWRENCE WELK DODGE DANCING PARTY” SATURDAYS, OVER ABC-TV, 9-10 P.M. EST.

     

    It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE APRIL 1960



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