“We’re Not Mad At Anybody”—Stewart Granger & Jean Simmons
Go ahead,” invited the big bruiser, “hit me!”
The little lady measured him carefully with her hazel eyes. Then she uncorked a sizzling right with all her 108 pounds behind it and connected—right on the button. The big guy staggered back and fell into the rose bushes. He bounced up right away, surprised but enchanted.
“Try it again,” he urged. “That was beautiful!”
She tried it. Same result.
Jack Dempsey hauled himself to his feet again and extended the knobby paw which had once rocked the world’s toughest sluggers to sleep.
“You’re the champ,” he told doll-faced Jean Simmons. “Guess I gave those boxing gloves to the wrong member of the family.”
Now, that fistic upset never reached the sporting pages. It took place, not in Madison Square Garden, but beside the swimming pool at the Stewart Grangers’ Bel-Air home. For another, the beautiful battler’s husband was a little embarrassed about the whole thing. All his life Jack Dempsey had been Stewart’s particular hero and here, just after the great ex-champ had actually visited him and given him a pair of auto- graphed mitts, his wife employed an unladylike skill he had taught her back when she was a defenseless teen-ager—and dumped his idol right on his tail! But now that the incident has come to light, you might reasonably draw from it some conclusions, to wit:
That Jean Simmons is a girl who packs some surprises.
That she is a lady of spunk and spirit.
That she can take care of herself.
That she’s intimidated by no man. Check—and that includes her husband.
All this, of course, is contrary to a fairy tale cherished by a town which specializes in such, going something like this: Demure Jean Simmons is a beautiful damsel in distress, held in durance vile by a tyrannical ogre named Stewart Granger in a sort of Bluebeard’s Castle high in the Bel-Air hills. Throughout the past two years a great many things have conspired to kick this fascinating fable along. But maybe right now is as good a time as any to kick it straight out the door.
Stewart Granger is no ogre, but a most: attractive and fascinating man, deeply in love with his wife who, in her way, runs him as much as he runs her. Their house is no Bluebeard’s Castle, but a beautiful Italian-style villa, too big for two, so they’ve moved to a smaller one. As for Jean Simmons, she is indeed a beautiful damsel, but not necessarily demure and certainly in no distress. She’s crazy about her husband and, at long last, about her Hollywood career. In fact, Jack Dempsey had something there about those misdirected boxing gloves. Until lately the big punch in the Granger family has been swashbuckling Stewart while Jean, due to a protracted series of studio hassles, has ‘remained under wraps without one released picture to her name. But 1953 is her year, and she’s coming out slugging.
Jean shook herself loose as of last May 10. From then until August 15, working nights, Sundays and holidays, she established an all-time Hollywood record for marathon movie making. Jean finished three pictures in as many months. She collapsed from sheer exhaustion in the middle. But after 16 hours’ sleep, bounced right back to work. As a result. Beautiful But Dangerous, The Murder, and Breakup are set to come at you—one, two, three—not to mention Androcles And The Lion, which she started two years ago February. And, if like most of the American public, you are still prone to picture Jean Simmons as a fragile Ophelia with weeping willow leaves in her hair, you’re due for some surprises. You’ll see her as a gay comedienne, psychopathic ‘killer, and sophisticated glamor gal. In Androcles she plays the classic Shaw comedy so sexily that her leading man, Vic Mature, was moved to blurt one day as she strolled on the set in a gossamer gown, “Here comes the Barbara Payton of the Old Vic!”
It is true that Jean has handled both Shakespeare and Shaw with the greatest of ease before she’d turned 20, and collected four international film awards in the process. But she has also acquired a delightfully sexy face and figure, and a warm personality full of nerve and good sportsmanship.
Starting Beautiful But Dangerous for instance, Jean spent all one chill day being ’thrown into the icy mountain waters of the San Gabriel River. Beginning The Murder, she got her face slapped by Bob Mitchum’s big paw all morning, and afternoon, for a bruised jaw but no complaints. And pushing off on Breakup she tumbled backwards from a ladder—the toughest stunt of all movie falls—scorning a double. It’s a small wonder that when Jean departed from RKO a few weeks ago a hard bitten crew trio named “Army,” “Sarge” and “Neal” sniffled like babies to see her go, thereby earning the tag of “The Mildew Sisters.” But the tribute they paid Jean Simmons was even more sharp. “There hasn’t been a gal like her around here,” they swore, “since Carole Lombard.” As any studio worker knows, that’s the supreme compliment in Hollywood.
Of course, once a Hollywood star or pair of stars gets stuck with a legend any happenstance within sight or sound can be twisted to fan it along. It’s been the Grangers’ bad luck that since their wedding day, and even before, misinterpreted situations and events have unreeled to picture Jean Simmons as a pretty innocent, tragically abused.
One morning, for example, when Jean Simmons showed for work her eyes were red and puffy, obviously from weeping. The same morning her leading man had a difficult scene to make and asked for a closed set. Closed set, puffed eyes—the gossips caught that quick. That evening the Grangers read, to their surprise: “Jean Simmons was so upset from a battle with her husband the night before that she cried all day throughout her scenes.” That she had. But crying scenes happened to be her job—both that day and the day before, and Jean is not the kind of actress who weeps glycerin tears.
There was the time after Jean’s last birthday when Stewart bought her a small silver-gray Jaguar roadster and then, because she hadn’t driven in Los Angeles’ murderous traffic, he stuck at the wheel himself until Jean got her confidence. That rang out the news that: “Jean Simmons smashed up Stewart Granger’s car and now he won’t let her drive hers.” Actually, Stewart sold his car to buy Jean’s. It wasn’t smashed by his wife or anyone.
If they go to Mocambo, don’t hold hands, don’t kiss, don’t snuggle in a dance—which they’d never do in public—then: “The Stewart Grangers looked unhappy and sullen.” Or when they enter LaRue and Stewart steers his wife to a table with a pat on the back, it’s: “Stewart Granger spanked his wife in public.” The night at Charles Vidor’s party for. Aly Khan, when Jean danced with Rita’s prince for a long time, it was reported that: “Stewart Granger watched jealously every move they made.” Jean’s husband watched, it’s true, but it wasn’t jealousy, just pure fascination and as far as he could see there weren’t many moves. “I can’t understand,” he told her later, “how you can dance that long and still not cover more than two yards of floor-space!”
Even as personal and sentimental a pledge as an engagement ring was good for headlines with the Grangers. Stewart gave Jean her enormous diamond in New York where she was appearing with Trio. When she sailed back to England, customs impounded it; that is, unless she wanted to pay a fabulous duty. Nothing could be more normal for a foreign bought bauble brought to any land—but the way the reports read you’d have thought Stewart was trying to smuggle in gems on his fiancée’s fingers.
The child bride-aging Lochinvar stcries are just as silly. It is perfectly true that Jean Simmons met Stewart Granger when she was a tender 16. But at that age she was already pretty mature. She had already been acting for two years, been in ballet school before that, and had lived through the big London blitz to boot. She didn’t marry Granger until four years later, during which time they carried on a courtship which was fully approved by both families. Girls get married at 20 and earlier everyday in America. And, while an age-gap of 15 years between marriage partners is not ideal, things often work out very well—as they have with the Grangers, and incidentally with their best friends, Michael Wilding and Elizabeth Taylor.
Their wedding in Tucson, Arizona, two years ago this December, was intriguingly hush-hush—but again through no fault of Stewart or Jean’s. That was arranged by Howard Hughes, then dickering for Jean’s contract. It was his idea to waft them mysteriously to that desert city away from the prying press. They were dropped down in a city they’d never seen, and rolled up to a strange house whose owner they never met. Everything was there—flowers, champagne, preacher and witnesses—but the only person either member of the wedding knew was best man Michael Wilding who’d flown out from New York in response to their urgent telegram. After those bewildering nuptials, Stewart and Jean spent their brief honeymoon at an Arizona inn where a bodyguard patrolled to keep reporters and photographers at a distance. Such secrecy, of course, only launched a lot of dreamed-up yarns, and started the cloak-and-dagger legends of the Grangers’ married life, wherein pale little flower-like Jean was trampled under Stewart’s heavy boot.
The truth is, Jean Simmons is one of the most deceptive dolls in Hollywood. Although daintily molded, she cuts the water like a fish, bats a whistling tennis ball, water skiis, and could dance all night. Her sporting blood comes naturally because her father was a physical education teacher, and she started ballet lessons as a kid of 12. Nothing pale or pallid suits her in any department. Two oil portraits of her by the French artist, Domergue, hang on Stewart Granger’s bedroom walls today. They were painted simultaneously and they show two completely different women. One is a mature, sophisticated actress; the other a tousle-headed girl with an elfin face and mischievous, laughing eyes. Both are packed with color and: both are Jean Simmons, at times. But the impish girl is the Jean that Stewart Granger knows best, loves, lives with and looks after.
Once, before they were married, Stewart snagged a couple of tickets for a playoff game between the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, and proudly told Jean he would take her to the very special contest. “You’ll see Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams,” he bragged.
“Oh?” she cooled him down. “I met Joe DiMaggio last night and Ted Williams—he’s the quiet chap who reminds me of Gary Cooper, isn’t he? They gave me tickets and both promised to hit home runs for me today.” Which they did—Joe hit one and Ted two—while Stewart watched crestfallen, his thunder stolen.
The Grangers have been diamond fans ever since, and one of Jean’s prized possessions is a baseball which Leo Durocher had the Giant team autograph for her. They seldom miss a game when the Hollywood team plays at home, screaming in overplayed British, “Oh, jolly good show—well played, topping, I say!” when their team makes a score, and, “Rum go! Hard Cheese!” etc., when the ump calls one foggy. They’re ringside regulars too at the Hollywood Legion fights, where Jean sometimes slips down in her seat if the blood starts to fly, but usually yells as loud as her old man. The only thing she can’t take is bull fighting. Down in Tiajuana, Mexico, to see Aruzza not long ago, Jean had to desert the ring when the matadors yanked out their swords.
But everywhere else a shrinking violet portrait cf Mrs. Granger obviously doesn’t suit her true style any more than the likeness of a truculent ogre becomes Mr. G. In fact, behind the innocent facade of Jean’s round little face lurks a high humor and a ready wit which is sometimes cutting.
A while back, RKO’s publicity chief called. “So and so,” he informed her, naming a powerful columnist, “is calling from New York. She has a story that you’re pregnant. Are you?”
“No,” answered Jean.
“Anything to say?” he pressed.
“No,” she repeated. “Oh, yes I do. I’m not pregnant but my poodle, Bess, is. Just tell her she’s got the wrong pup.” Only she didn’t say “pup.”
That’s exactly the kind of thing Stewart Granger himself comes up with, when the ridiculous humor of a situation strikes him. You ask either of the Grangers a silly question—and you get a silly answer, no matter who you are.
Stewart Granger is a Scot who, in many ways, is as surprising and contradictory as his wife, Jean Simmons. He is not tactful. He is somewhat of a ham. He is hard-headed enough to argue a script or a scene with a producer or director when he thinks he’s right, but there’s yet to be a director or producer who calls him poison. He can drive a good business deal.
But Stewart is also an impractical romantic with a lusty hunger for life and adventure, a blithe spirit, an indestructible sense of humor and—believe it or not—a great tenderness. Physically, he is strong, six-three and all muscle; probably, by all male standards, the most handsome creature in Hollywood. Frankly, he is more handsome a man than Jean is a beautiful woman, which is really beside the point, since there is nothing on Granger’s record to show he ever operated as a lady killer. In fact, one typically Hollywood item his needlers have been forced to pass up is this: Stewart Granger has never looked romantically at another woman besides Jean Simmons since he married her.
On the contrary, seeking he-man thrills has been and still is Stewart’s prime hobby. He’s the kind of character whose idea of a jolly good time is drilling a charging rhino at 30 paces, or sailing a boat in a tempest. In his hobbies he has exhibited little caution either as to his personal safety or the money they cost. He’s had a country estate in England, “Watchers,” where he raised- horses and kept nine servants (which incidentally cost him less than a couple does in Hollywood). He’s owned a yacht and he’s made safaris in Africa—none of which are picayune projects. As a result, he’s cheerfully used up all the money he’s made seeking the good things of life. His money still runs through his fingers in the same dedicated chase. Although between them Jean and Stewart earn a small fortune each week when they work, he still refers happily to himself as “that broke actor from London”—but without a regret. A guy like that is seldom narrow or mean.
Jean Simmons, as a close friend says, worships Stewart. But their relationship, instead of being austere, is easy, humorous and bantering, in which Stewart delights to play an indulgent big brother role, and Jean a sort of callow kid sister. “If I call her ‘Jean’ or ‘Darling,’ ” he’s said, “you can be sure that I’m pretty sore at her. If it’s ‘you impossible little brat’ we’re having a wonderful time.” “Pot-faced” days, as Stewart calls them, come along for the Grangers, of course, as with another pair who feel strongly about each other and therefore don’t agree on everything. “After all,” Jean will tell you, “we feel that marriage is two of the hardest parts ever played.” But Jean plays it according to her natural character which, as another friend states, is that of “lover, not a fighter.” Stewart plays his also naturally, as a love-protector; if sometimes he makes mildly like a guardian too, that’s also natural with any husband who has lived a few more years than has his wife.
Not long ago Jean lost one of a pair of diamond-and-pearl earrings. A week or so went by before she remembered to report it to Stewart. “Give me the other,” he said, “and I’ll put in the insurance claim.” She looked around. By then she’d lost it too. But if Stewart was exasperated at that girlish carelessness to the point of dealing her a swat on her levis, consider the way he gave the earrings and a few other prettys, including a gold watch, bracelet, etc, last Christmas time.
He’d collected the gifts and hidden them for the usual Chrismas morning surprise. But on the eve of the 23rd, Jean came home from the studio “pot-faced” and miserable because of the confused state of affairs in her contract mixup. Stewart thought of the surprise up in his drawer and didn’t wait for dates. He trotted them out to cure the blues. Then next day had to hustle out and get some more for the 25th.
So if that wicked Mr. Granger sometimes treats his wife like a little girl, it’s because he loves her and is perpetually plotting to make her tawny eyes dance. In fact, the only big mistake that can be charged up to Stewart Granger, since he married Jean, was inspired by just such a warm desire. That is the Bel-Air house they’ve lived in and will soon sell because she doesn’t like it, even though Stewart suspects cheerfully he will lose a small fortune in the deal.
Much has been written about the “Granger mansion” and Jean’s lonely days in what is usually pictured as a cross between Xanadu and the House of Usher. Actually, the Grangers’ Bel-Air house is no larger than the hundreds which surround it—some 12 rooms on two-and-a-half acres. Except for the fact that it could stand an escalator down to the pool, it’s a mighty pleasant place.
Stewart bought that rashly (and paid plenty) to surprise and delight his bride. It was all furnished and apple-pie when he carried her in New Year’s Eve two years ago. But the surprise didn’t work. Jean has never felt the place fitted her or felt at home there. The decor and furnishings weren’t hers. The place’ was too big, needed too many servants who were too hard to keep, and she doesn’t like servants anyway. Besides, minute they moved in, her career troubles began. So in her mind there’s been a private hoodoo connected with the big place, although the dismal picture of Jean Simmons brooding alone there in echoing chambers beside a lonely fire is really overdoing it to a ridiculous degree.
It’s true that a few weeks after they moved in “Jimmy,” as she calls him, left on location and then flew off to Italy for The Light Touch, but at that point Jean was busy preparing for Androcles And The Lion. Too, she had as houseguests Peter Bull, Peter Glenville and Glenn Smith, three of Stewart’s visiting British buddies, to keep her company, besides the Grangers’ circle of Hollywood-settled London pals, Deborah Kerr and Tony Bartley James and Pamela Mason, and others. “If you can be lonesome with three handsome young men as houseguests, I have no sympathy,” Stewart Granger kidded Jean when he got back, As a matter of fact the houseguests did come in handy. Jean put them all to work cleaning rugs, polishing floors and washing windows for Jimmy’s return.
The Grangers’ new house is tiny compared to the first one, only two bedrooms, but just what they’ve always wanted, and they found it by poking around and peeking in windows until the nervous owners were practically forced to sell to get rid of the Grangers whom, by the way, they’d never heard of. And this one both Jean and Stewart like.
It sits atop a small mountain peak at the head of Coldwater Canyon with a circular view overlooking half of Southern California. Built by the famous architect, Byrd, it’s a modern ranchhouse with big glass windows for the view and a large enough living room to handle the Augustus John and Matthew Smith paintings, the Tang horses and the Rodin and Epstein sculptures they’ve collected. Already Stewart has added a round swimming pool and a lanai. It took six months for Stewart to hustle around buying the expensive Robsjohns Gibbings modern furniture, choosing the drapes and such, which Jean, being busy at last, let him handle because he’s artistic and loves that sort of thing anyway. “He picks them, I just criticize,’ she says, but Stewart has a different view. “If Jean doesn’t like my selections,” he explains, “we compromise. I take them back.” Right now, everything’s perfectly appointed except the bedrooms. They’ve got army cots in those.
The new place is even more isolated than the old one and the Grangers will live there—minus the servants—in about the same pleasant manner that they always have. That’s casual style, with Stewart in slacks and T-shirt and Jean in blouse and jeans—and both of them usually padding barefooted about the place. Some nights they’ll play canasta, read or watch TV and hit the hay early. “Just as dull as we’re supposed to be,” grins Stewart. Others, they’ll roll down the hill in the Jaguar to the movies, some sports event, or to put Jean on a roller coaster at the Ocean Park Pier while Stewart tries to talk her out of just one more ride—she’s a fiend for the things. On some week ends Stewart will fly off fishing down in Mexican waters and Jean will do nothing whatever. On others, there’ll be pool parties where “The Chums”—almost all the British colony and a few native Hollywooders—will gather in sport clothes while Stewart hustles the barbecue food, because Jean can still barely fry an egg successfully. There’ll be very few full dress Hollywood parties, and. practically no night clubs if Stewart can help it, although sometimes just to keep Jean happy, he’ll shuffle around a floor.
Really, if there’s one valid criticism of the Stewart Grangers in Hollywood it’s that they stick too close to their British friends. Outside of Sam Zimbalist and Mary Taylor, the Sidney Franklins and scattered others, they have few intimates who don’t hail from home. But both Stewart and Jean are far from being snooty Red Coats looking down their British noses on their colonial cousins. In fact, to both of them America is a dream come true, a fascinating, if often bewildering land of milk and honey which they’ve just begun to digest. For the London girl who spent much of her youth diving under a billiard table as the buzz-bombs crashed, and who still gets the chills and jingles when she hears a fire siren, who never spied a banana until she was grown up and went to the Fiji Islands to make Blue Lagoon, Jean still has to pinch herself occasionally to be sure the abundance around her is real.
The fabulous Farmer’s Market is still the Grangers’ favorite prowling place. The first time they visited it, right after their marriage, they went a little wild, piled up a cart with butter, eggs, tea, coffee, and things that are still rationed in Britain, even though they were stopping at a hotel then and had to give it all away. Jean still goes on perfume and soap binges, feeling guilty every time, and eats her morning toast dipped in bacon grease, from long austerity habits.
Just the same, it will seem good to return to England for Christmas, a dream the Grangers cherish at present, which may or may not work out. Because Young Bess, the picture MGM held for Jean two and a half years, will be shooting right up until about then and they may not have time to shave off Jimmy’s beard and still make the plane. That’s the first Granger family film duet in Hollywood, and Jean plays the role she’s wanted all her life—young Queen Elizabeth, with dyed red hair and all. Stewart’s Tom Seymour, who loses his head, both figuratively and literally, over his queen. “I’m the love of her youth, but not her young lover,” he points out carefully. “Her old lover—just as in real life.”
So, with her contract squabbles settled at last, her American debut set, doing a movie with the man she loves, living in a thrilling new house, and with other exciting events blossoming around her—such as a pregnant poodle and a red-headed hair-do, life assumes a rosy outlook at last for Jean Simmons in Hollywood. In fact, there’s no reason at all why her second wedding anniversary, this December 20, shouldn’t be a banner event—if only somebody would sail that tattered Little-Red-Riding-Hood-and-the-Big-Bad-Wolf story into the wastebasket where it belongs.
Both Jean and Stewart Granger have families in England for whom they’re very homesick and hundreds of friends, too. And those things, hammered out in Hollywood long enough, get believed back home. Only the other day Stewart’s mother wrote asking him, “What’s happening to you children over there, anyway? Is something the matter?”
There’s nothing the matter. After all, the Grangers have broken no laws, flouted no traditions, landed in no jail, nor got drunk, nor insulted anyone’s mother. On the contrary, they’ve worked hard, made hits, tended to their own knitting, kept out of private scandal. If they are individualistic, free-wheeling, and independent—well, that’s what America stands for, isn’t it? Stewart Granger, being Scotch and Jean Simmons being English are not the kind who will ever transmit their deepst feelings to anyone but each other. But I, for one, believe them when they smile, “We’re really not mad at anyone—including each other.”
So right about now, since all is and all is calm and all is bright for Jean Simmons and her Jimmy, too, perhaps a little peace on earth and good will to the Grangers might be in order around Hollywood. It’s that time of the year.
—BY JIM NEWTON
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE DECEMBER 1952