We’re Off!—Sue Carol Ladd
I am sitting here on the Ie de France, somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, in a deck chair that feels like Cleopatra’s most cushioned couch. To me, anything would feel comfortable at this point—anything that was horizontal and softer than granite. It’s the first time in three months that either Alan or I have been able to sit down without lists of details to be hashed over with each other. It’s also the first time I’ve had a chance to write MODERN SCREEN about our trip. They asked me, weeks ago, to give them a blow by blow account of our evacuation to Europe, but the blows came so fast and furiously that there hasn’t been time until this moment.
Frankly, I never thought we’d all board this ship in one piece. I remember one night when Alan came home from working in Desert Legion at Universal-International, and found the usual pandemonium that had been ruling the house for weeks. Some strangers were being shown through the house, people who were considering renting it during our absence. I was on the telephone, talking to someone about sending our car over to England, and David was standing patiently by me, waiting to ask if he could include his rubber saw in his suitcase. I held my hand over the mouthpiece a couple of times, once to tell Lonnie to stop scratching her new smallpox vaccination, and once to ask Belle, our secretary, to find out if Laddie’s gray suit had gone to the cleaners. Alan walked in in the middle of all this and stood there a while looking at me. When I finally hung up, he grinned. “You’ll make it, Susie,” he said. “You’re the world’s champion manager.”
It’s a good thing he had faith in me. When we finally boarded the Ile de France, I flopped into this deck chair and stayed here all day. And Alan was right alongside me (until he found out about the skeet shooting on the upper deck), because he, too, has been up to his ears. He finished work in Desert Legion just one week before we left California, and it wasn’t until then that he had time to apply for his passport. Even then, it was sandwiched in between the last minute retakes and dubbing at the studio plus publicity photographs and interviews.
Anyway, the gang’s all here, and the Ladds have all but sunk the Ile de France. Each of us has a small trunk, plus hand luggage, and whenever we move in a group, it looks like a meeting of the porters’ union. The hand luggage is stowed in our cabins, we’ve just finished breakfast, Alan is reading a script, Carol Lee is playing ping-pong, Laddie is off looking at the ship’s boiler room or something and Lonnie and David have found the gymnasium.
It all began last May, when Columbia asked Alan to make Red Beret for them in London. He liked the script and accepted, and then the realization began to come over us that this was our golden opportunity to see Europe. Alan and I had been over three years ago for a Command Performance, to England and Paris, but wonderful as it was, that was the limit of our travels. There was still so much more to see, but time wouldn’t allow it, and we came home feeling there was a big empty space somewhere. This time we hope to cover a lot of ground. All of Europe will be within our reach, and we’re hoping for time to see most of it. We haven’t a dim idea as to how long we’ll be gone—maybe four months, maybe a year. Alan at heart is a homebody, and he never shows too much enthusiasm for leaving the hearth until we actually arrive some place. Me, I’ve got more of the wanderlust, I guess. It’s been years since I’ve really seen Europe, and right now, fast as we’re slipping through the water, I wish we were going even faster.
There was no question but that we would take the children, all four of them. And there wasn’t much doubt about their reaction. Our kids are ready to take off for any place at any time. They all felt that Honolulu last year was the best thing that had ever happened to them, so when we told them about the forthcoming trip to England, the tide of joy that swept through the house all but took the furniture with it.
One thing is certain—we’ll stay in England until Alan’s picture is finished, and while our breadwinner is working, the rest of the clan will take short jaunts around the country. When Red Beret is completed, we figure on tackling the continent. It’s even possible that Alan will make one more film while we’re there, in which case we’ll be absent from Hollywood for a year. I’ve promised MODERN SCREEN to write frequently while we’re gone, and to send pictures of us at the Tower of London, or gawking at Notre Dame, or spilling out of a gondola, or any of the wonderful, crazy things that might happen to us.
JUST BEFORE THEY LEFT, ALAN COMPLETED THIS DREAM PLAYHOUSE FOR THE KIDS
I expect we’ll appear a strange lot to the Europeans. We’re sending the car over, and Alan says he hopes it will take the strain. There’ll be six Ladds, plus luggage for each one, plus a tutor for the children. School presented a problem; until we know how long we’ll be in any one country, it will be impossible to send the three youngest to any formal school, so in the interim they’ll be individually tutored. It’s going to be crowded, and every time we pile out of the car it will look like that midget act in the circus, but all of us will be too happy to care.
I still can’t believe were here, and trying to remember the chaos of getting such a big family off on such a big venture is difficult. Laddie just came to get Alan and show him the whale that’s been spotted off the starboard side, so I don’t have to be pinched to prove that I’m at sea. Im calm enough by now to know that there aren’t any whales floating around Hollywood, so we must be on our way.
First there were the passports. We went downtown in a body, except for Alan, and applied without any trouble. All our birth certificates were in order, and this time we didn’t have to worry about Alan’s records. It seems that court houses are always burning to the ground, but, at any rate, the courthouse in Hot Springs did, and when he and I went over in 1949 we had quite a time proving his citizenship. This time, however, we had his old passport and that was all that was necessary. The worry we did have was waiting for the passports. The children were like watchdogs every day, waiting for the mailman. It was Lonnie who finally came howling up the driveway, envelopes clutched in hand, to inform us that the documents were here.
The smallpox vaccination was another thing. Everybody had to be punctured all over again, and we looked like an infirmary, sitting around the house in our summer clothes, all of us flaunting bandaids on our arms.
I suppose the packing was the worst. And the shopping. Carol Lee is the only one who’s stopped growing, and the other three were all stretching out of their clothes. We had to prepare for a year of all kinds of temperatures, and even leaving New York in early September wasn’t easy because, while fashion decrees fall clothes at that time, it is usually very warm. (And it was.) It seemed we were shopping all the time, and with my usual caution I sometimes bought more than was needed. I’m always afraid the children won’t have enough changes, and throw in an extra or two to make sure. If I weren’t aware of this fault myself, I have enough people to remind me. Laddie looked at the socks lying on his bed and shrugged his shoulders. “But I won’t need them,” he said. David tried on his new navy blue coat and cap and looked as though he would be a great deal happier in his dungarees. Lonnie inspected the blue hat and the brown hat I’d bought for her and informed Alan, “I like the blue one, Daddy, but I won’t wear that brown thing.” She stuck out her chin defiantly. “I told mother so, too.”
“I don’t think that’s very nice,” said Alan. “Your mother’s working very hard to get you all ready for the trip.”
“Oh, I know,” she said airily. “I told her very nicely, you see, but she knows what I mean.”
Then one night I went into Carol Lee’s room to check the progress of her trunk. “How many things can you get on one hanger?” she said, brushing a lock of hair out of her eyes.
“More than that,” I said. “You’ll have to squeeze things a bit.” And then I noticed the contents. It looked to me as though Carol Lee had packed nothing but shorts and evening dresses.
“How about some skirts?” I ventured. “There might be an opportunity to wear just a plain skirt once in a while, you know.”
But I could see she didn’t agree with me. For Carol Lee, it’s to be all beaches and balls, and I’ll just let her find out for herself that a tweed suit would come in handy.
We had to get new luggage, of course. Families of this size rarely have enough luggage to take care of the entire membership for an extended trip. There were several new trunks, including our one splurge—a white rawhide trunk for Alan. He promptly turned around and gave it to me, and being feminine, I accepted it without a twist of the arm.
We all wanted to take the dogs, Fritzi and Jezebel, but there is a six months’ quarantine on them in England. Well miss them terribly, but we cant have everything. Lonnie put in a plea to take her lovebird along, but even stretching our understanding of children we couldn’t see ourselves laboring up gangplanks and in and out of trains holding a birdcage in one hand. So she compromised by taking four assorted dolls.
David wasn’t seen, that last month before leaving, without his cardboard box. It was filled with the things he loves most, and each day it grew more crowded. He was always toting it around, even to the breakfast table, and when we finally had to inform him that electric trains and fire engines and erector sets took up much too much room, he took it quite manfully, we thought, when he turned around and quietly left the room. In two minutes he was back, holding the empty box in his arms. “If I can’t take all those toys,” he announced, “then I will take my box with me.”
Finally we got it all together, and Alan had to sit on a few suitcases before they could be closed. When the collection was eventually piled in the hall near the front door, he raised an eyebrow. “Where,” he said, “do we keep all that stuff when it’s unpacked?”
The house was rented, and because it’s the pride of our lives, we left it with not a little apprehension. Most worried of all was Lonnie, who didn’t care so much about the house itself as she did her new playhouse. “You’re sure it’ll be all right when we get home,” she pleaded.
So we took off, equipped with everything but the kitchen sink, dramamine included. I am trusting the Atlantic Ocean to be tranquil these few days, because I’m the only one who inclines toward seasickness. Of course, I can always depend on Carol Lee, who’s a guardian angel with the younger ones. As a matter of fact, Alan and I left Hollywood together two days earlier than the children so that we could visit my aunt in Chicago, and Carol Lee herded the other three onto the train to meet us in New York. In New York we settled down for three days, until September 5th, while Alan gave interviews on The Iron Mistress for Warner Brothers and Thunder In The East for Paramount.
People were wonderful, seeing us off. We’d already had a round of farewell parties in Hollywood—one for each of the children by their respective friends, and one for Alan and me and our friends.
We’re assured now that Columbia Studio has rented a lovely place for us on the outskirts of London, a house that will be our home for many months. I wish I could describe it to you, but of course I haven’t even seen it myself.
David has just asked me how soon lunch will be served, which constitutes the first time in his life he has appeared interested in food. Small wonder, the way they prepare food on-this ship. Even Alan, who is strictly a meat-potatoes-and-pie man, has begun to take notice of the sauces and pastries. I doubt if the kids will miss hamburgers and hot dogs very much during the trip. Carol Lee and Laddie were a bit concerned when they learned that such American institutions were lacking in Europe, and one night they walked into the house, each holding two hot dogs. Alan put on his fatherly expression and asked if they didn’t think they were overdoing it.
Well, all I have to do now is rest, except for putting those hundreds of little notes and addresses and phone numbers people have given us into a notebook for more systematic reference. The children are being good travelers as always, and now are giving each other language lessons. All of them are familiar with French except Laddie, who studied Spanish, so now he is putting them through the ‘paces and they’re learning to count in Spanish.
I suppose the only arguments we might have within the clan will be about our itinerary. They all have a different idea on how we should allocate our time. Lonnie wants to see France—all of it, not just Paris—and Carol Lee will have no peace of mind until she has seen Capri. Laddie, who is slightly crushed because he will be missing the American football season, wants to spend all his waking hours watching rugby games in England, and David—well, David is consumed by curiosity about London. He is convinced it will look like Honolulu, and we’re afraid he has a shock coming. But then on the other hand we’re sure that the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, and the “Beefeaters” at the Tower will endear London to him in a very special way.
As for Alan and myself, we are mainly pleased because the children have such a wonderful opportunity to see the Old World, but there’s also the unvarnished fact that we are tremendously excited about it for ourselves. We’ll go wherever the children lead, and then throw in a few places of our own.
I’ll be writing soon again from faraway places, but that’s all for now.
—BY SUE CAROL LADD
(Watch for Alan’s latest Paramount release, Thunder In The East.)
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 1952