When We’re Alone—John Wayne & Pilar Pallete
Our house is on a hill in Encino, California. There is a long macadam driveway that stretches from the front door to the electric gate at the foot of the hill. And the street beyond the gate curves like a scythe around our land and disappears into a cluster of eucalyptus trees about a quarter of a mile from our gate. In the warm weather, about dusk, I sit on a patio and watch the grove of trees for the first sight of Duke’s car, or in the winter I sit at the picture window in his den. And when it starts the turn I go to the front door just in time to see him go through the comic antics it takes to get a man as big as him out of a modern car. It’s like extricating a reluctant python from a shipping crate. And every night I think, “They’ve got to make bigger cars or smaller husbands.”
And then there is one of the small things that make for good memories. He drops his brief case and holds me and says, “Hello, Honey. . . .” and then everything that happened wrong during the day is all right.
That is one of my memories-to-be, one of the best ones. Lately there is a song that has come to mean a lot to me. When I hear it I automatically turn up the radio and relish every word of the lyric. It is called “Memories Are Made Of This”—and every time I hear it sung the impact is greater, because it fits the way I think. My husband and I are in our third year of marriage now and most of the time our lives together appear to be just routine living, and yet when a song or something else sets the wheels working backward in my mind I realize that this is a time of preparation for the future; each day, from dawn to the flick of the last light switch at night, is dedicated to the collection and storing of memories.
My husband, John Wayne, is truly a homebody, every bit of the man about the house. He claims he is tidy, but as soon as he enters the door at the end of the day he throws his jacket into the air and expects it to land in a proper place. Then he lunges at a sofa or a chair and collapses. If you saw it for the first time you’d think he was through for the night—but this collapse generally lasts for about a minute and a half.
Soon, he glances at the fireplace. Winter or summer his next concern is the fireplace. As he often says, “It’s chilly enough in California for a fire every night.” He gets to his feet, pushes the fire screen open with his big boot and trundles from four to half-a-dozen huge logs onto the hearth. Enough to heat a small village. Then he crouches down and turns on the gas starter and throws in a match. At this point I’m near a door, because when he turns anything on he turns it on—and there is a respectable explosion, which so far, thank heaven, he has been able to duck. When an inferno is raging up the chimney he settles back in a seat and announces: “I’m so tired tonight I just can’t talk on the telephone. I’m not in to anybody.” And I say, “Yes dear.”
Of course the phone rings immediately and I answer it and say, “I’m sorry, but Mr. Wayne is not at home.” Then I put my hand over the mouthpiece so that Duke can ask me—as he always does—who it is. I tell him and he says, “Oh, well, I’m in to him.” And I hand him the phone—and while he’s explaining how he just walked in the door, I go to see about dinner. I figure he’ll be ready in about an hour, which gives him ample time to ring up the people who haven’t called him.
We don’t have many visitors out at our place, so dinner is generally a twosome by candle light. We settle more family matters at our dining room table than they do in most domestic relations columns. Like most things he does, Duke enjoys his food to the limit. And he’s easy to cook and plan for. He doesn’t care what he eats—as long as it’s steak.
Most evenings we just sit and talk or play gin rummy or watch television after dinner, but a couple of times a week we see a movie. Since Duke became an active producer about five years ago he has had to have a projection room in his home.
We go to bed at a reasonable hour. Our bedroom is very large and Duke seems to walk over most of it several times before he gets into his pajamas and under the covers. Our bed is the biggest I have ever seen. It just fits Duke, but I sometimes feel I’m sleeping on a football field. Duke trots about the room picking up magazines and books and newspapers. He stacks them on the bed beside him until the place begins to look like a newsstand in a railway station, and then he props his pillows up, turns on his reading light, establishes himself comfortably for a long night of concentration on the printed word. From that point on I take over—and I time him like a stop watch. In exactly forty-five seconds he yawns. At a minute and ten seconds he rubs his eyes. At a minute and fifty seconds they close, and five seconds later the magazine or book falls from his hand.
I wait until his breathing is regular and then, one by one, I quietly remove the mound of literature from the bed to the floor and turn off his light. And I smile, because I know that in the morning he’ll say, “I didn’t sleep too well. I read half the night.” And I’ll say, “Yes, dear, I know.”
Who are you?
Being married to a man in my husband’s profession has its surprises. I’ll never forget the first shock of seeing him as a movie character. Although he plays Western roles a good deal, Duke has never worn any such costume in public off the screen. He is a slacks and sports jacket ora business suit and necktie man. It was during our courtship days. Duke was making Hondo in Mexico and I was invited down to spend a few days with the company. I arrived during the afternoon while everyone was out in the desert on location. I went into Duke’s cabin and decided to straighten it up for him. I was busy with my chores some time later when the door opened. I turned around and there stood the dirtiest looking cowboy I have ever seen. His pants hadn’t been cleaned or pressed in years, and he wore a buckskin jacket that reeked of endless days and nights of wind and weather. A huge knife was stuck in his belt and he carried a rifle. And beneath a torn hat was a face that was vaguely familiar.
“Can I help you?” I said.
“Sure,” said the fright. “Give me a kiss.”
After a while I was sure it was Duke. After he changed clothes and showered.
And being married to a movie star can be heart-rending. There was the time he was working on a picture and got a terrible infection in his ear. If your husband works in an office, you just dump him into bed or take him to a hospital and phone the boss and say he won’t be in until he’s better. But not in the movies. When a star is in the middle of a picture the employment of possibly hundreds of people depends on his presence on the set.
Duke’s infection started slowly, but after a week it was so severe that he couldn’t open his mouth even to eat and he was in constant and dreadful pain. We had a doctor, all right. He said, “Put him in a hospital. Antibiotics don’t seem to help. He’s got to be where he can be watched.”
But Duke wouldn’t hear of it. “I can’t do it, honey,” he would moan. “I’m in the middle of a picture.” In a few days his ear was swollen completely shut. It was so bad they could only photograph one side of his face. We quarreled about that. I insisted he tell them to shut down the picture—but he wouldn’t listen to me. And all I could do was wait until the day’s shooting was over and watch over him as he fell exhausted into bed and slipped into painful sleep.
Christmases with Duke
I think I will remember Christmas times with Duke most fondly. Most husbands, they tell me, take Christmas in their stride. It is a holiday—and the wife looks after all the details. Well, not in our house.
Along about the end of November he always says, “Don’t you think it’s about time we got the tree?”
“What tree?” I ask.
An expression of shock crosses his face. “Why, the Christmas tree, of course.”
“Don’t you think it’s a little early?”
“Early!” he roars. “It will he here before you know it.”
He generally waits about a week, in deference to my lack of enthusiasm, I think, and then one day about eight men come to the front door with a tree you just know will never fit in any house. But they manage to get it in—and with Duke directing the operation like a David Belasco it is installed in our living room. For the next few days he sneaks packages into the garage, and one morning when I come downstairs a little late there he is, covered with shreds of tinsel and cotton and smeared with some sort of white goo that squirts fake snow from cans.
From that point on I am not consulted about anything. Like a possessed agent of Santa Claus he charges about the house hanging baubles and setting up groups of angels. And when the place really looks like Macy’s Christmas window, he lugs in cases of the white goo and sprays every window in the house. And it gets worse every year. Last year I turned on a light switch and from every direction shafts of brilliance descended on the most beautiful nativity scene I have ever seen. There was the stable and the manger with the Christ child nestled in the straw. And there were the animals placed so perfectly they seemed real, and the shepherds and a brilliant star hanging above it all. The only false note is that Duke created this masterpiece in the center of our pool table.
Christmas Eve and Christmas are family days and we both love them. But soon a strain sets in. We never discuss it—but one day, about the middle of January, Duke begins to dismantle his handywork—and when it is done he sits about for a day or so. He doesn’t complain. He does, however, heave a huge and melancholy sigh every three or four minutes for at least a week.
The vices of my husband
Most married men have all sorts of vices, according to the gossip columns. And Duke has his, too. A couple of times a week he casually strolls into his den with a large stack of magazines and shuts the door. Vague sounds, like the clipping of scissors and the scratching of a pen emanate from the room for an hour or so and then Duke comes out, his jacket pocket bulging with envelopes, and announces that he’s going down to the corner for a few minutes. About a week later the results of his efforts begin to come in the mail. Large packages, small packages, thin packages and fat packages. He opens them carefully and inspects the contents. They contain such equipment as invisible ink, pocket hand-warmers, careers in accounting and television repair, guitars, midget radios, awls (the better to sew leather), hand saws, piano tuning equipment, chemicals for dyeing rugs. You name it—we have it in our garage. And I have yet to see his face really light up at the sight of one of his purchases. But he doesn’t complain, either. The most I have ever heard him say is: “Those fellows who make up those ads can sure write, can’t they?”
There are three of us living in our house now, Duke and I and our baby, Aissa. And I’ll never forget the past few months as Duke waited with me for the birth.
The day after I had been to the doctor and received the good news, Duke walked in the door lugging the biggest package he ever brought home. He tore off the wrapping and I leaped back in terror. He was hanging on to a life-size replica of a snarling tiger.
“What is that?” I demanded.
“It’s a present for the kid,” he said.
“What kid?” I asked.
“Our kid,” he snorted.
And he started upstairs to what had been my sewing room but what Duke immediately began to call the nursery.
“If he ever sees that thing,” I said, “he’ll refuse to move in with us!”
And it was that way every day almost for eight long months. Well, “he” turned out to be a little girl, but if we are to get our money’s worth she will be playing with toys at the age of forty.
The arrangement of the nursery is generally a woman’s job. Not in our house, though. As a matter of fact, I was hardly allowed into the room. I would hear voices in the room and go to see what was going on: I’d try the door and Duke would say, “Just a minute, honey, we’re busy in here.” And I’d go away. What does a woman know about nurseries, anyway?
But one night he showed me something that I think is the finest present a woman ever got from the father of her child. For la day or two strange men with all sorts of equipment had been running up and down the stairs and into the nursery. When I asked Duke what was going on he said he’d tell me later. That night, after dinner, he suggested we sit in the living room and watch television. We turned on the set and looked at a musical show for a few minutes. Then Duke said, “Switch to Channel Six.”
“There’s no such thing as Channel six,” I said.
“Let’s turn it on anyway,” Duke said.
He’s bigger than I am so I did—and ere outlined on the screen was a picture. couldn’t make it out, although it was vaguely familiar. “What is that?” I asked.
“You are looking, Mrs. Wayne,” said Duke, “at your baby’s bed.”
“What is my baby’s bed doing on television?” I demanded. “It’s supposed to be upstairs. And when did we get a Channel Six?”
“It is upstairs,” Duke said. “We can’t bit up there all the time, so I had a television camera put in there and all we have to do is turn on Channel Six on any television set in the house and we can keep an eye on the baby.”
I just got back from the store a little while ago and on the way home I heard that song on the radio again. “Memories Are Made Of This.” They surely are made of the things they say in the words of the song. And they are made of all of the other simple things that are part of life. It takes time to collect them—and a lot of time to think about them so they remain clear and fresh. But they are worth all the effort, for one day they may be all we have left. No one can be sure.
In a minute I’ll go to the window and watch for Duke’s car to swing out of the eucalyptus grove and start for the gate.
The day we were married in Hawaii, Duke and I had one fast moment together in the kitchen of the house we got ready for the ceremony in. He took me in his arms and pointed to the odds and ends hat go to make up a house. “Are you gong to be waiting for me every night in a place like this when I come home from work?” he demanded.
“I promise,” I said.
“Yeah,” he teased. “You’ll forget some night.”
“No,” I said. I won’t forget. Any night—or any day.”
I haven’t so far—and I don’t think I over will.
—BY PILAR WAYNE
EDITOR’S NOTE: Pilar asked us to tell you that her English isn’t quite this good—she wanted us to correct the mistakes, and so we did. You know, Spanish is her original tongue and she spoke nothing else until she met and married Duke. But except for correcting the grammar and spelling, we have not changed one word or one thought of Pilar’s beautiful story.
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE JULY 1956