Why Millie Perkins Had To Settle For A Runaway Marriage?
When Millie Perkins and Dean Stockwell slipped off to Las Vegas for a secret marriage just before Easter Sunday, people in Hollywood didn’t have the nerve to ask them, “But why the runaway? What’s all the hush-hush about?” Hardly anyone knew them intimately enough to ask such personal questions. But they wondered plenty. For if Millie and Dean were older, or anyone of Hollywood’s multi-divorced-and-married couples, you could more easily imagine them climbing into his three-year-old Chevy or her tiny English job and casually taking off for the Gretna Green Wedding Chapel in Vegas. But Millie and Dean are young! And though the newspaper stories were as brief and uninformative as this secretive couple themselves, you still read seven very romantic little words. “It was the first marriage for each.” First marriage! To any girl that’s a big-wedding dream woven of satin and lace, perfumed with flowers, set to organ music whispering in a hushed church till it swells triumphantly for a radiant bride and bridegroom. Mostly this is a girl’s dream, a magic charm to keep romance alive forever. It’s Her Day, her audience smiling and weeping just a little at the lovely vision coming down the aisle to meet her waiting bridegroom.
Millie had no part of the dream. You could understand Dean’s not caring for it—many a male goes through the ordeal only because a girl loves a big wedding and he loves his girl. But Dean loves his girl, too. And wouldn’t you expect a little girl from Fair Lawn, New Jersey, to want her family around when she says “I do” to the first love of her life? Why, then, did Millie Perkins, with a great big wonderful family—father and mother, four sisters and a brother—who could have made her wedding the most wonderful, exciting day in her life, settle for slipping off to a secret ceremony like a pair of runaways?
They drove up to Las Vegas just before eleven, that Good Friday morning. Millie was wearing a simple little blue dress. Everything about her is always tiny and unfancy, and her wedding outfit was no exception. But, for Millie, this was quite dressed up—a nice change from her eternal blouse-and-skirt-and-high-socks.
Their first stop was the Gretna Green, one of the many “marrying chapels” in Vegas and one of the nicest. They told the hostess, Mrs. Anderson, what they wanted in the way of a ceremony—a simple one, naturally. Then they headed immediately for the Clark County Courthouse to take out the license. A Las Vegas newspaperman just chanced by a stroke of luck—his—to be in the County Clerk’s office. Hopefully, he followed Millie and Dean to the elevator, asking when and where they were getting married.
“No publicity,” Dean said flatly. All further tries got the reporter nothing but a brush-off. What frustration! The only newspaperman on the scene and he was getting nowhere. He pleaded plaintively, “I wish you’d help me!” Dean shook his head, took Millie’s arm and walked her away without another word.
Back at the Gretna Green, with the license, they found a minister summoned by the management, the Rev. Alan Robertson, pastor of the Church of Christ. The single-ring ceremony didn’t take long. Millie and Dean, alone with their love, seemed completely unaware that there were no attendants for a girl with four sisters, no best man for a boy with an older brother. No mother smiling through tears, no father choking down a lump.
“I now pronounce you man and wife,” the minister said. They were Mr. and Mrs. Robert Dean Stockwell, looking into each other’s eyes as they spoke a Beverly Hills address for the license to be forwarded to after it was duly recorded. Then, they left town—all this within a few hours. Nobody had seen the star of “Diary of Anne Frank” married to the star of “Compulsion” except a stranger, the chapel hostess.
Secrecy? Hollywood says that Millie’s idol is Greta Garbo the Sphinx, and that Dean deals curtly with the press like his ideal, Marlon Brando. Millie’s studio got a taste of the same. All they knew about the marriage was what they read in the papers. Their frantic phone calls finally reached Millie after the weekend, and when they asked, pointblank, “Are you married?” she answered, “My personal life is my own.”
But is a passion for privacy all that was back of the slip-away marriage? Hollywood thought not. People who wouldn’t dream of asking either of them such an outright blunt question, immediately began asking each other more round-about ones. “Why do you suppose they had to run off like that, dodging reporters, and refusing to say if they did or they didn’t marry?” For a while, there was even a revival of an old rumor—that this celebrated pair of “loners” were actually married more than half-a-year before, when a top movie columnist reported their secret union from “very reliable sources.”
Now, this was all some people needed—Millie and Dean refusing to deny or confirm a new report of a new secret marriage—and the old one was stirred to life. Some began insisting, all over again, that they must have been husband and wife the whole time.
If all the uproar and theory doesn’t seem to make sense, neither do most rumor binges in small towns where everybody knows everybody—except the rare handful who refuse to be known. Actually nothing could be simpler than to explain Millie’s and Dean’s kind of wedding, once you accept them not merely as two secretive people, but two highly individual ones.
Both are what Millie calls “little people”—meaning they make no pretenses and are sturdily against being pushed into any. And before they fell in love, each had a shattering capacity for loneliness. But right there is a nub of difference. For Dean has known, since childhood, what it is to be so apart from others and so hurt by the apartness that he’d die before he’d let it show. That’s loneliness, from way back and deep down.
But Millie was never a hermit girl—not until she came to Hollywood. Home in Fair Lawn, in the tree-shaded house full of lively Perkinses, you couldn’t be sad unless you worked at it. “A lot of living went on there,” she recalls wistfully, “and I was always part of it.” Her chief grief was peering into the mirror and deciding she was the one ugly Perkins. She still isn’t sure the duckling has, as yet, made it to swan.
That’s a tell-tale symptom. The ground isn’t firm under Millie’s feet because her big breaks came with luck, not the hard work she believes in. When she left the safe nest for New York, fashion modeling fell into her lap—someone liked photos he saw of her. It spiraled. Twentieth Century-Fox talent scouts, searching the world for a girl to play Anne Frank, also liked Millie’s face in a magazine. They chose her over 10,000 applicants who wanted to be movie stars, when she didn’t, particularly want to be one. She came to Hollywood looking fourteen, indeed, in dark knee socks, a rumpled skirt and blouse. These are still her favorite kind of clothes—she’s indignant when they’re called her “Anne Frank costume.”
But she came quivering with fear. She was an amateur, a worrier, the pros were watching for her to fail on her face. She never got over her dread of failure. She cried under pressure, she walked alone. But to those on the set who were patient and kind, she was sweetly courteous. Director George Stevens became an ideal in the place of her papa, the Merchant Marine officer she used to greet rapturously after each sea trip when she was home. Dodie Heath, who became Millie’s friend while both were in the “Anne Frank” cast, loved her for the gentleness that many mistook for weakness—till they found she couldn’t be stepped on.
Dodie told a writer, “When Millie finds someone who understands her, she gets all excited.” Prophetic words. For when she met Dean, they both found understanding. And this he had been groping for all his life. From then on, they walked together. They shared the outdoors, on a sailboat, on horseback, anywhere away from people and night clubs. They sprawled in secluded grassy fields and read to each other. And they talked—about everything in both their worlds. Millie even confided how sad it was for a little girl to be an ugly duckling. She didn’t care that girls never admit to ugliness, past, present or future.
Anyway, Dean topped her. He said, “It’s worse to be such a pretty little boy that the kids you want to play with laugh in your face. You’re different—a child actor, and that’s a terrible thing to be!” At six, Dean was a stage veteran starting a film career in “Anchors Aweigh.” He worked too hard and played too little, till at sixteen he’d completed high school and more than twenty pictures for M-G-M. Then he rebelled.
“I’m through with all this,” he told his mother and older brother Guy. “I’m going to college. I don’t know what I want to be—but I want to be something.” A year at Berkeley, and the “apartness” got under his skin again. He felt he’d always be “that actor” or “that conceited ham.” Restless, unfulfilled, he took off for anonymity. As “Rudy Stocker” he wandered to find himself. He did everything from lugging office mailsacks, in New York, to driving railroad spikes in Texas. After a few years, satisfied he could live by the sweat of hard labor, he came back—first to the New York stage, to co-star in “Compulsion,” then to Hollywood. And eventually to meet and fail in love with Millie Perkins.
The mixed-up rebel was a man now, and Millie saw this in him; leaned on him for strength. She worried with him, wept on him, laughed with him, shared his quiet times with music and books, his exciting times in the big outdoors. Dean had been close to other girls, but never one like Millie. He listened to her joys and troubles, comforted and praised her, poured out his own complicated heart to her—and never, never tried to change her.
“This is my girl,” he introduced her at his birthday party, where she showed up in the same old kind of skirt and blouse—and the others were all so dressed! He kissed her and said, “My girl looks different from any other—because she is different.” He loves her exactly as she is and doesn’t want to change her.
This is the all-accepting love that Millie never wrote her family back home about; they read it for themselves in the columns. Friends said then, “Millie isn’t sure how the Perkinses will take it, they being Catholic and the boy Jewish.” They described the pictured fragment of the Ten Commandments framed and hanging over Dean’s fireplace, and the Torah, the Hebrew Law, among his books.
But if difference of religion finally prompted them to go off to Vegas, secretly, and be married by a Protestant pastor, that’s only part of it. The whole story is that Millie and Dean have something together far more important to them then religion, family, career, anybody or anything.
They’re young, but wise. They know love is something you can’t describe in words that anybody but your own beloved will truly understand. And suppose, not understanding, your family or studio or friends disapprove? They can’t stop you, not when you’re of legal age. But to two sensitive people, criticism of their best, dearest treasure would be harsh as a rough finger bruising a petal.
No, say the few people who really know Millie Perkins and Dean Stockwell, they took no chances. They thought about how they felt toward each other, and decided it mas their own and very precious. That was why they ran away—to protect their love.
SEE DEAN IN 20TH’S “SONS AND LOVERS.”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JULY 1960