Why The Stewart Granger Marriage Won’t Fail?
Stewart Granger stands accused by Hollywood of bad behavior, on and off the set.
He is, the gossips say, arrogant, belligerent and intolerant. He has, they add, a conceit that is intolerable and a gift for swearing that, while a trooper might envy it, comes as a shock to those more sensitive than he. And he dominates his wife, Jean Simmons, and is inconsiderate of her.
The fact is, there is no one more sensitive than Stewart Granger. Just ask the people who have known him intimately for years, since the early days when he was first struggling toward film success.
Jimmy (that’s what his close friends call him) is a perfectionist. To that you can ascribe all the faults that those who know him only superficially see in him.
A failure to make the grade at a medical school, where he had wanted to study neurology, and a short-lived attempt at business, left him in a baffled and troubled state of mind. Chance gave him a job as a film extra. He made up his mind then. He suddenly knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to act.
Tall, handsome, with an engaging smile and a good speaking voice, he could have hung about the studios waiting until some director recognized his potentialities. But Jimmy is not like that.
He wanted to offer the screen the best he was capable of. He did not want to be a director’s puppet—mouthing a line or twitching an eyebrow as instructed. He was determined to learn to be an actor.
He went into repertory, working like a Trojan at a different play each week for the modest salary of three pounds weekly— in those days, about fifteen dollars. Here he met and married Elspeth March, a charming and talented actress. That was fourteen years ago.
Elspeth gravitated to London’s West End. Another man might have been jealous of his wife’s success. Jimmy, grateful for all she had taught him of acting technique, was only proud of her. He knew that one day he, too, would reach London, but meantime he went on slogging away in stock and, without her loving support to give him confidence, he worried. Was this, or that performance really good enough? Could it be improved—perfected?
Jimmy still worries. His pursuit of perfection has been the cause of many a row in both British and Hollywood films—rows with scriptwriters over suggested alterations, with cameramen over the quality of a shot, and with directors over their approach to a subject. Jimmy is sharply and outspokenly critical—but of himself as well as others, which is rare in movies.
In 1939, war broke out and Jimmy joined the Army, only to be invalided out in 1942 with a duodenal ulcer.
Released from the doctors and psychiatrists, who had tried to remove both the ulcer and the fundamental cause, a rather unsure Jimmy took a small part in the film, “The Man in Gray,” for Gaumont-British-Gainsborough films. He was instantly recognized as star material. Film offers rolled in. Jimmy’s confidence grew. Now was the time, said the studio cynics, to watch out for a rapid expansion of the ego, a swelling of the head and a throwing about of the weight; for in no time at all Jimmy, handsomer than ever, was being billed as “The Torso” and “Heart-Throb.”
Well, Jimmy has his vanity, like any other actor or, for that matter, any other man. But, if ever he threw his weight about, it was on somebody else’s behalf. He’s been known to bawl out an executive for bullying an underling, and tick off, in terms as colorful as they were uninhibited, a director for too familiar treatment of some young actress who was too timid to slap down the man on whom her job depended. There is a strongly protective streak in Jimmy Granger.
When he first met Jean Simmons, she was a child of fourteen, as innocent and pretty as a flower; she had been given a tiny part in “Caesar and Cleopatra,” in which Jimmy was to display that magnificent torso of his to the full. Jean, who naively admitted she had never read anything written by Mr. Shakespeare, was clearly awed by Jimmy, always referred to him, in hushed tones, as “Mr. Granger!”
Jimmy, who at that time had no interest in Jean except a fatherly one, viewed the fabulous Gabriel Pascal with horror and suspicion when he saw the elderly director parading this sweet, laughing little girl as his protegee, and leading her about the set on a camel! He hated to think the child’s head might be turned, her future affected, by Pascal’s attentions. And he showed it. But a crisis was avoided when the camel bit Pascal!
By this time, Jimmy Granger was in the big money. He could have anything he wanted—and he wanted only the best. He bought a beautiful country house, The Watchers, in Hazlemere with sixteen acres of gardens. The old house, where he and Elspeth loved to entertain, was magnificently furnished.
It was at The Watchers that the couple’s second child was born and there too, alas, that the marriage began to go to pieces. Whose fault? It’s hard to say—except that they grew apart from each other as couples do. The fact that Elspeth is considerably older than Jimmy was certainly a factor.
After the divorce, Jimmy moved to a handsomely equipped bachelor flat, in Kensington Gore (one of the most select residential districts in London). He was unhappy and restless. His home was broken up. His wife and children were living nearby, but he only saw the children on Sundays.
To occupy himself when not filming, he started collecting French Impressionist paintings and Chinese porcelain. He was at every boxing match in London, usually with his best friend, Michael Wilding. They bought and shared a yacht.
You may wonder why Jimmy did not, at that time, start looking around for a second wife, or, in any case choose a girlfriend from among the many beautiful and sophisticated women he knew. Well, strange as it may seem in such a handsome man, Jimmy is not particularly interested in women. He has never been one to indulge in promiscuous affairs. He enjoys the company of women, but if they flaunt their sex-appeal too blatantly, he loses interest. It is not only that he puts his career before all things in his life, it is because he values love above sex.
Jimmy has always been a devoted son to his charming mother. He adores his two children and there is no doubt that he is a tender and protective husband to Jean.
Yet crepehangers say that the disparity in their ages augurs unfavorably for the success of their marriage. And they point out that there is a marked disparity in their backgrounds and outlook, as well.
Jean is the youngest of four children born to a middle-class family. Jean’s folks are simple people, and Jean was brought up in simple circumstances. Because of her great affection for her mother and her limited experience of life, she had no urge to change the pattern, until film fame and her friends persuaded her to take a flat of her own when she was twenty-one.
Jimmy was educated at Epsom College, but Jean had little in the way of formal education. She was at a day school for girls at Edgeware, a suburb of London, until war broke out. Then, in common with many other London children, she was evacuated to Somerset, out of the danger of bombing raids. Jean was so miserable away from her family that in 1942 they brought her back to London.
Until she went to Somerset, Jean’s great ambition was to “sail right round the world in a small boat.” When she returned, she had decided that she would leave sailing to the boys and be a dancer!
Her mother sent her to the Aida Foster school to study dancing. Since dramatic art was part of the course, Jean planned to take that too. But she had only been at the school two weeks when Gainsborough Studios asked for a little girl to play Margaret Lockwood’s sister in “Give Us the Moon.” Jean was tested and got the part. She was twelve years old then, and hailed as a natural-born actress.
Within the next two years she appeared in six films (including the famous “Caesar and Cleopatra”)—and in 1946, she scored an immense success as the young Estella in “Great Expectations.” So enchanting was her performance, that Valerie Hobson, playing Estella grown up, was entirely over-shadowed.
The British film industry exulted over and exploited the wonder child. Film followed film in rapid succession (four in 1947) and in 1948, she became literally world-famous for her Ophelia in Sir Laurence Olivier’s “Hamlet.”
J. Arthur Rank, to whom she was under contract, realized he had a valuable property in Jean, and over-worked her accordingly. There was no time to live or to grow up—and some of the films of that period were not worth the sacrifice.
“Adam and Evelyn,” however was, for there, with a fluttering heart, she played opposite Jimmy Granger. Their roles in this picture were oddly significant: She played a very young, unworldly girl, while he appeared as her early-middle-aged, sophisticated guardian whose protective feeling developed into something more when he realized she loved him.
Little Jean had had a hard time just before this film was made, and Jimmy wanted to make things as pleasant for her as possible. That she should adore him in return was girlishly natural and must have been infinitely appealing to him.
Jimmy admired Jean as an actress, too, and this admiration led to a near disaster. After a four-year absence from the stage, Jimmy decided to return in a gloomy Tolstoy play, “The Power of Darkness,” and he wanted Jean to appear in it with him. Her studio gave permission. Poor Jimmy! He had not realized that his own acting ability, acquired through hard work in the theatre, was something entirely different from Jean’s unschooled talent.
The first night was misery for Jean. She had never appeared on a stage before and was too terrified to act. The audience was hostile. Jean burst into tears, and in full view of the audience Jimmy put his arms around her and kissed her, trying, in his own genuine distress, to comfort her. His attitude seemed that of a grown-up toward a child. Yet it was this little girl he married eighteen months later.
When Jimmy went to Hollywood, he made it clear that he’d like Jean to come over too. He knew it would be good for her career—and to Jimmy that seemed the most important thing in the world. She, however, considered him the most important thing. But screen commitments kept her in England.
On her twenty-first birthday, in January 1950, starry-eyed young Jean hoped tremulously that Jimmy would arrive from America to share in the celebrations. She had been given “what I’ve wanted all my life,” a boxer puppy, and she had taken a small flat for herself. The flat was a little pathetic, for she had no idea of how to furnish it. A bed, a couple of chairs and a small table stood on an uncarpeted floor—but Jean was as pleased with it as a child with a new doll’s house.
Jimmy could not make the party, and Jean, like a tired and disappointed little girl, fled from the guests in tears to be petted and consoled by her beloved mother.
Jimmy’s absence was unavoidable, but he felt wretched at having upset Jean. Gently, and quietly, she had become an important part of his life. He proposed soon after, and they were married the following December. More and more, Jean turned to him for advice and help, ignoring the critics who said this marriage could not last. For he was her first love and could do no wrong. And when the opportunity came to play with him again, in “Young Bess,” Jean’s happiness knew no bounds.
But what of the future of this marriage? Hollywood has given Jean Simmons the appearance of sophistication. But behind the facade, she is still very young. Still very vulnerable. And as long as she remains so, Jimmy, nearly twenty years her senior, will not leave her.
One day, however, Jean will grow up, find the place her talents must surely make for her among the top stars. When she does, Jean may discover that a submissive, adoring love is not enough. And friends believe that, if that day should ever come, Jimmy, an experienced, cultured man of the world, will give her her freedom—not because he does not love her or because he will feel their marriage had failed. But because she will no longer need his protective kind of love. He wants Jean to know the greatest possible fulfillment as a woman—the complete happiness that comes with a love and marriage based on mutual sharing and understanding.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE MAY 1953