Why Tony And Janet Had To Elope?
A few months ago Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis confided to friends that they would be married late in August or early in September.
“By that time,” Tony said, “I’ll be finished making a personal appearance tour with Piper Laurie. You know, for The Prince Who Was A Thief. Janet’ll have some time off, and Jerry Lewis—he’s my best friend—will be back in California. Janet and I will be married in his house. Nothing big. A small wedding. Just friends and family.”
As you all know, Janet and Tony didn’t wait until September. They eloped to Greenwich, Connecticut, on June 4th, and were married in the Pickwick Arms Hotel. Judge John Knox, an old-time actor who once played with Francis X. Bushman, performed the honors, and while he referred to Janet once or twice as Florence, the ceremony came off without a hitch. Jerry Lewis, the best man, turned up two hours late, but his wife, Patti, who served as Janet’s bridesmaid was on time. A few minutes after Lewis arrived, Jeanette Helen Morrison Carlyle Reames Leigh legally became Mrs. Bernie Schwartz.
Why did Janet and Tony advance their wedding date? Why did they get married when both of their families were far away in California? Was this an impetuous, spontaneous decision?
It was not.
Tony and Janet eloped because certain persons, powerful persons, were opposed to their marriage. Tony’s folks and Janet’s parents were all for it; they gave their blessings. But a few of the big shots in Hollywood felt strongly that 1951 was no year for a Curtis-Leigh wedding, and they tried to postpone it indefinitely.
First they approached Jerry Lewis, the irrespressible comedian who knows Tony and Janet better than any other person does in Hollywood.
“You’re interested in the welfare of these kids, aren’t you?” Jerry was asked.
“Then, why don’t you tell them that they shouldn’t get married for a while?”
Lewis cocked an inquisitive eyebrow. “I don’t get it,” he said.
“Janet and Tony,” he was told, “are a couple of kids who are new in the business. Tony has a big following with the bobbysoxers. Janet has a big following among single men. If these two get married, their box-office value will go down. It’ll be no good for business, and it’ll be no good for their careers.”
For a fast second, Jerry Lewis thought it was all a gag. When he realized that the words were spoken in dead seriousness, he got mad. “You out of your mind?” he demanded. “These two kids are in love. Why shouldn’t they get married? I’m married. Dean’s married (Dean Martin). We don’t hurt the box office.”
“It’s not the same thing,” Jerry was informed. “You fellows are comedians. Janet and Tony are players; they act at love.
“The girls who watch Tony on the screen like to feel that he’s single and unattached, that he belongs to them. The men feel the same way about Janet.”
Jerry was firm. “I think you’re nuts,” he insisted. “This is a free country. If Janet and Tony want to get married, they should get married.”
“Don’t get excited,” Jerry was told. “We don’t want you to plead our case. All we want is to use you as a messenger. Just go to the kids and tell them we think that maybe the marriage should be postponed. Just for a little while, maybe until Tony’s picture has had a complete release. Believe me, we ask you to do this, because we think it’s best for Janet and Tony.”
Jerry Lewis saw Janet and Tony that same night. “Look,” he began, “I completely disagree with this, but I promised to transmit the following message.” Whereupon he repeated what had been told him.
Janet and Tony were, of course, enraged. “We’ll get married whenever we want,” Janet announced. Tony corroborated her sentiments in more earthy phrases.
When word of their decision to elope leaked out, one cf the studio producers called on Janet personally and tried to dissuade her.
If Janet really loved Tony—the argument went—if she really, deeply, and honestly loved him, she wouldn’t marry him—not yet, anyway.
After all, Tony was scheduled to embark on his first personal appearance tour with Piper Laurie. He had just finished his first starring role in The Prince. Who would be interested in Tony and Piper if Tony got married to Janet Leigh?
“I felt so angry,” Janet later confided to friends, “that I wanted to scream.”
Later that night, before she left for New York and Tony left for Chicago, they decided that they would get married somewhere in the East. They would get married before any more pressure was brought to bear on them.
“I realized,’ Tony said, “that I would have to find out once and for all whether people would like me as an actor. I knew I couldn’t live my life to satisfy the whole world. I would have to satisfy myself.”
Late in May when Janet Leigh arrived in New York, she was taken in tow by two publicity experts, John Springer of RKO for whom Janet had made Two Tickets to Broadway, and Dorothy Day, who represented Janet’s home studio, MGM.
They were having lunch in Danny’s Hideaway, a restaurant on East 45th Street, when Janet happened to ask, “I wonder if there’s any place around New York where people can get married in a hurry?”
The love-light was flashing in her eyes, and Springer had a pretty good idea of what was cooking in her mind.
“You been talking to Tony?” he asked.
“Why, yes,’ Janet said. “I spoke to him on the phone in Chicago. He’s coming in next week. I just can’t wait to see him. I wonder if some night, maybe after we’ve seen Dean and Jerry (Martin and Lewis) at the Copa, we can’t just drive off somewhere and get married.”
“Tell you what,” said the RKO publicity man. “I’ll look into the situation and let you know.”
Springer spoke to the authorities in Connecticut, and the kind people there agreed to waive the 5-day residence requirement, providing Janet and Tony filled out all the necessary papers, took the blood tests, and so forth.
A week before Tony arrived in New York, Janet drove up to Greenwich and took her blood test.
The woman who supervised it—Janet couldn’t remember whether she was a doctor, nurse, or lab technician, said, “I recognize you. Yes, I do. This blank has your name as Jeanette Reames, but I know who you really are.”
“You’re Vivian Leigh,” the nurse announced.
Once back in her suite at the Waldorf Towers, Janet put in a long-distance call to her groom-to-be at the Hotel Ambassador in Chicago.
“Darling,” she said, “the nurse told me I had some of the richest blood she’s ever seen.”
“As soon as I hit that crazy city,” Tony shouted, “we’re getting married. Do you hear? I don’t want my girl alone in New York with all those metropolitan wolves.”
Tony was true to his word. The morning after he arrived in in New York, RKO and MGM arranged for a fleet of three Cadillacs to transport the bride and groom to Greenwich. The manager of the movie house in Greenwich, Al Pourtnoy, hurriedly arranged for the ceremony to take place at the Pickwick Arms.
At 9:30 A.M., the wedding party arrived. It consisted of Janet, Tony, Patti Lewis, the bridesmaid, Paula Stone, Dorothy Day, Joe Abeles, a photographer-friend of Tony’s, John Springer, Mac David and Jerry Livingston, the song writers, and one or two other friends.
Once all the papers were in order, the party waited until Jerry Lewis, the best man, appeared. A few moments later, Janet had promised to take Bernie for her husband, and Bernie had agreed to call Janet his wife.
There was much kissing—Jerry Lewis almost broke Janet’s back in one of the great kissing exhibitions of all time—there was much frivolity, and much unrestrained joyousness.
Then the wedding party re-entered the three Cadillac limousines and headed for New York.
Tony and Janet were in the first limousine. When they hit the Bronx, they stopped kissing long enough for Tony to recognize that they were traveling on Bruckner Boulevard.
“Unless I’m mistaken,” Tony said, “I have an aunt who lives around here. Her name is Klein. She lives on Bryant Avenue. This is the time of day she should be sitting out in front of the apartment house. Would you like to meet her?”
“I’d love to,” said Janet.
In a matter of minutes, three ieee pulled up in front of the building. Sure enough, there was Tony’s aunt sitting on the steps. Tony ran up to her and kissed her soundly.
The poor woman was amazed. She looked at aTony, then at the three Cadillacs.
“Bernie,” she cried, “you’re coming from a funeral?”
Her nephew roared and introduced his beautiful bride. There were many “ahs” and expressions of wonderment, as other tenants of the apartment building looked out from their windows. Tony and Janet stayed with Mrs. Klein for a few minutes, then rode back to their bridal suite at the Waldorf.
Later that night, there was a small wedding party at Danny’s Hideaway just for friends of the newlyweds. Tony made speeches. Janet, the happiness bursting out all over, kissed everyone. Champagne flowed freely. It was a wedding dinner not soon to be forgotten.
Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin were there, of course. Towards the end of the party, Jerry jumped to his feet and called for a toast. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I should like to propose a toast, if I may, to those two very wonderful, very charming”—and he looked directly at Tony and Janet—“to those two very happy young people—Shelley Winters and Scott Brady.”
After the party, Janet and Tony had a one-week honeymoon in New York. It wasn’t really a honeymoon. They spent most of their days working. Then Tony left for Boston to continue his personal appearance tour, and Janet returned to California to find them a house.
When Janet was asked if she didn’t regret not having a large wedding instead of a tumultuous elopement, she grinned.
“There’s only one thing about our marriage,” she said, “that Tony and I both regret. It should’ve happened a who lot sooner.”
—BY CAROLINE BROOKS
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 1951