Wives Make The Best Husbands!
WHEN AVA GARDNER took Frank Sinatra for better or for worse, I couldn’t see how things could be any worse for them. His television show was about’ to be axed. His picture, “Meet Danny Wilson,” was heading for a box-office nosedive. His records weren’t selling. His fan following was violently divided over the divorce from Nancy. His popularity with the press was nil. He wasn’t even feeling too good physically.
And do you think any of this bothered our Ava? Of course it did. But she was determined not to let it bother Frankie too much. As far as she’s concerned, he has never stopped being a success. And it’s this kind of confidence that has put many a career-wobbly husband right back on top again.
That’s what I mean when I say that wives make the best husbands. Look at the positive wives—the members of Hollywood teams where the husband couldn’t possibly be where he is today—and tomorrow—if the little woman hadn’t been right behind him, giving him the kind of push a man needs to send him soaring. And I mean, among others, Sue Ladd, Lauren Bacall, Shelley Winters, Jeanne Crain and Esther Williams.
I remember smiling when Sue Ladd sold half her agent’s interest in Alan to another ten percenter, because, as she told me then, “I couldn’t do a good job for him at the studio, or anywhere, once we were married. No matter what I said about him, it would sound prejudiced. And people were bound to be sceptical.” But did that stop Sue from boosting Alan in every way she could? Not by a hundred per cent.
She didn’t even slow up on the Ladd sales promotion a couple of years ago, after she sold her remaining half of Alan to a top. agency. Her net on the deal: enough cash to pay for the $150,000 mansion in Holmby Hills. That was Alan’s present to Sue. And Sue’s present to Alan is one of the most fabulous careers this town has ever seen. With Sue pegging the rates, Alan’s salary at Paramount rocketed from $150 a week for “This Gun for Hire” to $200,000 per pic, which he’s earning for “Shane.” He gets that plus a percentage at Warners for “The Iron Mistress” and a fifty-fifty share of the profits from Legion” at Universal. This could easily add up to an astronomic half-million year. And now that he is making “The ed Beret” for Columbia in England, he gets an added $250,000 plus $50,000 for family living expenses abroad.
Every tiny detail of Alan’s career comes under magnified scrutiny by Sue’s sharp eyes. And for years, studios haven’t bothered to bother Alan with the details. Sue told him years ago when to go on strike for more pay, and she held him firm during the suspension to ultimate victory.
I always used to think that Sue set the pace at home, too. But I learned differently when I spent a day with them not long ago. Alan is in charge on the home front—a surprise reverse. He decides what food they eat, when the children should go to bed, who’s invited to visit, and what television shows the family watches.
Alan thinks the division of responsibility is just fine. And he knows how lucky he is. He adores Sue, and would no more move a step without her in his social life than in his career.
Shelley Winters—about as unlike Sue Ladd as a gal can be—is just as genuinely concerned about her husband’s work. She started creating an American career for Vittorio even before she married him. Shell always was impetuous. And the very day her Gassman flew into town, she had him out at Metro meeting Dore Schary and all the top producers and spieling about how he was the greatest dramatic actor in all Italy. But this didn’t impress ‘anyone, After all, we’ve been listening to Shelley talk for years, only it used to be just for her own benefit. Anyway, when she found she couldn’t whip up any interest on her say-so, she rented the Circle Theater in Hollywood, hired Valentina Cortese as interpreter, and impresarioed Vittorio in a program of readings—everything from Shakespeare on down. And ithe audience was electrified.
As a clincher after the show, Shelley—who always said she’s going for broke—hosted a big party for the press and producers. I hope Vittorio doesn’t forget that he owes “Sombrero” and his good contract at Metro to Shelley. She even managed to wangle more money for him than she herself earns. And she’s prepared to go on suspension any time to be with him.
A lot of people have asked how Shelley could be in love with Farley Granger when she went to Europe with him last summer, and come home in love with Gassman. The answer could be that she never was in love with Farley—just trying to be. I happen to know that the beginning of her romance with Vittorio came as kind of a surprise to Shelley. She told me how it started: “We were at a party in Rome and playing a guessing game. And out of a clear sky, Vittorio asked me to guess when he fell in love with me. I was covered with confusion, naturally.” Naturally.
Another all-or-nothing pair are the Bogarts. One of the things I like best about Lauren and Humphrey is the way they go to bat for each other. It’s almost ancient history, but when the critics panned Baby in “Confidential Agent,” Bogey wrote them letters as fierce as Truman’s when the music boys massacred Margaret’s High C.
And Lauren was a gal in pretty good standing at Warners until Bogey started panning Jack L. Warner all over town. Then Baby decided she didn’t like the pictures they were throwing at her.
But it was when she decided that Bogey was her life’s work—after seven suspensions—that J.L. and L.B. called it quits. And she hasn’t worked for two years.
She’s smart enough to dissociate herself completely from Bogey’s working problems; she knows he knows more about acting than she ever will. But this isn’t where he needs her strength. Bogey is, shall we say, the gay type, and he’d stay up half the night having fun but for Baby’s quiet displeasure. She’s probably prolonged his life a good ten years. It’s funny, but no one gave this May-December match more than a year. They’ve already chalked off seven.
And I never thought I’d see tough guy Humphrey living in $160,000 worth of splendor, replete with swimming pool et al. and swarming with butlers. But there he is—and all for the love of his Baby. By comparison, the home he lived in with previous wife, the late Mayo Methot, was a hovel. So, what with little Stephen and the new baby girl, Leslie, you can say without fear of contradiction that Miss Bacall is her husband’s best friend.
A girl’s mother, however, is not always her best adviser, though most moms want to be. Take, for instance, the case of Jeanne Crain and her female parent. Jeanne married Paul Brinkman despite her mother’s “No,” and time has proved that Jeanne knew exactly what she was doing. There’s no doubt about it—Jeanne is a smart as well as a pretty little cookie. When the wife is a successful movie star and the husband can’t even land a job pictures, you can make a solid prediction: trouble in the offing. But not for somebody as cagey as Jeanne. She advised Paul—whose resemblance to Errol Flynn is striking enough to keep him from real success on the screen—to go into a different profession. Now Paul is chairman, president and what-have-you of ABC Die Casting Works, which makes containers for radar equipment. Business is booming.
Esther Williams did the same thing for her husband, Ben Gage, who could still get middling jobs in radio and TV, but who couldn’t possibly do half as well as he does in the Esther-sponsored businesses he runs for them both.
I remember, too, how hesitant George Montgomery was about marrying Dinah Shore just before the war. He’d never say it, but it was plain to see that George was afraid marriage might hamper his career. Dinah was mad for him, and when George went to training camp, she traipsed right after him. And she got her man. But even though her own career is as big as any top movie star’s, she never forgets how “nice it is to have a man around the house” who feels equally important. So when NBC originally offered her millions to do her TV show in New York, Dinah said. “No.” Because George’s work keeps him in Hollywood. This gal who loves success—who doesn’t?—loves the real things in life even more. That George is a lucky guy.
No one can really prophesy how the Elizabeth Taylor-Mike Wilding marriage will work out. But the way things are going, it looks as though Liz would rather be known as plain Mrs. Wilding than as, the fabulously exciting Elizabeth Taylor. She cooks for her man and loves it! And—more important—she sees that the spotlight is on Mike. It’s all very good for his ego—and for their future together.
Lucille Ball didn’t need to risk her talented neck in television. But she did it, just so Desi Arnaz could have a steady job in Hollywood, Don’t misunderstand me—Desi could always make as much money as they could spend, with his band in night club and on tour. But it wasn’t helping their marriage for him to be on the road or working till dawn nine months out of every twelve. For years, Lucille had tried to talk producers into putting him in her pictures, but the one time she managed it didn’t work out too well. Every warning in the books was thrown at her when she announced the TV series with Desi. And you know what happened. Their success has been wonderful for them both but it’s been more important, perhaps, to Desi than to Lucille. He is now a to TV producer and he’s producing shows or stellar lights such as Eve Arden.
It’s hard to know who is masterminding Tony Curtis’ career—his best friend Jerry Lewis, or his best wife, Janet Leigh. It could even have been his agents who advised him to go on suspension, rather than forego five weeks with Janet on her Durango, Colorado, location with “The Naked Spur.” But he’s certainly a different boy since the marriage—more confident. And that’s understandable. Imagine a guy who has Janet bending over him solicitously all the time, and telling him how handsome he is and to eat more or he’ll get sick—imagine that guy not feeling good.
When I used to listen to Bob Hope say that he spent three months of the year at home, I wondered how his wife, Dolores, felt about the long absences. But they don’t seem to throw her. It’s because she understands Bob so well that this marriage wears so well. If Bob’s busy, so is Dolores—on every fund-raising committee, with their four children, with the running of their homes in North Hollywood and Palm Springs. She’s always calm—in public anyway—always gracious and always a wonderful foil for Bob. He just has to be one of the happiest men hereabouts.
Dick Powell always looks to me as though he’d swallowed the cat—all puffed out and pleased. And June Allyson can take a bow. She tells me she’s thinking of retiring when her present Metro contract expires, because she wants more time with Dick and the children. June, consistently one of the top gals in box-office polls, has never been ambitious—certainly not since she married Richard. She used to eat her heart out during her pre-marriage years fighting for and against—mostly against—pictures. Now she thinks she may be ready to pass the whole caboodle along to the next generation. The Powells don’t need her extra money—especially not since Dick has turned writer and director. These are two normal people. They go to parties, only rarely to night clubs, to premieres when they feel like it, take occasional trips. But they don’t gad about all over the place. It’s not the way her predecessor, Joan Blondell, tells it, but June has made Dick one of the best husbands in town.
Betty Hutton is currently going to bat for her new mate, Charlie O’Curran. He’s a fine dance director, but Betty thinks he rates a full-blown director’s berth. He’s to produce her pictures and her filmed TV shows when she joins the new medium.
Maybe the greatest switcheroo possibility of them all is this: for Bette Davis to be cataloged simply as “Gary Merrill’s wife.” But it could happen. Bette thinks Gary is a heck of a fine actor, and to prove it, she took a bit in his “Phone Call From a Stranger.” Even Shelley Winters was impressed. “Just imagine,” said she, “Bette ‘Davis playing a supporting role to me!”
Bette managed to steal the picture with her bit. She’s at work now on “The Star,” but her films are getting fewer and fewer with the years, and Gary’s performances are getting better and better. One thing is certain: the best role Bette’s played to date is “Mrs. Gary Merrill.”
More than any of them, possibly, it’s Bette who proves that a genuine actress is at her happiest when she’s a genuine wife and woman, as well. You don’t measure the rewards in kilowatts blazing down from theater marquee, but in the glow that comes from a happy heart.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 1952