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You Can Stay In Love—Robert Stack & Rosemarie Bowe

Cupid waved his and and, suddenly, it was magic. Bob Stack was in love with Rosemary Bowe. It was nice being in love. But no matter how bright the moonlight shone, bob had made up his mind—he wasn’t going to get married. He had seen what happened to his friends when they got married. First, she’d bring him his pipe and slippers and he’d bring her roses. They’d have dinner by candlelight. But pretty soon they began to get bored . . . or began to argue. Bob was worried, even though Rosemary told him: You Can Stay In Love (even when married).

They were married on January 24th, 1956.

He thought of that day one morning as he leaned out the car window to kiss Rosemary goodbye . . . and he felt guilty.

He searched her pretty face, tilted toward him, and looked for a long minute into her wide blue eyes. He saw so little of her these days. It worried him. Would he wake up one morning to find they’d become strangers?

He was glad they’d managed to have breakfast together, today, even if now he had to take off fast or he’d be late on the set. “It’s all your fault,” he’d teased her once. “If you hadn’t married me, I’d probably have gone on being the guy who always almost made it.” He was serious, too, when he gave her a lot of credit for the success he’d made playing lawman Eliot Ness in “The Untouchables.” Still, it meant long hours away from her. She never said anything, but he knew it was hard on her.

“What about dinner, Dear,” she asked now, hopefully. “Will you be home?”

“No, Honey,” he shook his head. “The way things look, I’ll be working until one, maybe two in the morning.”

Rosemary leaned inside to continue the conversation.

“Okay,” she said, making her voice cheerful. “Then I’ll bring dinner out to you.”

“That’s some idea,” he laughed. But, then, something about the way her chin was set made him stop. “Hey, you’re not serious, are you?” he asked. She nodded her head. “You’re a honey,” he said, rumpling her hair. “But forget it. Don’t bother. You put up with enough for my show.”

He moved off, waving goodbye, but Rosemary had the last word anyway.

“Don’t be silly,” she called after him. “I’d love to.”

He didn’t hear her. The car engine had drowned out her words and he was already nosing his car toward the studio, and grinning to himself as he pictured her showing up in the middle of the night like Little Red Riding Hood with her basket of food, on the blustery backlot in Culver City where they shot the night scenes.

It was just like her to think up a fantastic scheme like that, he thought. Not once has she griped about being lonely in the years that he’d been driving himself sixteen, seventeen hours a day on this series. She’d patiently backed him every inch of the way. The hours were murder; they shot all day at the studios, took a supper break and drove out to Culver to do the night scenes in Nature’s own dark. And he had forty, fifty pages of dialogue to learn a week. But Rosemary gave a guy privacy to study; she took responsibility for the children and house on her own slim shoulders. And if he hadn’t said no, just now, she’d come toting food to him tonight. She was that kind of a wife. And he wished he could see her more than just once in a while.

Out of the darkness

That night, Bob felt lonely and desolate. And the chill settling over the lot didn’t lift his spirits any. When you work outside in the middle of the night for four, five hours it gets cold—you actually wear long underwear or freeze.

Then, suddenly, out of the frigid darkness around the lot, an odd little figure emerged in an outlandish costume—a ski jacket on top, and riding pants on bottom. Bob stared as the figure came closer. Then he saw it was Rosemary. She was lugging not one Little Red Riding Hood basket, but two hefty hampers. He took them from her and asked, “What the dickens have you got in here—food for twenty people?”

“You’ll see,” she said brightly, and kissed him on the cheek. He couldn’t help noticing that, for all the scrambled get-up, she looked cute.

They went into Bob’s dressing room. She opened a folding table and covered it with a checkered tablecloth. Then, while Bob watched somewhat dumbfounded, she set out plastic cups and dishes, turned off the electric bulbs and lit a pair of candles in two little holders they’d bought for picnics.

“Talk about enchanted evenings!” Bob smiles, remembering it. “She even brought me a little martini to have before dinner. She cooked the artichokes and did the whole thing. I thought, ‘Gee, maybe the others will think it’s too pretentious.’ Then I decided, ‘The heck with what people think. Why shouldn’t we have a good time out of a dinner break that’s usually pretty ghastly?’ It was great! The food was hot, and it was wonderful.”

What started on an impulse became a nightly ritual. Bob, who already had been willing to shout from his housetop that he was hopelessly in love with his wife, found himself more in love with her than ever. He was amazed at how she could take a bleak situation and turn it into fun . . . and gracious living . . . and love.

She kept alive the very flavor of their marriage. Or as Bob puts it, “She made that one hour a night mean something instead of just a chance to fill your stomach. We’d sit in the dressing room relaxed, and I’d visit with her, ask what the kids did all day, what’s new around the house. She gave me a tie to home. Otherwise I’d feel like a stranger coming in just to sleep for a few hours.

“At first, people thought we were crazy. The candle bit, for instance. But we like candles. We use them all the time when we’re alone, it gives you an atmosphere. But to some people, candles are snooty. Anyway, it turned out that my wife’s whole idea was a great morale booster even to the other guys. They figure if some guy’s wife is crazy enough to come out one, two in the morning for a husband who’s crazy to work those hours, then everybody’s crazy and nobody’s lonely. Otherwise, you get to figuring that the rest of the world’s gone to bed and what am I doing out here?”

It is true that when some of the other fellows’ wives heard about it, they resented Rosemary. “They thought she was setting a bad example by spoiling her husband,” Bob grins. “They wanted to read her out of the housewives’ union, or something. But that soon blew over. Now everyone sort of expects it, and people drop by. Some of the guys have a drink. It takes away all the grimness. You have a few laughs, tell a few lies, and have some fun. If I’d known marriage was going to be like this, I never would have hesitated.”

Settling down seemed stupid

Vague fears of marriage problems had gnawed at Bob all the time he courted Rosemary Bowe. He wasn’t sure they could be happy in his kind of life. He wasn’t sure he had the right to expect that much patience and understanding of any woman. He was even less sure of himself as a husband. He had the bachelor’s dread of losing his freedom. He couldn’t see himself staying home with the pipe and slippers, watching the footloose fellows go by.

“Settling down and having children,” he admits, “seemed dull as dishwater and a stupid way to live—for me, at least.”

Moreover, Bob firmly believed that “he travels fastest who travels alone.” And speed was for him—single-seat racing boats, speed cars, any pursuit where he dared danger because he had no obligation to be careful for the sake of a wife and children.

His skepticism was deepened by the mounds of marital debris cluttering the Hollywood scene. Friends told him, “Marriage is exactly like building a house. You make all your mistakes in the first, and plenty in the second, and the third is to make up for all the mistakes in the first and second.” It sounded awful.

“I come from a broken home myself, and offhand I couldn’t think of even one happy marriage,” he admits candidly. “If I could have pointed to just one! But everytime I’d say of a pair, ‘Well, now, they look pretty contented,’ next week I’d pick up the newspaper and he was hitting her with a hammer or vice versa. I was sure marriage was the end of happiness, not the beginning.”

Bob was particularly uncertain about his own capacity to contribute to a happy marriage. “I thought the great lack would be in me,” he owns up. “I had grave doubts that I would be worth a darn as a husband. I just thought I wasn’t cut out to live with a woman, and home life would bore the heck out of me. I felt it was almost irreligious to go to church and say those marriage vows if I didn’t mean it. A man has the right to make a mistake in marriage. But to go in with the feeling that it’s only a flyer, and if it doesn’t work then, in two weeks you can call it off—that made me shudder worse. It wasn’t for me.”

Even when he and Rosemary fell in love, he was unable to rid himself of his tormenting doubts. He felt pulled in two directions at once—wanting to marry Rosemary, at the same time not wanting to risk having their love boiled dry in the pressure cooker of marriage.

“We fought,” he recalls, “and the fights were all about do we or don’t we get married. She was so emotionally upset, at one point, that she actually blacked out. She fainted at the wheel and drove off the side of the road.”

Bob and Rosemary fought so bitterly that finally they called off their engagement. And then he promptly discovered he couldn’t live without her.

“It was that simple,” he says in awe. “I was so dumb that I hadn’t even known how much I was in love with her. I’m not saying the misgivings suddenly disappeared, but they couldn’t affect me any more. I only knew I was so miserable without her that it was worth anything to be with her again.”

So he proposed

So, consumed and driven by love and tormented by fear, he proposed desperately.

“I have to marry you!”

He smiles wryly about it now.

“She didn’t quite get it, because she’s a woman,” he explains. “She took my proposal as a backhanded compliment, when it was the highest compliment I could ever pay anyone. Because I literally had no choice. The marriage might fall on its face tomorrow; all I knew was what I had to do today. And that was to ask her to marry me.”

So they were married. “And,” says Bob, “I looked at myself and asked, ‘What were all the problems? This is a great girl. Marriage is a ball.’ But I’ll be candid—I was still wary about having children unless I was positive we had a good marriage for keeps. Because, as I said, I was from a broken home, I’d seen others, and even though my mother was wonderful, it’s a sad thing to see children torn up. If there were any doubts, I wanted no children. But it took only three months to end all my doubts.

“I was no longer afraid to have children, I wanted them. I didn’t worry about tomorrow, either. It not only surprised me, but my friends. They said they never saw anyone take to marriage and fatherhood like I did. And we were lucky, the Lord blessed us with children when we wanted them.”

Elizabeth is three now, and Charles is two. They don’t see much of their daddy because he works such hours, but when they do it’s because he wants to. As he puts it, “If I stay home with the kids in-stead of doing something else, it’s because I’d rather—not because I have to.”

Bob, who at forty still has the face, figure and vitality of his mid-twenties, was an All-American skeet shooter by the time he was sixteen. He played polo, fooled around with fast cars, motorcycles, racing boats. He figured that now that he was married, his love for sports and the outdoors would die a natural death. But not so. Zing went another unfounded fear.

“Rosemary,” he points out with relief “is not only a good-looking gal, and feminine, but she turned out to be a darn good athlete. I took her skiing and she learned fast. I took her skeet shooting, and she amazed me by having no fear of the gun. This is phenomenal, most girls are scared stiff of a gun. She’s shooting so well that now, when I get a couple of days off, we head north to shoot ducks at a place my father left me near Marysville.

“There were a few crazy things I didn’t try,” he says, “I still love speed—but risking my wife’s neck in a hot auto is the only thing I didn’t share with her. For that, I go by myself. And I’m free to. She has made me give up nothing.”

The result? He’s crazy about staying home. “I’ve been around the globe,” he says. “When I go on location—Spain, Japan—my family comes along. But home in Bel Air has it all over Europe. We built our house between a tennis court and swimming pool on the estate of Colleen Moore, who was a silent screen star, and we practically live in a playground.”

But Bob feels fun and freedom isn’t the whole thing. There’s the matter of understanding.

“The acting business is a very lonely one,” he explains, “and hard to take unless you can walk through your front door into a life as a human being. Rosemary does that for me. She cares what happens to me more than I care myself. I’d hate to go back to the way I lived before.” And with a grin, he adds, “Now I even have a built-in audience. When your kids say, ‘Daddy, I love you,’ you’re nine feet tall no matter what anyone else says.”

After almost five years, he feels that their love and marriage is as “good as new.”

And why? “Because you don’t have to tell Rosemary that the long hours away are for her and the kids, that after a few more tough years they’ll have financial security. Too many men have to explain this to their wives. They phone and say ‘Look Honey, I’m busy designing a missile.’ And she says, ‘I don’t care about your confounded missile, you come home, dinner’s getting spoiled.’ That attitude can murder a marriage.

“I know I’m lucky,” he goes on, “because Rosemary’s not like that. Sometimes I want to pinch myself because I can’t believe where a guy like me comes off deserving a wife like her. And every now and then, when I’m on my way to work and in a hurry, I can’t help it, I have to turn the car around at the corner and head back home, just to kiss her again. She looks at me as though I’m crazy, but I just have to let her know I appreciate her. I keep wanting to thank her for marrying me and for somehow arranging it so that, even though we did get married, we’re still in love.”


See Bob on ABC-TV, Thurs., 9:30-10:30 p.m. EDT in “The Untouchables.” Rosemary’s in Par.’s “All in a Night’s Work.”



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