You Read It First In Vintage Paparazzi
BY CONNIE STEVENS as told to Jane Ardmore
“A few days after you read this story,” Connie Stevens said, “Gary Clarke and will be married (if we’re not already married) and honeymooning at Niagara Falls! We may be the only ones there! We’d always hoped for a February wedding and now it’s all planned—at St. Francis de Sales Church in the valley with a reception here and then a day later, another reception in New York because so many of my relatives are there and you just can’t leave any of the family out of something like this, not when you’re part of an Italian family.
“Such excitement you’ve never seen! We’d stopped by a jewelry store to pick up a string of pearls, this was just before I went to Australia—we’ll talk about that later—anyhow Gary pointed to a tray of gorgeous diamond rings. ‘Why don’t you try on some of these?’ he said. ‘Which one do you like?’ I said, ‘Well, the biggest one, naturally,’ at which point he slipped it on my finger and told the jewler, ‘We’ll take it.’ I was stunned . . . all the way home.
“Gary stopped, picked up a magnum of champagne and the minute we got in the house, we called our families and said, ‘Hurry, hurry, hurry, come right over.’ My brother and my uncle and aunt and Gary’s mother came over immediately in whatever they were wearing right that minute, sports clothes, capris, they couldn’t imagine what was up. Then we all went over to Paul’s in Beverly where my dad is working. It was strictly a happy family night.
“It’ll be a big formal wedding with eight of my closest girl friends as bridesmaids. Three of the girls are flying in from New York. All the girls whose husbands can get away are driving across country, the same as they did when they came to see me last summer, two carloads, all but my very best friend, Patty Wagenbrenner who can’t come, she’s too pregnant. My kid brother Ralph Megna will be an usher, my cousin Ellie Megna’s coming, my cousin Carol Certo is matron of honor.
“I have my dress—you know me, that’s the first thing I did, got it from Bianca in New York. The whole thing is bell shaped, beaded to the finger tips and with a train a block long. The veil is very, very bouffant, not white, antique ivory, and with a stephane headband coming to a little joint on my forehead. Carol’s dress is pink and the girls are in beautiful American beauty red. These are the girls who’ve been my friends since I was in school. They were sup- posed to each carry one American beauty rose, but Dessa De Crois is pregnant and she begged for a whole bouquet, so they’ll all have bouquets.
“The last time we were in New York, Gary met the girls and their husbands and got the biggest kick out of them.
“And my family! Gary’d say ‘When are we going to run out of relatives so we can go to a play or a movie?’ We never ran out of relatives! We still haven’t. You should have seen my house over the holidays, crammed with family and all of us twisting and doing the limbo. You should see Gary’s brother Mike, he’s the typical American cheerleader type, and can he twist, and my brother, a good one hundred and eighty pounds, Charlie boy, he went under the broomstick doing the limbo like two feet off the ground. Bob Conrad made the meatballs, I made the spaghetti, it was all very Italian. I tell Gary he’s kind of California-grown but he’s been around us so much, he’s caught Italian by osmosis.
“That’s one of the wonderful things about loving Gary and I don’t want to talk about it too much for fear it might disappear, but we’ve known each other so long we see with one pair of eyes. I’ve always been aware I was in love with him. I can truthfully say that I’ve loved a number of men, but even so, I’d keep missing Gary. Say I’d go to a good play with someone I really enjoyed. still, I’d keep saying, oh, if only Gary could have been there.
“Gary’s always been my favorite and it seems the most logical lovely thing in the world to
be actually, finally, marrying him now after the most difficult year of my life. I’ve been making decisions all my life, searching for new meanings, going through phases, new phases, like chapters of living but this last year I’ve begun to feel like a positive crusader, I’ll tell you. This was a year of growing up!
“My last phase was brought up in court recently, when the studio refused to let me continue with my night-club appearance in Australia. They said I started acting up after I got home from Paris and the ‘Four Horsemen’ premiere with Glenn Ford. I’ve teased Glenn about it. I said ‘You were named in my court case’ and he said ’Marvelous!’ Incidentally, Glenn is still a dear friend, he was one of the first I told about my engagement. He’d phoned to ask me to come see his new house. ‘Can I still come see the house?’ I laughed.
“At any rate, the studio’s attitude is that if I’d never gone to Paris I’d hove kept my mouth shut, kept working, been a good little girl. I think this very funny, I don’t know whether it’s true or not. It is true, I came back from Paris more grown up. I had met people who knew far more than I, had vast experiences in living and by comparison my world seemed suddenly very small. All my life I’ve gone after things I want, if I didn’t I’d be an idiot. And I’ve suggested to the studio for a long, long time that the characterization of Cricket be allowed to grow. I want to be a growing actress, just as I want to be a growing person. I’ve loved ‘Hawaiian Eye’ but my own views of life have changed a lot in the three or more years (it seems like a hundred after all the recent turmoil) and if, as they say, Cricket is me and I’m Cricket, then let me be myself and let it show on screen, let the character expand and grow with me. I’ve argued this until I’m deaf, dumb and blind. When that didn’t work, I stopped too.
“Barbara Stanwyck was so sweet to me at the recent Golden Apple presentation. She took hold of my face like this, with her hands—it was one of the most beautiful moments in my life—she was fixing my hair like this and saying, ‘I’ve read about you and don’t you worry, Connie, I’m the original suspension kid. Don’t let it upset you emotionally.’
“But of course I have. I would never admit it before, but when you have something like this on your mind constantly, your whole career at stake, something’s got to give.
“My contract has four and a half years to go. If I had to spend four and a half years doing the same part in the same way, I’d be a basket case.
“Then a booking agency asked me to fill in for Rhonda Fleming, who was ill, in an Australian night club. I said, ‘You’re kidding!’ Asking me to headline an act when I didn’t have an act! It was quite a chore to get it together, let me tell you. I had two days. I got a couple of talented arrangers who wrote some music, eight boys to back me, I made up most of the jokes myself. Now I realize that I was taking my career in both hands, that if I’d been bad, I’d never have gotten another part doing anything in show business. What I had was more guts than talent. I had good music and I sang loud. My knees were banging with fright, but those people were wonderful. And the result was that I had a smashing success.
“Then, after a few nights, I was served my court summons right there on stage. I’d heard what was happening; the studio had said I was on suspension and could not work in Australia or anywhere else. When I finished my act that night, I said, ‘l hear we have a special guest in the audience,’ and I called his name and told him to come on stage. He was shaking so hard, this young man, I felt sorry for him. ‘I’ve nothing against you,’ I told him. Then I told the audience how kind they’d been, they’d made me feel very welcome and please would they invite me back if I wasn’t able to appear tomorrow.
“Maybe you don’t think it’s frightening to be hauled into court a million miles from home. It’s something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Here I was, trying to phone home, trying to contact agents, lawyers, anyone who could help me. Most of the time I’d be told the call couldn’t be put through for two hours and when it did go through, either the people weren’t home or I was on stage. Then the gentleman booking agent who’d been so nice to me passed away suddenly of a heart attack. It was my last evening in Sydney. They told me of his death and I had to go on and do two shows. I felt terrible. I blamed myself, for all this fuss and all this trouble and I don’t think I’d have lived through it without talking every night to Gary. He listened. He was the one person who listened.
“And he was waiting at the airport when I came home—a welcome sight and yet not so welcome because I’m not in the habit of sharing troubles like this with anyone. I like to say ‘Yah, they don’t matter.’ I try to hide anything troublesome. But from here on, I guess I’ll be sharing. Everything. And looking back I realize, Gary and I have shared a great deal already, he’s always been the kind of man a girl can lean on, a man who may look a trifle wistful but is essentially strong.
“Almost six years . . . of course it wasn’t love at first sight. We were constantly sent out on interviews together, he was constantly telling me how to read parts. And once, when we went to Warners the first time, he said my slip was showing, made me climb up on a chair and proceeded with the scissors from his pocket knife to whack off my slip. And the first night he came to dinner I left in the middle of dinner, to go to a movie with a fellow who phoned and I thought I liked him better.
“But Gary kept calling and we be- came awfully good friends, and not too long after, co-stars in a high school picture, ‘Drag Strip Riot.’ One thing about this boy, he had talent. He also had lovely wavy hair, brownish with a gold tint. But I was quite content to just be friends—until one day I walked on the set and found him with another girl! She was, I guess, a former girl friend of his, a pretty starlet with a great personality. She became at once the life of the party and I didn’t talk to Gary for two weeks. Then one night, he said, ‘Connie, if you’re not busy tonight . . .’
“That was the end of the brother and sister deal. We dated every night for years—we were inseparable, we had and have complete honesty between us even if it hurts; we went to church together, out camping together, we cooked together and ate together, saw movies together, played games—scrabble, monopoly, roulette, craps—Gary always won. We rode horseback and swam, sat in on drama groups and dreamed of the day we’d be married and have a house and five children. That’s right, five.
“There were only a few problems. My career began going well and Gary’s couldn’t get started. That’s why my father objected to our talk of marriage, fathers are like that and thank God they are. It would be terrible for a fellow to be married and not have a job. And Gary also has children by a former marriage, as you know.
“I was always impatient, but I did realize that Gary had his whole career ahead of him, that he needed his career if we were ever to have a life together—and that I was a millstone around his neck. He went everywhere had to go and was passing up out-of-town jobs which might separate us. We talked it over and agreed to be patient. ‘If it’s meant to be, it will be,’ we said.
“And evidently it was meant to be. He just called one day and said how are you and then I called him and said, ’Say, I’d like to see a movie’ and not too much after that we started looking at houses.
“We’ve both done a lot of growing up in this last year, even if it has been traumatic. Gary’s going great as star of ‘The Virginian.’ He still has a lot of walls to climb over but he’ll climb them. That he has a major talent, I’ve never doubted that for a minute. He just needed the right vehicles and he has the strength to fight for them. So do I. And as if the whole world were smiling on our happiness, guess what happened today? I was called back to work. The first time in twelve weeks.
“It’s been a terrifying year, but I guess all’s well that ends well. And with Gary and all that I’ve gone through I, think I’m going to become a really good ac- tress now. I’ve got a fantastic foundation. I could just jump right into it, head first. And will too—as soon as we’ve had our honeymoon. As soon as I am forever after Mrs. Gary Clarke.”
AS TOLD TO JANE ARDMORE
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE MARCH 1963