"One day, Bill Orr called me and said there were two New York actors in town, and Warner Bros. would pay the tab if I would take them out to dinner. 'We're very interested in signing one of them,' he said."
Lucy Marlow is recalling a day in Los Angeles in 1954. Already under contract to Warner Bros. at age 21, she had just played Lola Lavery opposite Judy Garland in A Star Is Born and was headed to the office of William Orr, head of talent at the studio.
"So I drove down and I came to the gate and I saw this forlorn fellow in a white T-shirt across the street, leaning against the signal. And I thought he'd probably come to the studio and been turned away. So I parked my car and went up to the executive offices, and I went in and there was this Adonis sitting on the corner of Mr. Orr's desk -- blond, blue eyes."
Marlow had seen the Adonis with the big blues on live TV in New York, and wondered why Orr hadn't told her that they were going to sign him.
"Mr. Orr said, 'That isn't the one we want. The one we want is over there sitting on the couch.'
"And I looked over," says Marlow, "and there was that poor, forlorn, unhappy guy. He was sitting over in the corner wearing horn rim glasses. And that was Jim."
She pauses. Jim? "Think who was at Warner Bros. in the '50s," Marlow prompts. Jim? James? James Dean?
She nods. "And do you know who the other one was? Paul Newman. But the studio wasn't interested in him. Jimmy was going to do Somebody Up There Likes Me, and he was all excited -- he was working out, and you know he had been a star athlete, short as he was. But then Jimmy was killed," and Newman got his breakout role in the Rocky Marciano boxing biopic.
"After Jimmy became a star, he would come down to the house in Malibu and hide," Marlow recalls. "Some mornings, I'd get up, because I loved to walk on the beach in the mornings, and I'd look out -- we had a house on pilings, underneath there was an open area, with couches -- and there he was asleep. He had come down in the middle of the night to get away from the rat race."
Marlow's mother had also seen too much of the theatrical rat race -- having been in the Ziegfield Follies, she harbored a lifelong distrust of actors.
"When Jimmy first came to Hollywood, he had this red MG. And he was invited to dinner, and he asked, 'Should I wear a suit?' and I said that would be nice, and you know, he didn't have a suit, and he went to Brooks Brothers and bought a three-piece gray flannel suit, white shirt and tie, and arrived at our front door holding a little bouquet of wildflowers for my mother."
Did that win her over?
"No. He was an actor."
Marlow's own Hollywood career lasted only three years before she married a major league baseball player and left the movie business; the marriage lasted 20 years. She moved to Coeur d'Alene two years ago "to escape and to write my book," but ended up teaching drama at both Classical Christian Academy in Post Falls and CdA Charter Academy. She regards both the book - "I've been at it, on and off, for four years" -- and teaching as a way to convey to others what she calls "the joy of performance."
One draft of her reminiscences was called Judy, Jim, Jack and Joan -- as in Garland, Dean, Lemmon and Crawford. But somehow most of Marlow's memories go back to Jimmy. Dean invited Marlow to the premiere of East of Eden, for example. "The studio wanted him to go with someone else, but could I meet him in the lobby after?" Marlow recalls. "And I just loved it. There's one scene on the Ferris wheel when he kisses her, and he's sorry he does it, and he takes her hand, and it's so real, it broke your heart."
After the premiere, Marlow tried to reconcile the romantic star she'd just seen onscreen with the low-key Jim she knew from the beach house." I was standing there over by the water fountain and I was just in awe and he saw me, and you know what he did? He left the L.A. Times, the Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Luella Parsons -- walked over to the drinking fountain and guess what he said?
"And I said, 'When you took her head in your hands, it was perfect.'
"And he kissed me on the nose."
Marlow remembers a quiet day at the beach when, without warning, Dean suddenly launched into Hamlet's soliloquy. "After he finished with "To be or not to be," he gave me one of these [small wave of the hand] and he laughed -- he had a high-pitched laugh -- and opened his arms and fell right off the rock backwards into the ocean.
"Talk about happy days."
Lucy Marlow is 72 now. She won't be back teaching at CdA Charter Academy this year. After a vacation in Europe, though, she'll be back in the area to work on her book. She has a lot more happy days to remember.
Publication date: 07/08/04