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The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo: Chapter 11


SIX WEEKS INTO OUR MARRIAGE, Don and I shot a weepie on location in Puerto Vallarta. Called One More Day, it was about a rich girl, Diane, who spends the summer with her parents at their second home, and the local boy, Frank, who falls in love with her. Naturally, they can’t be together, because her parents don’t approve.

The first weeks of my marriage to Don had been nearly blissful. We bought a house in Beverly Hills and had it decorated in marble and linen. We had pool parties nearly every weekend, drinking champagne and cocktails all afternoon and into the night.

Don made love like a king, truly. With the confidence and power of someone in charge of a fleet of men. I melted underneath him. In the right moment, for him, I’d have done anything he wanted.

He had flipped a switch in me. A switch that changed me from a woman who saw making love as a tool into a woman who knew that making love was a need. I needed him. I needed to be seen. I came alive under his gaze. Being married to Don had shown me another side of myself, a side I was just getting to know. A side I liked.

When we got to Puerto Vallarta, we spent a few days in town before shooting. We took our rented boat out into the water. We dived into the ocean. We made love in the sand.

But as we started shooting and the daily stresses of Hollywood started fracturing our newlywed cocoon, I could tell the tide was turning.

Don’s last movie, The Gun at Point Dume, wasn’t doing well at the box office. It was his first time in a Western, his first crack at playing an action hero. PhotoMoment had just published a review saying, “Don Adler is no John Wayne.” Hollywood Digest wrote, “Adler looks like a fool holding a gun.” I could tell it was bothering him, making him doubt himself. Establishing himself as a masculine action hero was a vital part of his plan. His father had mostly played the straight man in madcap comedies, a clown. Don was out to prove he was a cowboy.

It did not help that I had just won an Audience Appreciation Award for Best Rising Star.

On the day we shot the final good-bye, where Diane and Frank kiss one last time on the beach, Don and I woke up in our rented bungalow, and he told me to make him breakfast. Mind you, he did not ask me to make him breakfast. He barked the order. Regardless, I ignored his tone and called down to the maid.

She was a Mexican woman named Maria. When we had first arrived, I was unsure if I should speak Spanish to the local people. And then, without ever making a formal decision about it, I found myself speaking slow, overenunciated English to everyone.

“Maria, will you please make Mr. Adler some breakfast?” I said into the phone, and then I turned to Don and said, “What would you like? Some coffee and eggs?”

Our maid back in Los Angeles, Paula, made his breakfast every morning. She knew just how he liked it. I realized in that moment that I’d never paid attention.

Frustrated, Don grabbed the pillow from under his head and smashed it over his face, screaming into it.

“What has gotten into you?” I said.

“If you’re not going to be the kind of wife who is going to make me breakfast, you can at least know how I like it.” He escaped to the bathroom.

I was bothered but not entirely surprised. I had quickly learned that Don was only kind when he was happy, and he was only happy when he was winning. I had met him on a winning streak, married him as he was ascending. I was quickly learning that sweet Don was not the only Don.

Later, in our rented Corvette, Don backed out of the driveway and started heading the ten blocks toward set.

“Are you ready for today?” I asked him. I was trying to be uplifting.

Don stopped in the middle of the road. He turned to me. “I’ve been a professional actor for longer than you’ve been alive.” This was true, albeit on a technicality. He was in one of Mary’s silent movies as a baby. He didn’t act in a movie again until he was twenty-one.

There were a few cars behind us now. We were holding up traffic. “Don . . .” I said, trying to encourage him to move forward. He wasn’t listening. The white truck behind us started pulling around, trying to get past us.

“Do you know what Alan Thomas said to me yesterday?” Don said.

Alan Thomas was his new agent. Alan had been encouraging Don to leave Sunset Studios, to go freelance. A lot of actors were navigating their careers on their own. It was leading to big paychecks for big stars. And Don was getting antsy. He kept talking about making more for one picture than his parents had made their whole careers.

Be wary of men with something to prove.

“People around town are asking why you’re still going by Evelyn Hugo.”

“I changed my name legally. What do you mean?”

“On the marquee. It should say ‘Don and Evelyn Adler.’ That’s what people are saying.”

“Who is saying that?”

“People.”

“What people?”

“They think you wear the pants.”

My head fell into my hands. “Don, you’re being silly.”

Another car came up around us, and I watched as they recognized Don and me. We were seconds away from a full page in Sub Rosa magazine about how Hollywood’s favorite couple were at each other’s throat. They’d probably say something like “The Adlers Gone Madlers?”

I suspected Don saw the headlines writing themselves at the same time I did, because he started the car and drove us to set. When we pulled onto the lot, I said, “I can’t believe we’re almost forty-five minutes late.”

And Don said, “Yeah, well, we’re Adlers. We can be.”

I found it absolutely repugnant. I waited until the two of us were in his trailer, and I said, “When you talk like that, you sound like a horse’s ass. You shouldn’t say things like that where people can hear you.”

He was taking off his jacket. Wardrobe was due in any moment. I should have just left and gone to my own trailer. I should have let him be.

“I think you have gotten the wrong impression here, Evelyn,” Don said.

“And how is that?”

He came right up into my face. “We are not equals, love. And I’m sorry if I’ve been so kind that you’ve forgotten that.”

I was speechless.

“I think this should be the last movie you do,” he said. “I think it’s time for us to have children.”

His career wasn’t turning out the way he wanted. And if he wasn’t going to be the most famous person in his family, he surely wasn’t going to allow that person to be me.

I looked right at him and said, “Absolutely. Positively. Not.”

And he smacked me across the face. Sharp, fast, strong.

It was over before I even knew what happened, the skin on my face stinging from the blow I could barely believe had come my way.

If you’ve never been smacked across the face, let me tell you something, it is humiliating. Mostly because your eyes start to tear up, whether you mean to be crying or not. The shock of it and the sheer force of it stimulate your tear ducts.

There is no way to take a smack across the face and look stoic. All you can do is remain still and stare straight ahead, allowing your face to turn red and your eyes to bloom.

So that’s what I did.

The way I’d done it when my father hit me.

I put my hand to my jaw, and I could feel the skin heating up under my hand.

The assistant director knocked on the door. “Mr. Adler, is Miss Hugo with you?”

Don was unable to speak.

“One minute, Bobby,” I said. I was impressed by how unstrained my voice was, how confident it seemed. It sounded like the voice of a woman who had never been hit a day in her life.

There were no mirrors I could get to easily. Don had his back to them, blocking them. I pushed my jaw forward.

“Is it red?” I said.

Don could barely look at me. But he glanced and then nodded his head. He was boyish and ashamed, as if I were asking him if he’d been the one to break the neighbor’s window.

“Go out there and tell Bobby I’m having lady troubles. He’ll be too embarrassed to ask anything else. Then tell your wardrobe person to meet you in my dressing room. Have Bobby tell mine to meet me in here in a half hour.”

“OK,” he said, and then grabbed his jacket and slipped out.

The minute he was out the door, I locked myself inside and slumped down against the wall, the tears coming fast the moment no one could see them.

I had made my way three thousand miles from where I was born. I had found a way to be in the right place at the right time. I’d changed my name. Changed my hair. Changed my teeth and my body. I’d learned how to act. I’d made the right friends. I’d married into a famous family. Most of America knew my name.

And yet . . .

And yet.

I got up off the floor and wiped my eyes. I gathered myself.

I sat down at the vanity, three mirrors in front of me lined with lightbulbs. How silly is it that I thought that if I ever found myself in a movie star’s dressing room, that meant I’d have no troubles?

A few moments later, Gwendolyn knocked on the door to do my hair.

“One second!” I yelled out.

“Evelyn, we have to move quickly. You guys are already behind schedule.”

“Just one second!”

I looked at myself in the mirror and realized I couldn’t force the redness to go away. The question was whether I trusted Gwen. And I decided I did, I had to. I stood up and opened the door.

“Oh, sweetheart,” she said. “You look a fright.”

“I know.”

She looked more closely at me and realized what she was seeing. “Did you fall?”

“Yes,” I said. “I did. I fell right over. Onto the counter. Jaw caught the worst of it.”

We both knew I was lying.

And to this day, I’m not sure whether Gwen asked me if I fell in order to spare me the need to lie or to encourage me to keep quiet.

I wasn’t the only woman being hit back then. A lot of women were negotiating the very same things I was at that moment. There was a social code for these things. The first rule being to shut up about it.

An hour later, I was being escorted to set. We were to film a scene just outside a mansion on the beach. Don was sitting in his chair, the four wooden legs digging into the sand, behind the director. He ran up to me.

“How are you feeling, sweetheart?” His voice was so chipper, so consoling, that for a moment I thought he had forgotten what happened.

“I’m fine. Let’s get on with it.”

We took our places. The sound guy mic’ed us. The grips made sure we were lit properly. I put everything out of my head.

“Hold on, hold on!” the director yelled. “Ronny, what’s going on with the boom . . .” Distracted by a conversation, he walked away from the camera.

Don covered his mic and then put his hand on my chest and covered mine.

“Evelyn, I’m so sorry,” he whispered into my ear.

I pulled back and looked at him, stunned. No one had ever apologized for hitting me before.

“I never should have laid a hand on you,” he said. His eyes were filling with tears. “I’m ashamed of myself. For doing anything at all to hurt you.” He looked so pained. “I will do anything for your forgiveness.”

Maybe the life I thought I had wasn’t so far away after all.

“Can you forgive me?” he asked.

Maybe this was all a mistake. Maybe it didn’t mean anything had to change.

“Of course I can,” I said.

The director ran back to the camera, and Don leaned back, taking his hands off our mics.

“And . . . action!”

Don and I were both nominated for Academy Awards for One More Day. And I think the general consensus was that it didn’t matter how talented we were. People just loved seeing us together.

To this day, I have no idea if either of us is actually any good in it. It is the only movie I’ve ever shot that I cannot bring myself to watch.


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