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The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo: Chapter 8


LITTLE WOMEN TURNED OUT TO be a carrot dangled in front of me. Because as soon as I became “Evelyn Hugo, Young Blonde,” Sunset had all sorts of movies they wanted me to do. Dumb sentimental comedy stuff.

I was OK with it for two reasons. One, I had no choice but to be all right with it because I didn’t hold the cards. And two, my star was rising. Fast.

The first movie they gave me to star in was Father and Daughter. We shot it in 1956. Ed Baker played my widowed father, and the two of us were falling in love with people at the same time. Him with his secretary, me with his apprentice.

During that time, Harry was really pushing for me to go out on a few dates with Brick Thomas.

Brick was a former child star and a matinee idol who honest-to-God thought he might be the messiah. Just standing next to him, I thought I might drown in the self-adoration cascading off him.

One Friday night, Brick and I met, with Harry and Gwendolyn Peters, a few blocks from Chasen’s. Gwen put me in a dress, hose, and heels. She put my hair in an updo. Brick showed up in dungarees and a T-shirt, and Gwen put him in a nice suit. We drove Harry’s brand-new crimson Cadillac Biarritz the half mile to the front door.

People were taking pictures of Brick and me before we even got out of the car. We were escorted to a circular booth, where the two of us packed ourselves in tight together. I ordered a Shirley Temple.

“How old are you, sweetheart?” Brick asked me.

“Eighteen,” I said.

“So I bet you had my picture up on your wall, huh?”

It took everything I had not to grab my drink and throw it right in his face. Instead, I smiled as politely as possible and said, “How’d you know?”

Photographers snapped shots as we sat together. We pretended not to see them, making it look as if we were laughing together, arm in arm.

An hour later, we were back with Harry and Gwendolyn, changing into our normal clothes.

Just before Brick and I said good-bye, he turned to me and smiled. “Gonna be a lot of rumors about you and me tomorrow,” he said.

“Sure are.”

“Let me know if you want to make ’em true.”

I should have kept quiet. I should have just smiled nicely. But instead, I said, “Don’t hold your breath.”

Brick looked at me and laughed and then waved good-bye, as if I hadn’t just insulted him.

“Can you believe that guy?” I said. Harry had already opened my door and was waiting for me to get into the car.

That guy makes us a lot of money,” he said as I sat down.

Harry got in on the other side and turned the key in the ignition but didn’t start driving. Instead, he looked at me. “I’m not saying you should be dallying around too much with these actors you don’t like,” he said. “But it would do you some good, if you liked one, if things progressed past a photo op or two. The studio would like it. The fans would like it.”

Naively, I had thought I was done pretending to like the attention of every man I came across. “OK,” I said, rather petulantly. “I’ll try.”

And while I knew it was the best thing to do for my career, I grinned through my teeth on dates with Pete Greer and Bobby Donovan.

But then Harry set me up on a date with Don Adler, and I forgot why I would ever have resented the idea in the first place.

* * *

DON ADLER INVITED me out to Mocambo, without a doubt the hottest club in town, and he picked me up at my apartment.

I opened the door to see him in a nice suit, with a bouquet of lilies. He was just a few inches taller than me in my heels. Light brown hair, hazel eyes, square jaw, the kind of smile that, the moment you saw it, made you smile. It was the smile his mother had been famous for, now on a handsomer face.

“For you,” he said, just a bit shyly.

“Wow,” I said, taking them from him. “They’re gorgeous. Come in. Come in. I’ll put them in some water.”

I was wearing a boatneck sapphire-blue cocktail dress, my hair up in a chignon. I grabbed a vase from underneath the sink and turned the water on.

“You didn’t have to do all this,” I said as Don stood in my kitchen, waiting for me.

“Well,” he said, “I wanted to. I’ve been hounding Harry to meet you for a while. So it was the least I could do to make you feel special.”

I put the flowers on the counter. “Shall we?”

Don nodded and took my hand.

“I saw Father and Daughter,” he said when we were in his convertible and headed over to the Sunset Strip.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, Ari showed me an early cut. He says he thinks it’s going to be a big hit. Says he thinks you’re going to be a big hit.”

“And what did you think?”

We were stopped at a red light on Highland. Don looked at me. “I think you’re the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“Oh, stop,” I said. I found myself laughing, blushing even.

“Truly. And a real talent, too. When the movie ended, I looked right at Ari and said, ‘That’s the girl for me.’ ”

“You did not,” I said.

Don put up his hand. “Scout’s honor.”

There’s absolutely no reason a man like Don Adler should have a different effect on me from the rest of the men in the world. He was no more handsome than Brick Thomas, no more earnest than Ernie Diaz, and he could offer me stardom whether I loved him or not. But these things defy reason. I blame pheromones, ultimately.

That and the fact that, at least at first, Don Adler treated me like a person. There are people who see a beautiful flower and rush over to pick it. They want to hold it in their hands, they want to own it. They want the flower’s beauty to be theirs, to be within their possession, their control. Don wasn’t like that. At least, not at first. Don was happy to be near the flower, to look at the flower, to appreciate the flower simply being.

Here’s the thing about marrying a guy like that—a guy like Don Adler, back then. You’re saying to him, “This beautiful thing you’ve been happy to simply appreciate, well, now it’s yours to own.”

Don and I partied the night away at the Mocambo. It was a real scene. Crowds outside, packed tight as sardines trying to get in. Inside, a celebrity playground. Tables upon tables filled with famous people, high ceilings, incredible stage acts, and birds everywhere. Actual live birds in glass aviaries.

Don introduced me to a few actors from MGM and Warner Brothers. I met Bonnie Lakeland, who had just gone freelance and made it big with Money, Honey. I heard, more than once, someone refer to Don as the prince of Hollywood, and I found it charming when he turned to me after the third time someone said it and whispered, “They are underestimating me. I’ll be king one of these days.”

Don and I stayed at Mocambo well past midnight, dancing together until our feet hurt. Every time a song ended, we said we were going to sit down, but once a new one started, we refused to leave the floor.

He drove me home, the streets quiet at the late hour, the lights dim all over town. When we got to my apartment, he walked me to my door. He didn’t ask to come in. He just said, “When can I see you again?”

“Call Harry and make a date,” I said.

Don put his hand on the door. “No,” he said. “Really. Me and you.”

“And the cameras?” I said.

“If you want them there, fine,” he said. “If you don’t, neither do I.” He smiled, a sweet, teasing smile.

I laughed. “OK,” I said. “How about next Friday?”

Don thought about it a second. “Can I tell you the truth about something?”

“If you must.”

“I’m scheduled to go to the Trocadero with Natalie Ember next Friday night.”

“Oh.”

“It’s the name. The Adler name. Sunset’s trying to squeeze all the fame out of me that they can.”

I shook my head. “I don’t think it’s just the name,” I told him. “I’ve seen Brothers in Arms. You’re great. The whole audience loved you.”

Don looked at me shyly and smiled. “You really think so?”

I laughed. He knew it was true; he just liked hearing it come out of my mouth.

“I won’t give you the satisfaction,” I said.

“I wish you would.”

“Enough of that,” I told him. “I’ve told you when I’m free. You do with it what you will.”

He stood tall, listening to what I’d said as if I’d given him orders. “OK, I’ll cancel Natalie, then. I’ll pick you up here on Friday at seven.”

I smiled and nodded. “Good night, Don,” I said.

“Good night, Evelyn,” he said.

I started to shut the door, and he put his hand up, stopping me.

“Did you have a good time tonight?” he asked me.

I thought about what to say, how to say it. And then I lost control of myself, giddy to feel excited by someone for the first time. “One of the better nights of my life,” I said.

Don smiled. “Me too.”

The next day, our picture appeared in Sub Rosa magazine with the caption “Don Adler and Evelyn Hugo make quite the pair.”


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