At sixteen, Betty runs away from the small river town she's always known, to live in Los Angeles with her father, an outrageous used car salesman and avid gambler. It is the first journey in what will be a remarkable life among remarkable people: Betty's first job out of college is as Joan Crawford's nanny, caring for the Crawford children at the height of the star's career. Hollywood is about to play an even larger role in Betty's life when she meets a young ambitious actor named Lee Marvin. After a whirlwind courtship and a trip to Las Vegas, Betty and Lee are married. In this unique memoir, both hilarious and touching, we follow Betty as she creates a family with Lee, and is by his side as he works with Marlon Brando, John Wayne and a host of other stars. She is the penultimate hostess and Hollywood Housewife. Nobody knew what was really going on at home - until, unable to take Lee's womanizing, drinking and abuse, Betty leaves him and strikes out on her own. What follows are adventures that could only be Betty Marvin's; from the building of her career as an artist. To a love affair with an Italian King, to dire straits as investment con artists leave Betty suddenly homeless. After years of the Hollywood life, Betty is left with only her car, her dog and her typewriter. Forced to employ all of her skills to survive, she comes out on top. This is the story of a woman who finds the real riches that come with learning the value of a joyful life.
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Tales of a Hollywood HousewifeA Memoir By The First Mrs. Lee Marvin
By Betty Marvin Gila Sand
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Betty Marvin
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFinding Daddy in the Land of Milk and Honey
The Greyhound bus pulled into the Hollywood station. I was a rumpled mess, exhausted from thirty-six hours of trying to shut out the noise of two drunken sailors and curl my long, young body into a comfortable position. I carried my Samsonite suitcase into the waiting room, hoping to recognize the man in the photo, now older and out of uniform. Before running away from my grandparents' house in the small river town of Sedro-Woolley, Washington, in June 1945, I had phoned him at his office, collect, to say I was coming. He was out, so I had left a message. But no one was there to meet me.
My heart sank. Had my father pulled another disappearing act? I searched in my pocket, found his home phone number, resurrected my courage, and called.
"Hello," a sweet-voiced woman answered.
"Is this Hollywood 9141?"
"Is Mr. Ebeling there?"
"Betty ... his daughter." Who is she? I wondered. I tried to pick up pieces of the long, muffled discussion in the background. Finally she returned to the phone and I told her where I was.
"Wait there, honey. I'll be right down."
An hour later a big, buxom, bleached blond in a red-and yellow-flowered jersey dress with plunging neckline, her heavy makeup obvious in the noonday sun, walked in, spotted me, and came right over. We looked at each other in disbelief. I was shocked by her appearance, and she probably had never confronted a skinny, six-foot teenager in saddle shoes and letter sweater. Finally she broke the ice. "Hi, honey, I'm Faye."
Following "Good trip?" and "Fine," we lapsed into an awkward silence. She picked up my suitcase and led me out of the building to a sleek, black Lincoln Continental, double-parked.
My shyness was quickly superseded by fear when Faye, without warning, pulled into heavy traffic. Horns honked and drivers shouted. The car lurched up Sunset as her right foot spasmodically jumped from accelerator to brake, barely avoiding rear-ending the car ahead. Amazingly, we made it to the turnoff for Hollywood Hills without a scratch. The Lincoln swerved up a winding road and pulled into the driveway of a stately Mediterranean mansion.
Climbing the tile steps to my father's beautiful home, I was sure my Cinderella dreams had come true until a black Chow dog confronted me at the front door. He snarled and I jumped back.
"Down, Oscar!" Faye commanded. She took him upstairs, and I was left alone to fend for myself.
I timidly wandered from the garishly furnished sunken living room into the formal dining room. From there I discovered a room with a bar, jukebox, slot machine, pool table, and the first TV I had ever seen. I went into the kitchen and peered into the refrigerator. It was empty except for a carton of milk and an uncovered plate of dried-out cold cuts and Swiss cheese, dominated by the smell of a dill pickle.
After what seemed an eternity, Faye came into the living room, where I was sitting on the edge of a gold velvet sofa. As though announcing an audience with the Wizard of Oz, she said, "He will see you now." I stood; panic grabbed my stomach and I thought I was going to throw up right there on the Oriental rug.
"Go on up," she said, pointing the way. "I have to get his medicine."
I went up the stairs and down a long hallway leading to the master suite. I peered through the bedroom door. There he was, my savior, bigger and more handsome than I had imagined, stretched out on ivory satin pillows, sporting blue silk monogrammed pajamas and a giant hangover. He rolled over and looked me up and down.
"How ya doin', kiddo?" he said with a wink.
"Fine, thank you." I was too tongue-tied to say more. Faye hurried in with a bottle of Pepto-Bismol. He turned to her as she ladled a tablespoon of the pink, pasty liquid into his mouth.
"She's got my nose, don't you think?" he asked Faye. Then he turned back to me. "Well, you're here. How long you planning to stay?"
"Daddy," I stammered, the word feeling strange in my mouth. We'd never spoken in person before. "Don't you remember?" I extended my sweaty palm and showed him my treasured photo of him, creased from two years of being tucked nightly under my pillow back home in Washington.
He studied it quickly. "I looked pretty good in a uniform." He smiled.
"Read the back," I implored him. "You said I could come live with you. You said I could go to UCLA."
He turned it over and read the words he had inscribed to me. To my horror, he seemed amused.
"You're a funny kid. How old are you?"
How did you ever get all the way to California? Your Grandma and Grandpa know you're here?"
"I left them a note."
"Oh, boy. I'm not their favorite person, you know."
"It will be okay. I swear."
He looked up at me, and this time I managed to hold his gaze. You can't send me all the way back there. Please.
"So, okay." My father took a breath and let it out in a whistle. "UCLA. It's as good as it gets-your Daddy ought to know."
"You're right," I said. "They're starting a new music department."
"Music? First things first, kiddo. Let's think about your sorority. It's Delta Delta Delta for you, Aunt Rella's sorority, probably the best sorority on campus. That way you'll meet all the right people. If we're lucky you'll get pinned to a young man from the best fraternity, get married, and we'll all live happily ever after." He laughed, wheezed, then sank back into his pillows with a moan.
"Well, that's it, kiddo. Faye, show her the guest room." Oscar followed me back down the hall, growling.
After spending a few hours behind closed doors of the master suite, my father appeared in a tan suit, white silk tie, and brown and white spectator shoes. It was three in the afternoon and he was ready to start his day. He told Faye to take care of me and get me ready for my coming out. Then he jumped into a sports car that resembled a space ship and sped off. I couldn't imagine what my father did to be so rich and powerful.
Faye made a grocery run to the local deli. After a dinner of a bologna sandwich, potato ships, and a Coke, I went to my chintz bedroom, crawled between the pink sheets, and longed for Grandma's cooking.
The next day Faye and I drove down Sunset Boulevard to attend the Sunday church service at Aimee Semple McPherson's Evangelical Temple. As soon as we walked into the round, white building, Faye went into the first pew, fell on her knees, and began to pray. She looked up after a few minutes. "I'm very religious," she whispered shyly.
Aimee made her entrance onto the stage wearing a long, flowing, white robe. She bore a striking resemblance to Faye, with long blonde curls and heavy makeup. After a lively hymn from the large choir, accompanied by a brass band and clapping, Aimee talked about having been carried away by the Devil. "My Lord Jesus brought me back to you ... you, my loyal, God-fearing followers." The congregation added amens and applause.
Faye gave me a sideway glance. "You been baptized?" I nodded. "Good. Otherwise you're going to hell."
When the service was over, our next stop downtown was Clifton's Cafeteria. We entered through double swinging doors and walked past a scenic landscape with a mountaintop chapel nestled in the redwoods and a few deer peering shyly from behind the trees. I got into the buffet line.
"You gotta try the jello," Faye advised. "My favorite is the yellow because sometimes it has a piece of pear inside!"
On our way to a table Faye pointed to the wall. "A deer used to hang right up there. I guess they moved him. Now they've got a chicken and a crow. Let's sit here by the moose head."
When we arrived at my father's car lot, the first thing I saw was a billboard of Daddy himself, in Indian headdress, looming over a sign that said, Chief Ernie's: A Solid Block of Solid Cars.
Faye looked up with pride at that sign. "Do you know your father is the biggest used car dealer in L.A.?"
Pre-war, used cars lined the block as far as the eye could see.
"All these are his," she said as we pulled into the lot.
I looked through a window of the office and saw an older black man shaking his fist. The man stormed out yelling, "You cheatin' son of a bitch!" He got into a beat-up blue Chevrolet coupe and the car sputtered off, steam pouring out from under the hood.
Daddy came out of his office and turned to a salesman. "That guy thinks he should get his money back. Fat chance. Keep him off my lot."
"Right, Chief," the salesman responded.
Daddy turned to Faye and me, all smiles. "Why don't you girls go across the street to the bar? I'll be over in a few minutes."
I had never been to a bar. As we left the bright sunshine and entered The Hot Spot, a dark, neighborhood watering hole, I could barely see the few shady-looking men giving us the once-over. Nat King Cole's "Route 66" blared from the jukebox as we sat on a couple of bar stools. Faye ordered a Coke for herself and a Shirley Temple for me.
A few minutes later Daddy arrived and seemed to know everyone in the place. He sidled up to the bar, ordered a double martini, straight up, with two olives, put his arm around me, and called out, "Hey, everybody. I want you to meet my niece." They smiled and waved. I played dumb. When his drinking buddies went back to their Liar's dice, my father looked at me, winked, and whispered, "You don't mind, do you, kiddo? I'm too young to have a daughter your age."
Daddy called the bartender over and ordered drinks for everyone. "By the way, Johnny," he added, "I want to place a bet. A hundred bucks on Baby Girl to win in the fourth."
"Ernie, you're already over your limit. Freddy says you owe him. Time to settle up."
"Come on. I'm good for it. This is a hot tip."
We spent the rest of the afternoon waiting for my father to finish his cocktails. Each time we were ready to leave, another pal arrived and bought a round. I had three Shirley Temples lined up in front of me when we finally made our exit. He left his sports car on the lot and insisted on driving the Lincoln Continental down Sunset Boulevard to Earl Carroll's nightclub. On the way, he turned on the radio and switched the dial.
"Listen to this, kiddo. This is my show."
"You have a show?" Wild ecstatic voices, praising God in harmony, filled the car.
"Yours truly, Chief Ernie, is the big sponsor of the Gospel Hour. I'm no dummy! Every nigger in town gets his car from me."
We pulled up in front of a neon sign proclaiming, "Through these portals pass the most beautiful girls in the world." The valet raced to open the car doors, greeting my father by name.
Everyone from the manager to the hatcheck girl knew my father. He slipped the maître d' a wad of bills for a ringside table. The pretty, barely clad cigarette girl seemed happy to see Daddy, and the waiter brought him a drink as soon as we were seated at our table. He ordered porterhouse steaks, baked potatoes, and salads for the three of us but never ate a bite the whole evening, preferring to drink his dinner. I was already feasting on the thrill of being in a real nightclub, like the ones I had seen in the movies. Jimmy Durante was on stage with the showgirls delivering very suggestive adlibs. My father was the perfect audience, laughing loudly and clapping nonstop. "Jimmy's a friend of mine. This is as good as it gets, right, kiddo?" I agreed. Durante spotted my father and came over to our table after the first show. Once again Daddy introduced me as his niece.
* * *
My father was nothing like I had imagined. I had seen him only once during my childhood, on his singular visit to his wealthy family in Burlington, five miles from where I lived with my mother's parents, Grandma and Grandpa Rundquist.
His sister, my aunt Rella, was there, which made his pending arrival less stressful. I loved Rella, decked out in her outlandish costume jewelry and bleached bobbed hairdo. She was a light in my childhood-always had treats and hugs for me, and when we were together, she made me feel important, listened to, and acknowledged.
"You look adorable!" she exclaimed that afternoon, whirling me around in the pink taffeta dress she'd bought for the occasion. "He'll love you." Rella bit her lip and corrected herself. "He already does, honey."
When my father walked through the door, I wanted to look at him, to take him in. Instead, I found myself distracted by the presence of a strange woman who hung on his arm. She didn't say much to our family, and we didn't say much to her. At one point she took out a mother-of-pearl compact and checked her lipstick. My father was there so briefly he was more of a shadow than a man. I don't think we spoke. He kissed my cheek and then disappeared.
"Come on, baby, let's have some cake," Aunt Rella said as soon as he was gone, hustling me into the kitchen, where the chocolate cake she'd baked for the occasion sat untouched. "Then I'll play some ragtime."
Rella was a bright, talented concert pianist who had paid for her education by playing for silent movies. Listening to Rella on the piano always made me want to sing and dance.
"Do you think he'll come back?" I found the nerve to ask a little while later, my mouth full of cake.
"My brother's a strange man," said Rella. "I couldn't have left you to begin with." Then she changed the subject.
I often wished I were Rella's child. Years later, I found out she had felt the same. Although she had two children of her own, she had wanted to adopt me, but my mother wouldn't allow it, despite having left me to be raised by her parents. Aunt Rella always let me know she felt a special connection to me. She saw in me something nobody else in my scattered upbringing seemed to notice-perhaps a talent, or a spark of intelligence, I never knew. I just knew I had someone in my corner.
The rest of my father's family made me feel like the poor relative, which, in truth, I was. My mother's parents, Grandma and Grandpa Rundquist, had no use for them, given my father's early abandonment of my older brother, Dickey, and myself; but we were permitted, for some reason, to see our other grandparents, and we spent much of our childhoods being shuffled back and forth between the two families. Wherever I was, I felt like a traitor to the other.
My father's mother, Grandma Ebeling, was a strict German Lutheran who put the fear of God into anyone who crossed her path. Her three-story Victorian house, where she reigned over church socials and large gatherings like a queen, was furnished with beautiful antiques, Oriental rugs, and fine paintings. A well-educated, accomplished painter, tailor, cook, and musician, she took it upon herself to tutor me in piano. She wasn't any fun, but the time I spent with her changed my perception of the world.
On many Saturday mornings she would come to get me in a long, black Packard touring sedan wearing a hat, gloves, mink paw stole, and a dour expression, and I would ride off into my other life.
Over one particular Christmas with the extended Ebeling family, I shared my cousin Barbara's bedroom. She had a white carpet, pink floral wallpaper, and drapes to match. I lay on one of the two canopied beds with ruffled chintz spreads and matching pillow shams listening to Barbara's chattering on about her private school, summer camp, and what fun it was to cruise through the San Juan Islands, but I couldn't take my eyes off her mouth. Braces! I had been to a dentist only once in my life. Those metal wires over her teeth summed up everything she had that I was missing.
I didn't like most of my father's family, but I wanted what they had.
Aunt Rella and I didn't mention my father again for a long time. But one afternoon she mentioned casually that she'd heard my father was living in Bellingham, an hour from my home.
"What's he doing there?" I asked, looking at myself in the mirror. I loved the clothes Aunt Rella gave me. It was the only time I'd get new things rather than hand-me-downs.
"He's a sign painter, sweetie-here, let me fix that collar-he has a business making outdoor ads." (Continues...)
Excerpted from Tales of a Hollywood Housewife by Betty Marvin Gila Sand Copyright © 2009 by Betty Marvin. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsFinding Daddy in the Land of Milk and Honey....................1
Dressed to Pledge....................17
Alone on My Own in L.A....................21
Innocence Lost: Learning Life's Lessons....................27
The Strange New World of a Hollywood Nanny....................37
Behind the Scenes: The Real Joan Crawford....................51
Hold Onto Your Seats for a Whirlwind Romance....................69
Love and Marriage Is Every Girl's Goal....................77
And Baby Makes Three: Big Career Change....................89
Doris: The Woman Who Came to Dinner and Stayed....................95
Movies and Babies....................105
Meet the In-Laws: One Crazy Family....................121
Moving On Up....................127
There's No Such Thing as a Little Lie....................139
All for a Good Cause....................149
Where Are You? Don't Tell Me....................157
Hitting the Bottom Blues....................161
Paris V Brings High Fashion at a Low Time....................169
Lee's Affair with the Bottle: Losing Hope....................177
Lee's Other Affair: Losing Heart....................189
Waking Up from a Bad Dream....................203
The Final Big Blow....................213
Breaking Out of Prison....................219
Packing Up and Moving On....................227
The King and I on a Roman Holiday....................233
School Days of an Art Junky....................239
My Studio Life inVenice....................247
Family Wedding Brings Back Memories of Divorce....................263
Paris Revisited: My Second Home....................267
100 Butterfly Lane....................299
Settling In: Taking Inventory....................309
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved this book. It was interesting. The book is about Betty Marvin, former wife of the famous actor Lee Marvin. Betty has had a exciting life. The details of the book say it's about Lee Marvin, but it's more about Betty and her strength, and wisdom of being married , having children and loving a man who was sometimes very diffiicult. It's a story how this women rose up above it all and went on with her life. It's about her many adventures, before , during and after her life with Marvin. I recommend this book to any one who wants to read about a loving and strong woman and the amazing life she has lived.