|Marriages That Work: Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme|
|September 20, 1970|
|By Barbara Grizzuti Harrison|
|They seem almost too good, too wholesome to be true. In an age when it's a minor miracle if a Hollywood star stays married for 19 months, they've been married for 19 scandal free years. In early middle age, he's 42, she's 45. But in spite of their life in the|
| guarded splendor of Beverly Hills, the image they project is the same on that endeared them to viewers of Steve Allen's Tonight show almost a quarter of a century ago: Steve Lawrence, a guy from Brooklyn; Eydie Gorme, a gal from the Bronx - sane, decent, normal (even average) people who just happen to be millionaire entertainers.
When they met on the Allen show, they were young, brash, ebullient performers on the threshold of popular success. They are now in perennial demand in Las Vegas, on TV, in music inns around the country. Convincing and generous performers, they have an energy that never flags; it seems to derive from rapport with their audience. As Bernie Lawrence, Steve's older brother, says, "People get their money's worth when Steve and Eydie perform. They give their everything." This may particulary account for why a notoriously fickle public, usually demanding something new and sensational, keeps coming back for more.
But what's remarkable about Steve and Eydie is not their climb to fame and riches, or even their durability as performers. What's remarkable - and a practically unprecedented among the glitter-and-glamour crowd that form their natural milieu - is the longevity of their marriage and their ineffable spirited niceness.
I met Eydie and Steve when they were performing at the Valley Forge Music Inn in Pennsylvania. Eydie's dressing room was singularly unglamorous; so was Eydie. Dressed in a white terry-cloth robe and scuffs, she was doing battle with intractable false eyelashes that refused to adhere to the big brown eyes she squeezes in a kind of happy passion when she sings. Her straight brown hair, liberally sprinkled with gray, is bunched into a topknot; her hairdresser stands by with a wig. " That wig oughta have some gray in it," Eydie says. "Who am I kidding?" She isn't kidding herself; there is no pathetic attempt to maintain the illusion of perpetual youth. "Movable parts, that's what I sometimes think I am - movable, removable parts." She shrugs philosophically.
Eydie's robe doesn't quite envelop her ample 5'3" body; it parts to reveal a plump and dimpled thigh which she glances at ruefully. "I spent five days at a health resort with Carol Burnett, and I was the only person who gained weight. I have a fat personality, see what I mean?"
I do see. Eydie's a "spiller." She makes it easy for me to ask about her long, successful marriage, and she begins with a story about her 19th wedding anniversary.
"It was a lousy, rainy Sunday, and I was schlumping around in my bathrobe while Steve cooked breakfast for the kids. All at once he gave me a rag and told me to go out and clean the car. I just threw the rag at him and told him I didn't feel like it. Finally he shoved me out the door- and I saw my anniversary present : A sliver Shadow Rolls-Royce! Not bad, huh?"
Not bad at all for the tailor's daughter who says she never knew she was poor till "I went into houses where the dishes marched and the glasses weren't jelly jars." Not bad at all for the blue-eyed man from Brooklyn whose father, a Jewish liturgical singer, doubled as a house painter and whose mother was a sewing-machine operator in the garment district. Not bad....
Next I asked Eydie, "How do you keep a marriage fresh for 19 years?"
"Fresh!? Who's talking fresh? A head of lettuce gets stale in a week - who could keep a marriage fresh for 19 years? Now mellow - maybe that's a possibility. Like old wine. " Then, as if amused by her own cliche, she yelps with laughter." Ask old vinegar-puss next door about fresh and mellow. I'd like to hear what he has to say."
"Old vinegar-puss" - Steve Lawrence - is in the adjoining dressing room. I am pleasantly surprised to find him so handsome. His smile lights up his boyish face; his body is trim and muscular. He is much more sexy than his TV appearance would lead one to expect.
Steve and I talk about Brooklyn, where we broth grew up. He reminisces with frequent supportive asides from Eydie, about a simpler, easier time when kids play stickball and stoopball late into the safe, gentle dark of Brooklyn nights. He looks bewildered, sad. So does Eydie. The world is changing too fast; it is too harsh. "Why," he asked, "aren't people nice?"
"Nice," Eydie echoes. "Steve has a thing about nice. Well, people don't behave well, and that's that."
"People ought to be nicer," Steve says stubbornly, as if that were both a religious and a political statement. They look at each other with accord.
Eydie, however disenchanted she is with the world, can't remain earnest for long; her disposition is too sunny. She launches, with enormous gusto and pride, into stories about their teenage sons - 17-year-old David and 15-year-old Michael. Steve and Eydie think their their kids are terrific, and they're perfectly willing to take credit for it.
David is considering studying medicine; he is also an ASCAP composer. Michael, too, is musical. "It's in the genes," Steve says. "It's environmental." Eydie says - and they're off into one of their hairsplitting arguments.
One thing about Steve and Eydie: They are in no way afraid to allow differences to surface. They fight clean. And they listen to each other and challenge each other. "If we were stranded on a desert island," Eydie says, "we'd find something to fight about. But what the hell. I don't trust people who don't fight."