| Steve and Eydie have raised their kids instinctively, without theories - unless "have as much respect for them as you would want them to have for you" can be called a theory. They never had live-in help. When the boys were babies, Steve took care of washing the diapers. They have never rigidly defined "the mother's role" and "the father's role." "I trust my instinct, and I trust Steve's. Period."
She wasn't always this clear about her feelings. Years go she suffered from a conflict familiar to many women who work outside the home. "I set myself impossible goals. I want to be Supermom and Superentertainer. I went to a shrink; after a month I got the bill. That was enough shock treatment for me. I'd been entertaining him, and I had to pay. After that, I decided to entertain for money and work out my own problems." The problems receded.
What would happen," I asked Steve and Eydie, "if you had a terrific fight just before you had to perform?" That it turns out, has happened more than once. "We've come pretty close to killing each other int he dressing room," replies Steve. "And when we got on the stage, boy, did we give it to each other. I zapped her with every sarcastic line I could think of."
"And I zapped you right back, babe."
When they fight, their styles are as individual as they are. Says Eydie: "I'm a tough fighter, a screamer. He's so calm, he just lets me wear myself out. I want him to come out screaming; he drives me crazy with that calm logic."
Steve: "It's a good balance, Eydie."
Eydie: "Sure, it's a good balance - for you. It works for you."
Given their differences, its a wonder they aren't always locked in combat. They would be, Eydie suggest, if...
"We work together. We have our family time together, but we don't play games together. Stevie wont' even let me play tennis with him because he'll only play with people who are good enough to beat him, which I most definitely am not. So what do I care? I garden. We are no Siamese twins."
After their performance, Steve and Eydie have a light supper at their hotel. The difference in style become more pronounced the more one sees them, but what becomes even clearer is that they share the same basic traditional values. Both come from large families where divorce is unheard of. Both are rooted in their families' past and in their immediate family's present. When at midnight, 17-year-old David telephones his father, it takes four people to reassure Eydie nothing is wrong.
From a distance of 3,000 miles, Steve talks to his son about the best way to get home from a party. At this moment, Steve and Eydie really are "just folks," worried about a son's late night drive.
Which is not to deny the presence on Eydie's motherly bosom of a diamond brooch that is, even by Hollywood standards, a knockout. Eydie, in a designer suit and jewels, carefully made up and coiffed, looks frankly matronly and successful. Steve, in a winderbreaker, Frye boots and Levis, looks causal - and younger than his wife, which doesn't seem to bother them.
They don't' even eat alike. This may seem inconsequential, but when married couples are getting on each other's nerves, one of the first things they do is criticize each other's eating habits. Steve is fastidious, if not finicky, about his food. Eydie puts almost as much zest into eating as into performing. They regard each other tolerantly.
Their conversation takes a what-is-the-world-coming-to? turn. Steve peers glumly into his coffee cup. "Can you believe this is $4 a pound?"
The state of the economy, they readily admit, is beyond their comprehension. Politically moderate, conservative in their life-style, they appear hungry for a simplicity that eludes them. Since 1968, when they backed Hubert Humphrey, their voices have not been heard publicly on politics.
They have reduced life's essentials to manageable proportions. Just as they avoid political analysis, they avoid the formal aspects of religion. Steve believes it's wonderful to have a rich religious heritage - he was brought up in a rigorously orthodox home - but that "having guilt laid on you because you break the rules is the worst thing in the world." He and Eydie are trying to bring David and Michael up in a way that will circumvent guilt. Steve, who despises what he calls religious 'fanaticism,' says, "There's only one religion in the world worth having, and that's the "be nice religion."
Eschewing formal religion, they have nevertheless internalized their parents' strict moral codes. I asked Steve what he thought about open marriage. While Eydie listened open mouthed, Steve launched into a defense of premarital sex, embellishing his rhetoric with horror tales from marriages that failed because "neither of them knew what the other was doing." He carried on till Eydie couldn't stand it anymore.
"Dumb! Naive! That's not what open marriage means. Open marriage is when you're married and you have sex with other people and you tell each other about it. It's supposed to be all right because you're honest about it."
Steve: "You're kidding. You mean you make love to someone else and talk about it?"
Eydie: "It's called honestly."
Steve: "It ought to be called cruelty."
Eydie shrugs. "I'm not saying it's absolutely wrong for other people. It just wouldn't work for me - too messy. I sing, I have a sexy husband, how much gratification do I need?" And what if Steve had a lover? "Oh, that's simple. I'd kill him."
"You know what's wrong here?" Steve asks me. "You're assuming there's something astonishing about being married for 19 years. There isn't. We're normal. Eydie's my best friend."
Eydie, licking the cheese fondue from her fingers, interrupts: Stevie, what you don't understand..."
And they're off and sparring again, as intensely interested in each other as they must have been 24 years ago - and completely safe in the knowledge that the salt and spice of their differences will keep their marriage going.