by Wanda Redding; Movie Mirror, 1969 or early 1970
In the past three years, Kim’s been married, had a baby, divorced, made four films — and fallen in love again. She feels like she’s been riding a merry-go-round, and just hopes that she and boyfriend Peter Duel can make their romance last! People fall in love for any number of reasons — some sensible, some foolish, some unexplainable.
But none could be wackier than the reason Kim Darby gives for falling in love with Peter Duel: “George Schaefer told me to,” she says wide-eyed, as though that explains everything.
So the reader won’t get the impression Kim is nuttier than she actually is (which is nutty enough, but nice-nutty), best we explain that George Schaefer directed Kim and Pete in Generation. The film is the story of a bride who is nine months pregnant.
The story is poignant, funny and sad, and the director suggested the two could play their parts better if they actually were in love.
“No one took him seriously, of course,” Kim says. “But the more I got to know Pete, the more I realized that what George wanted to happen was actually coming true.”
Kim had just divorced actor Jim Stacy, the father of her year-old-daughter, Heather, when she began filming Generation, and the romance was the last thing on her mind.
“Divorce is awful no matter how civil the people involved try to be. I was despondent. Pete made be feel alive again. It’s a good thing I wasn’t still married when I made Generation. In the film, I choose natural childbirth and, to learn about it, Pete and I were told by the director to visit the Lamaze Preparatory Parenthood Method Clinic. We spent so much time there, night after night, that other young couples came to look upon us as one of them — married and expecting.”
Kim is a strange mixture of innocence and know-it-all. One minute she appears to be as vulnerable and sensitive as her little girl looks make her seem. The next she’s strong and stubborn, using language you’d expect to hear at a longshoreman’s convention.
In discussing True Grit, the John Wayne film that brought her to prominence, she shows the tough side of her personality.
Is it true she turned the role down nine times before finally accepting it under pressure from her agent?
“Yes, I did. I turned it down because it’s a bad movie. The part they gave me was impossible. I had the urge to run away and hide forever. Then after filming began and I realized what I’d gotten myself into, I was doubly sure I should never have taken the role. The director, Henry Hathaway, gave me nothing except scorn and ridicule throughout the entire film. I hate him. You can quote that. I hate him. As for John Wayne, we had no rapport, either in scenes or out of them. He had no regard for me. Glen Campbell was nice. I like him. We’ve made another film together since, Norwood. But his wife made that difficult by showing up on the set the day we were to do our big bedroom scene. He was nervous. I was nervous. When his wife showed up unexpectedly, he was more than nervous, which made me really uptight. There are enough pressures already in a situation like that. I’m sure she didn’t realize what she was doing.
Strawberry Statement, the film she’s working on now, is her happiest to date. On location in San Francisco, she’s been visited by ex-husband Jim Stacy (they have a better relationship now than they did when married); by current boyfriend Pete Duel (the same Peter Deuel who co-starred with Judy Carne in the TV series, Love on a Rooftop. He changed his name for movies); and in-between she’s had fun “getting to know” her apple-cheeked co-star, Bruce Davidson.
One of the crew members on the location set was overhead saying, “That kid can’t make up her mind. Last week her boyfriend Pete was up here and she was all over him everytime he came to the set. Yesterday her ex-husband Jim was up here and they were kissing and carrying on like honeymooners instead of divorcees. And when nobody else is around she’s got that boy, Bruce, goin’ in circles.”
Kim couldn’t look less like a femme fatale. But she has a magnetism that, when turned on, can melt even the sternest heart. Jim Stacy, for example, admits openly that he’s still in love with her, and not, he says, simply because she’s the mother of his only child. Normally Jim is a possessive, jealous guy with a hot temper. Yet he’s become so tolerant with Kim he even joked to a reporter about her current romance. The writer, meeting him on Kim’s set, said, “Didn’t I read where you were in Europe recently making a film?” “Oh, no,” Jim answered. “That’s my wife’s boyfriend you’re thinking of.” Pete had, in fact, been in Europe making a movie.
“She’s definitely in love with Pete,” said a man who’s worked with her on every film and managed to become the closest thing she has to a confidant, “but she’s terrified at the idea of committing herself again.
“The breakup of her marriage affected her much more than she let people know. She is the product of a broken home and she’s always felt cheated because of it. She promised herself that would never happen to her little girl, and yet it did. Her folks were married a number of years. She and Jim didn’t even make it for one full year. They divorced after seven months. Now she’s afraid of love, or I should say, what love leads to. ‘Sure’ she tells herself, ‘I love Pete now with all my heart. But I felt that way about Jim, too. How can you ever know if anything will last. How can you be sure of anyone else’s heart?’
“You see it was Jim who didn’t want to be married anymore. And now Kim finds it impossible to trust her own feelings and judgment as well as the feelings of someone else.”
Pete has also admitted publicly that he’s very much in love with Kim. He’s even hinted that he’s already proposed. But so far, Kim can’t bring herself to say ‘yes.’
Undoubtedly, the memory of her own childhood has affected her attitude. Her mother and father were professional dancers who traveled the supper club route around the country. When her mother got pregnant, by accident, she saw the prospect of motherhood as a threat to her career. As soon as she had the baby, she persuaded her husband’s parents to take care of the little girl while the two of them went back on the road. After that, they almost never came home.
By the time she was two years old, her mother and father were divorced and she stayed on with her paternal grandparents. “I didn’t know my Mom until I was 17,” Kim says somewhat bitterly. “And by then it was too late. She’s a soft lady. I look a bit like her. But we have nothing to say to one another. My father didn’t really ever come home until I was nine. And again, by then it was too late. Gramps was my ‘Dad.’ Today my father teaches dancing at Everywoman’s Village. I think I’m a bit of a mystery to him. Sometimes I see him looking at me like he wished he could understand me.”
Kim is determined that her daughter, Heather, won’t be cheated of both mother and father, as she was. Jim adores his baby daughter and visits her as often as possible.
“I want our relationship to stay as healthy and happy as possible,” Kim says. “If it does, it can only benefit Heather. Sometimes I look at her and can’t believe she’s mine. She’s so big and gregarious and happy. I was always small and quiet and withdrawn. She has a good life and I want to keep it that way. She has sunshine, good food, a warm home, and many people to love her.”
“And this,” says the man who professes to know her, “is one of the reasons Kim is so frightened of committing herself and her love to Pete. She doesn’t have the faith that things can be lasting. And she’s sick at the idea of putting her baby through a series of stepfathers or ‘Mommie’s boyfriends.’ Her life is swift and confusing at the moment.”
“Sometimes I feel like I’m on a merry-go-round that has been speeded up and it’s going too fast for me to get off,” Kim confesses. “In just three short years I’ve been married, had a baby, been divorced, made four films, and fallen in love again. I often feel the urge to run away from everyone and everything and take Heather to some quiet place where we can just breathe and slow down for a while. I feel like I’m running all the time. But, I’m going in circles.”
When her marriage began going badly (which was almost the day it happened), Kim started going to a psychiatrist. She still goes, and credits therapy with making it possible for her to find out “some unbelievably helpful things about myself.” “I was the original Miss Insecurity. I couldn’t argue, for example. I couldn’t have an honest relationship because I was always afraid I’d be rejected if I expressed my true feelings.
“Now, I can yell and curse with the best. But I like myself better for it. Someone told me one of the car drivers at the studio didn’t like me. A year ago that would have destroyed me. I would have stayed awake at night worrying over it, wondering what I could do to make him change his mind. Now I can say, ‘Oh! He doesn’t like me? Too bad.’ I feel a lot more sorry for him than I do for myself.
“For the first time I feel that I have a root inside me. I don’t need to put it down anywhere. But I do feel a definite need to be with somebody, to be dedicated. I feel incomplete without it. It’s a woman’s feeling. It can’t be denied. To tell you the truth, I’d rather be a wife and mother than an actress any day. I love acting, and I need the outlet. I need the self-expression, and of course I want the acceptance. But I think the acceptance of one man, forever, would make me feel much more complete. I’d like to pattern my career after the way Sandy Dennis has done hers — one or two good films a year, and in-between she’s her own private person.”
Does she think this kind of life would be possible with Pete?
“I don’t know,” she answered sadly. “How can anyone know? I love him very much. I want to be with him. He’s so wonderful. But I’m afraid. It’s too soon. I only got divorced last June. Right now, I’ll just have to play it by ear.”
And if anyone can get by with ‘playing it by ear,’ it will be Kim. As Glen Campbell says, “She knows how to get her way, but never aggressively. She has a ‘home-grown’ sexiness. She’s the kind of girl I’d like my son to marry.”
And maybe Mrs. Deuel’s son will do just that!