by Michael Harp; Silver Screen, April 1970
Can Kim Darby and Pete Duel find the fulfillment they want in marriage? Today they’re totally in love at last. Their hopes have brought them the happiness they couldn’t reach until now. They won’t talk about the heartache that tore them apart for several grim weeks recently. Kim hid how wretched she felt. Pete was just as hurt, secretly, by her decision to not see him again.
Their abrupt break-up wasn’t detected by the press, but it jolted all their friends. After eight months of constant devotion, Kim was determined that she had to forget how much Pete meant to her. She forced herself to be gay when Bruce Davidson, her co-star in The Strawberry Statement, paid a lot of attention to her during the movie’s final weeks of filming. Dutifully, her representatives expressed amazement at anyone imagining there had ever been anything serious in the Darby-Duel dating.
But there definitely was!
Reached by phone at Monterey where he was on location for The Shooting Gallery, an NBC World Premiere picture he plunged into as soon as he’d completed The Young Country, a new ABC Movie of the Week, Pete would only say, “It’s up in the air. But I believe our love will last!”
Because he refused to be a loser in the most important relationship he’s experienced, Pete was able to persuade her they can create the future they dreamed about together.
Kim was afraid they couldn’t. She’d been so trusting, so vulnerable, when Jim Stacy swept her into a passionate union with his male insistence. After bewildering months, alternating ecstasy with agony, she trembled in a Los Angeles courtroom in February of last year when called to the stand to testify in her petition for a divorce. Jim, her first love, had coldly walked out on her after she survived his fits of temper, she claimed. At 21, she had to reshape her life, with a four-month-old baby daughter to bring up by herself.
Several months later, Kim was still aching with anguish over that failure when she and Pete were cast as the mod young couple, having a baby by natural childbirth, in Generation. To be convincing in the dramatic scenes in which Pete attempted to deliver their screen baby with no outside help, they were sent to regular classes for expectant parents, studying the La Maze Method.
“If I’d known about this, my own Heather would have been born this way!” Kim exclaimed in awe.
Pete just grinned at that.
“I’m always surprised when people react as if childbirth is such a mystery,” he said later. “My dad was the only doctor in a small town. He had his office at home when I grew up in Penfield, New York, so I was used to seeing the babies’ mothers brought there after the excitement of having their children with his guidance. I was fascinated, and Dad answered my questions.”
Kim was delighted when Pete was intrigued by reports about her own darling, tiny girl. His kindness to kids, from brand-new to any age, was just one of the traits she liked in him.
The genuine friendship they established while playing their roles led to dating that went on after their professional teaming was over.
Afterward, when she was playing opposite Glen Campbell in Norwood, Kim confessed, “I feel incomplete unless I’m needed. But I don’t dare to be foolish.” She realized the danger in loving Pete on the rebound and vowed, “I won’t rush into another marriage!”
“Jim played a tremendous part in my life and I’m grateful that there’s no strain between us anymore. I’m sad when I remember what happened.” That marriage had been her whole life until she had to face bitter reality. “I want Heather to grow up loving her father, never feeling he is too far away to turn to,” she added softly.
Kim’s always thought of herself as far too plain. But to Pete, she’s a beautiful human being. He looks into her huge, questioning brown eyes and is warmed by her smile when his fondness reassures her. Her physical gracefulness is such a contrast to her shyness. No glittering starlet has ever had Kim’s unaffected, sweet femininity, he vows, and her very avoidance of glitter that intrigues him.
Neither of them wants blatant publicity. Instinctively, they give a charming dignity to whatever’s worthwhile. That’s why you can’t find them among the gaudy show-offs in Hollywood.
They were further along in a mutual attachment that seemed too good to be true when Pete had to leave for ten weeks in Spain, to co-star with George Peppard in Cannon For Cordoba. Before he tenderly kissed her goodbye, Kim admitted, “Pete is the best person in Hollywood. I adore him! I’m not disillusioned about marriage. I think it could be wonderful!”
She also acknowledged, with typical truthfulness, that she was worrying about making a living for herself and Heather. She hadn’t asked for alimony and wondered if her acting chances would continue. “And I don’t want to depend just on work for happiness,” she also confessed. A full life as a woman is her goal, just as becoming all a man should be is Pete’s.
“I stayed a bachelor because I didn’t want a frantic existence. That’s what marrying too soon would have been,” he said, considering his own life. His folks sent him to St. Lawrence University to become a distinguished doctor, a Duel family tradition.
“My two years there were a disaster, except for the plays I was in.” Peter says now.
Then his parents gave him their blessing when he chose to earn his place in the world as an actor. Two years of intensive dramatic training in Manhattan, during which he took a humble job appreciatively when financially strapped, led to his small role in an off-Broadway play.
“At 22, I was in love with a college girl from my hometown. When I landed a lead in a play that went on tour for six months, I feared that long separation would be rough on us. And it was.” It broke up those marriage plans.
Tackling Hollywood, he proved his acting ability in TV before he won movie leads. While co-starring with Judy Carne every week in Love On A Rooftop, Pete was dating Jill Andre, an actress who was a divorcee with two young children. But he was too unsure of himself in his work to risk a larger commitment.
He was more secure in 1967 when he met Mary Beth Griswold, a stunning blonde living in Menlo Park, a suburb of San Francisco. They became officially engaged, but those wedding plans were called off in February of last year — at the very time Kim was accepting the inevitable end of her marriage.
Friends of Pete’s agree he and Mary Beth were jinxed by his not seeing her more often. This time it was his patriotism rather than his career that pulled him from her. Pete campaigned vigorously all around the country, when he wasn’t on a set, for the candidacy of Senator Eugene McCarthy in the last Presidential race.
Now he dreads the notion of any separation from Kim due to their work. When he unpacked in Madrid, he urged her to take her first trip to Europe to sample a bit of Spain. He was speaking the language surprisingly well when she arrived for her brief visit. An ardent admirer of true art wherever he spots it, Pete soon was showing her the Goya paintings that had been taken out of the cellar of the Prado for display in its remodeled galleries.
“When we drove 70 miles south to see a famous bullfighter in the ring there, it was driving into another world. One funny memory is of the way a crowd gathered around our car because, with my hair shoulder-length for that picture, I was mistaken for the bullfighter,” he said.
“I like to travel, for I don’t worry in transit. On a plane, I’m very calm, feel above all problems. Driving someplace that’ll be interesting, not on a freeway but through nice country, relaxes me. I respond to everything when away from pressure. I’m happiest when Kim and I can go out into the vastness of a California desert.”
Kim’s only starting to learn the joy of adventure beyond the horizon. Sheltered by the elderly grandparents who raised her, Kim feels unsafe away from home. She’s been renting a house where she and Heather and a loyal nurse-cook haven’t had a yard big enough even for a toddler.
Pete’s purposely lived in the same, inexpensive, small apartment he’s rented above a rear garage on a modest residential street in Hollywood, for five-and-a-half years. He made three rooms out of one with partitions he’s put up. He could have splurged on a fancy front, but by remaining unpretentious — he drives a VW convertible instead of an elegant sports car — he’s demonstrated he can be smart with his paycheck from Universal, where he’s getting better roles on his long-term contract.
Neither Kim nor Pete have any desire to be on the sought-after party lists. They’d far rather contribute to the needs of the world they recognize is sharply real, however they can.
Pete says, “I’ve been used to coming home and turning on my music and reading after I fix myself something to eat. I’m enjoying pen-and-ink sketching once more. I’m working on my second oil painting. I’m mighty critical of my own efforts. I’m going to type out all the poetry I’ve written and begin submitting it for publication. I think four of my poems are excellent. And I’m practicing more on my guitar, so I can play it if that’d come in handy on a personal appearance.
“I believe owning a house up North or back East would be terrific! Planes make it possible to commute to a beautiful spot on weekends after work in the city. I can’t stand the smog!” He is doing all he can as one person to protect the pollution of nature. “Fouling the environment is a sin none of us can be apathetic about. Man is as much part of the earth as a tree. A tree is as basic a sight for a man as the right wife.”
And that’s, obviously, what he considers Kim, in his own case.
She attempted to go on without him because she was still clinging to the idea of much more of the freedom she acquired with emotional scars. She had to prove she could be her own person, she told herself repeatedly. Two years, off and on, of costly analysis had taught her that much of the turbulence that engulfed her before Pete entered her life was due to her inability to be absolutely honest about her feelings.
He’s never been to a psychiatrist, but Pete approves of analysis. “I don’t want anyone to pretend with me,” he says. “I’ve always felt I deserved the truth. I can understand it!”
They made up quietly when Pete made it plain to Kim that he wasn’t trying to hurry her into promises she couldn’t make whole-heartedly. He wants her to feel sufficiently free in every area.
“All I can say is that I love her and a marriage date is up to her.”
He had no reservations himself. “I’m ready to be a husband and father.”
Kim looks at Pete proudly because he respects her, wouldn’t think of asking her to abandon her career, wants to protect her. Believing that women have as much right to express their potentialities as men, he wouldn’t want to be overshadowed by her fame. But he couldn’t be. Pete’s too strong in his masculinity to be that sort of a victim. “Certain careers, many lives, are set in motion because of one specific break,” he says. “We have to adjust to the challenge of change, wherever we are. Nothing moves unless you move it. To succeed in anything, you just can’t hope or sit. If you don’t start to make things hum, they’re not going to get done.”
And Pete is not one to simply hope or sit. He’s proved that by his very attitude toward Kim. He was not going to let something precious die because of past fears and experiences.
The result? He and Kim are in love — at last — and this time, they know it.