She was wearing unpressed jeans and a floppy boy's shirt, her short, dark hair scraggly, large luminous dark eyes shining in a face that was plain and childlike. When she appeared at the chic Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel, it was no wonder the maitre d' at the door said she absolutely could not come in and be seated there. Not in those clothes. The girl didn't insist. Mumbling softly, she started to walk away, when a man at one of the tables inside spotted her and jumped up, running after her. Taking her by the arm, he led her in, past the dumbfounded waiter, telling her in a rush, "Come on in. We've been waiting for you. She sat at a table, this waif of a girl, with several important men, and while she sipped a coke through a straw, listened to the men discuss a huge upcoming quarter-of-a-million-dollar movie deal for her! She's Kim Darby, the True Grit girl, who looks as though she sleeps in a farmhouse and doesn't have a buck to her name. Actually, she's one of Hollywood's fastest-rising young actresses! You'd never know it from her. She's one of the most puzzling girls in town, and that's exactly the way she intends it to be. Kim is one of the hottest young stars in Hollywood, but no one knows her. She is quite alone, deliberately, defiantly alone. Slim and fragile, she is soft-spoken and remote, but she is nobody's fool. Not by a longshot she isn't. Not Kim Darby.
"She looks as though she can't open a door by herself, but she's got a will of iron," a member of the True Grit set told us. "You should have heard the blowups she had with John Wayne and director Henry Hathaway while she was working in the picture. Nobody talks back to these two gents--they've been around a long time and are too successful and too respected to get anything but a Yessir.' But you should have seen this little snip of a girl talk back to them when she thought they were trying to push her around. She didn't realize, I suppose, that as a veteran star and a veteran director, Wayne and Hathaway have a right to be boss. But little Kim wasn't buying that. She almost knocked me for a loop when she looked up at big Duke Wayne and said, in that little voice of hers, I'd rather not do the scene your way-- here's the way I think it should be done.'
"That's the first time anyone ever told big Duke what to do! It was especially astonishing coming from a little nobody like her. We held our breaths, I tell you. Wayne got a little hot under the collar, but he controlled himself. From that point on it was pretty chilly."
The picture, under Hathaway's direction, made Kim an instant star. Does she have any regrets about her fights with Hathaway? In that little child's voice of hers she says today about Hathaway, "I hate him."
That's quite shocking in itself. Ask her how she feels about John Wayne, whom no one knocks, and she replies in that same flat little voice, "I didn't like him. He didn't have any regard for me. I can't ever forget that."
Jim Stacy, to whom she was married and from whom she is now divorced, has good reason to know that delicate Kim is indeed the iron butterfly. Jim is a fighter himself, but Kim has out-fought him. The difference between the two is that everyone knows Jim is a battler. He's an itchin'-for-a-fight kind of guy; he has a belligerent thrust to his chin; he's difficult on the set of his TV show, Lancer, so no one is surprised when Jim acts as tough as he looks.
But Kim . . . oh my! Butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. In her own sweet way she proved to Jim that if he tangled with her, she'd pull no punches.
When Jim first started dating Kim two years ago, he thought she was one of the sweetest, most docile girls he'd ever known. After having been married to Connie Stevens, a marriage marked by fights and hysteria, and after having dated many high-strung little starlets after that, he told a friend, "I find Kim gentle and old-fashioned. She has an indelible softness. She's the most feminine girl I've ever known. She gives me a feeling of peace." After they were married, Kim was desperately anxious to be a good wife. As a child she'd been reared by her grandparents in Sherman Oaks, outside of Hollywood, and she'd always had a desire to give her own child a home life with the security of its own loving set of parents, rather than experience the lonely childhood she'd had.
She became pregnant shortly after they were married but kept the news secret. Why secret?
"Because that's the way Kim is," explains a friend. "She likes to keep everything personal to herself. As well as knew her, she never told me anything about her personal thoughts or her private life. She never even told me why she was raised by her grandparents instead of her parents--whether it was because her parents were divorced, or her mother had to work or why. I suppose it was this great obsession for privacy that kept her iron telling me that she was expecting a baby until she began to show.
"This obsessive need for secrecy--and also her desire to please Jim--almost caused her to lose the baby. My husband and I became friendly with Jim and Kim when they were our neighbors One day Jim asked us if we'd go horseback riding with them. We did and I saw Kim run her horse up and down the hills in Topanga Canyon, alongside of Jim. I noticed that she looked tired near the end of the afternoon, and once she almost slipped off the horse in her fatigue.
"It was only months later that I learned that Kim was pregnant at the time. Imagine a girl in early pregnancy taking the risk of galloping up and down a mountain trail on a horse! She could have induced a miscarriage.
"And she didn't want a miscarriage, I'll tell you that! She wanted that baby. She's the world's most devoted mother. But she wanted to please Jim. If Jim wanted to go horseback riding, then she felt she should go horseback riding with him. And no one could have talked her out of it--neither her doctor nor her friends nor her husband. She's that kind of a girl, stubborn as a bulldozer."
After her baby daughter, Heather, was born, Kim decided she could no longer live with Jim, much as she wanted her child to have a devoted pair of parents.
"Jim was giving her a rough time," explains a friend. "She never knew when he was coming home or in what mood. Jim's very moody; sometimes he d come home on top of the world, while other times he was sullen and quick to pick a fight. Kim was going out of her mind living with him like this. She's very sensitive and she takes every relationship particularly marriage, intensely. I remember seeing her crying most of the time. When she realized how nervous Jim's erratic behavior was making her, she finally decided to ask for divorce."
Sensitive little Kim became a little tiger when she brought her original divorce complaint. She threw the book at him. Instead of couching her complaint politely, her divorce action, filed in Los Angeles last January 14th, claimed that "on numerous occasions he (Jim) struck me in the face and body with his hands and other instruments, that he flew into rages and threatened me with additional future harm which put me in fear for my life."
The court persuaded them to try a reconciliation and Kim agreed. She dropped her divorce complaint. But three weeks later she filed another divorce action, claiming "the reconciliation had broken down" and charged extreme mental cruelty.
A court reporter who covered the case told me, "I was looking for a movie actress to show up. There was this mousey little girl in the courtroom wearing a faded cotton dress, short, unkempt hair, looking like anything but a movie actress. Was I surprised--this was Kim!"
Kim was as miserable after the divorce as she was while she was married to Jim. A friend describes her as being in "a state of shock after the divorce. She kept to herself more than ever and cried a lot."
Kim remained in the canyon-hidden Beverly Hills ranch house she'd lived in with Jim, and her life centered around her baby. Although the baby was only three months old, she took her along on location to Colorado for True Grit.
She said then, "My baby is the only companion I want now. I don't make friends easily, and I don't feel like acquiring any new friends. I don't want to go to parties or socialize in any way. If people think I'm stand-offish let them think that. I don't care."
She did go to a party on location but antagonized everyone by sitting in a corner by herself.
It sounds like our story should end right here, doesn't it? Or maybe "she lived unhappily ever after" would do. But Kim is not that predictable.
A normal 21-year-old girl, she found romance even though she wasn't looking for it. It happened when she worked in Generation, a dramatic film in which she stars with David Janssen. Kim plays a girl nine-months pregnant who becomes the bride of Peter Deuel. Well, she and Peter became attracted to each other for real and spent much time together on the set.
They saw each other after work and, except for a location trip to Madrid for Peter, they've been inseparable ever since. Peter, who now sports long hair and a beard, digs Kim and her casual style.
"She finds perfect companionship with Peter," a friend explains. "He's easy for her to get along with; he gives her no problems, which is a great relief to her after Jim. Peter loves her with a calmer love than Jim ever showed her.
"But Jim is always on the scene to disturb her. Kim gets upset by Jim's habit of coming to the house unannounced on the pretext of wanting to see the baby. I don't want to deprive him of seeing his child,' she once told me, almost in tears, but why doesn't he let me know in advance? He makes me nervous when he pops in unexpectedly. He destroys my privacy, he keeps me on edge."
To keep her peace of mind, she does everything to avoid contact with Jim. While filming Norwood, Jack Haley, Jr., who directed the picture, gave a party for the cast, which included Glen Campbell, Meredith MacRae and Joe Namath, as well as Kim.
Kim came to the party with Peter. For once--perhaps because Peter has this effect on her--she was smiling and even chatted with people at the party. Then, unexpectedly, Jim Stacy walked in. He hadn't been invited, but he was a close friend of Haley's and Haley had mentioned the party to him.
When Kim saw Jim, her face froze and tears glistened in her eyes. She clutched Peter's hand and said, "I don't want to be here if he's here."
Peter took her by the arm and they walked out. But on the way, Peter sought out Haley and told him why Kim was leaving the party so suddenly.
"Don't take her home--just keep her in the hall. I'll get rid of Jim," whispered Haley. Then Haley went up to Jim and said, "Look, old man, Kim won't stay here if you're around. The sight of you bugs her. Since this is really her party, not yours, I'm going to have to ask you to leave." Frowning, Jim walked out.
Perhaps her romance with Peter will do for her what nobody and nothing else has been able to do: thaw her out. She's a different girl when she's with Peter. When she was on location for Norwood, Peter visited her often. She was in a less hostile mood than she was when she did True Grit. She even invited everyone on the set to share her big birthday cake with her, gaily dishing out slices of cake to everyone. But Peter was at her side.
They laugh a lot when they're together. He's showing her how to enjoy life and be less suspicious of people and how to take herself less seriously.
One afternoon on the set, she sat chatting with Meredith MacRae. Meredith, who'd recently married Greg Mullavey, was telling Kim how happy she was. Kim was surprised when Meredith, only 22 herself, told her that this was her second marriage.
"I'm like you," Kim shyly offered in a rare confiding mood. "I like being married. I'm sorry it didn't work out with Jim, but I miss marriage. It's nice having a man to belong to and come home to." Her voice drifted off. "Maybe I'll marry again. I'd like that. . . ."
Which is the most revealing thing the
very private Kim Darby has ever said to anybody. But maybe that's
what love and Peter Deuel have done to her.
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