As SUPPOSEDLY told by Victor to one of his friends :)
A more poignant story has seldom been told. But then, no two people have ever said a good-bye quite like this
The good ship U.S. Coast Guard Cutter D--, in port for refueling, rode at anchor serene and confident. Down below in the crew's quarters the sound of jubilation rose in a blurred crescendo punctured by staccato laughter. On deck, midship, watching the waves do a frosty rhumba before they piled themselves up against the side of the ship, a big bosun sat, silent and motionless, his handsome profile etched by the sun on the scrubbed deck.
Out of nowhere it came, the sound of a tremulous tenor airing his sorrow over a portable phonograph.
"I wonder who's kissing her now..."
The big bosun smiled. In a second his toes were wig-wagging to the weepy rhythm. Suddenly the music stopped. The big bosun shrugged.
He had lapsed back into his revery, watching the gulls swoop like Stukas.
A blond seaman came along the deck, carrying a portable. He walked over to the big bosun and sat down.
"What'll it be, bosun?" he said. "Glenn Miller doing 'Black Magic' or Harry James on 'Velvet Moon?'"
"You could start off with 'My Gal Sal,' swing into 'The Pity of It All' and ..."
Scorchy, the seaman, blinked. "You mean you still want to hear those records?"
The big bosun came to. "This still routine--I don't get it."
"There's nothing to get, mate, nothing at all. The way I look at it, dames are like streetcars--there's another by in five minutes."
The big bosun swung around, grabbed him by the shoulder. "Supposing you give it to me straight."
"You really want it?"
"Okay, mate. A bunch of us is down below listening to the radio and ... well ... I'm twisting the dial around when all of a sudden this Broadway columnist--Howard Barnes, I think his name is--starts coming over real good. We're listening with only half an ear when the guy comes out with it."
"Well, as near as I can recall the item goes: 'Miss Rita Hayworth of Hollywood rumored to be engaged to Boatswain Victor John Mature, U.S.C.G.. latterly of Broadway and Hollywood and presently somewhere in the North Atlantic is reportedly doing much of her grieving in the company of Mr. Orson Welles of Mars and thereabouts.'"
The bosun's jaw set.
"Is that all, Scorchy?"
"Thanks. Thanks a lot."
"Sorry, pal." An awkward silence. "Just like I told you, dames..."
"Skip it. See you ashore. I've got a little errand to do up forward."
Victor Mature sat there for a few minutes like a man trying to talk himself out of something. Or into something. Whatever it was, he succeeded. When he reported to his commanding officer, his mind was made up.
"I have a request to make, Sir." he said with crisp respect.
The commanding officer requested particulars.
"I'd like to make a trans-Atlantic telephone call to Hollywood, Sir."
The commanding officer looked up, frowned, relaxed.
"Urgent, I take it?"
He got permission--for two reasons:
Firstly, because the urgency was too obvious for question. Secondly, not a single member of the complement of the D-- had asked less and contributed more, not only to the morale of the ship but to the flotilla and even to the fleet.
He waited eons for the connection to be completed. "Yes, Mr. Mature . . . yes, Mr. Mature..."
There was a note of incredulity in Rita Hayworth's voice.
"Why Vic, where are you?" she said with shocked surprise. He might have blurted it out if the Coast Guard monitors, listening in, hadn't leaped into the breach.
An exact transcript of the conversation is, of course, unavailable. Enough is available of the seventy-five-dollar telephone call to shed light on later developments.
For one thing, it was a stormy conversation, with Mature doing the storming. On at least one occasion he begged the pardon of the Coast Guard monitors, who, legend has it, replied: "Go right ahead. Non-marine combat is out of our province."
To go over the ground carefully, he wanted to know, right off, if the reports were true about her and Orson Welles. She said they were and they weren't, depending on what report he had reference to. Yes, she had been out several times with Orson Welles. No, she was not in love with him.
"At least you concentrate on geniuses," he came back. "A girl could do lots worse." She told him she thought that was unkind.
He wanted to know how dare she bring up the word unkind. He wanted to know lots of things. He wanted to know, for instance, if they weren't engaged to be married as soon as he hit port. He wanted to know if she remembered making a pact with him--to the effect that never during his absence, no matter how long, would she go out with anyone else--alone--and that if she did he was to understand that love had died. He wanted to know if it had been, perchance, she who had been given custody of his English bull dog, Genius II, made custodian of his cars and personal affairs; she who had been named in his will.
Her answer came back over the trans-Atlantic wire bewildered, confused by his barrage, not too convincing to Vic's Latin sense of right and wrong.
There wasn't much more for him to say and he said it.
"So long, Rita. Good luck and good-by."
"Vic, ... Vic ..."
Long distance answered. "The party has hung up," the operator said.
They will tell you if you ever see any of them, the crew of the D--, that when the big bosun walked out of the telephone booth, he was almost a stranger to them.
For nine days he kept his own counsel, doing his chores and then going down below. He wanted to be alone and he got his wish. The men understood. His "Gestapo," the half-dozen members of the ship's complement who were closest to him, understood and kept their distance. He would come out of it, they knew.
Only during gun practice was there a trace of the old Mature. The officer of the day would give the order to man the stations and the first one at his post would be Gun Captain Mature. At the command "Man the guns" he would be himself again; alert, calmly tense and eager.
Then at the end of the ninth day he walked into the mess, reached over Scorchy's shoulder just as that able seaman was about to take a swig of coffee, picked up the mug, bowed to the now-flaming Scorchy and said with mock seriousness: "Thank you, Sir. Your service to the union will never be forgotten." It was all part of an old ritual that had begun long months ago--during Mature's first week aboard the ship, as a matter of fact.
In due time the ship docked at Boston. And once again, as Boatswain Victor John Mature strode along the dock, he was a man without a woman. He knew the feeling well, too well. Here was the paradox of paradoxes: The Great Lover was without a love.
It was unthinkable that this same thing had happened to him several times before. Five times the Great Lover had found his Great Love only to have it take wings.
There was the fey Jeannette Morris, his first love, the girl back home in Louisville. He had had nothing to offer her except a bag of hopes and a career in Louisville that was studded with things undertaken and littered with wrecks of things abandoned. She had chosen to remember him fondly and let it go at that.
There was the russet-coiffured Frances Evans whom he had married during his apprentice days at the Pasadena Playhouse. She had lost faith in his dreams, wearied of waiting and had jettisoned him in the divorce court.
There was the mercurial Lana Turner, as eager to find Love as he was to keep it. She had dropped him for Tony Martin.
There was golden girl Betty Grable. She had turned to George Raft.
There was the camellia-faced society beauty, Martha Stephenson Kemp. She had been swept off her feet by the dark Adonis, had married him and had made the discovery in a single year that her background and his were oil and water. She had asked him for a divorce and he had complied.
And then there was Rita.
Boston looked bleak to the bosun, so with his two staunch shipmates, Steve and Scorchy, he headed for New York to introduce the boys to the conviviality of the Stork Club and his close friend, Sherman Billingsley. It was there as the evening waxed warm that a waiter set a telephone extension on Vic's table and said, "Hollywood calling, Mr. Mature..."
A guarded look came over the bosun's face. "Okay," he said quietly.
Rita's voice came over the wire, picking up the torn threads of their last telephone conversation, saying the words that had jammed in her throat under the shock of that mid-Atlantic call. He had asked her if she remembered many things. Well, she had--all those things and more.
She told him she remembered the first time she had met him--in the movie books--and had said aloud: "Hmmmm. Not bad. And not good." She told him she remembered their first date--dinner at Vic's bachelor apartment with Vic's cook as chaperone. She told him she remembered the mad things they had done, driving along the surf at Santa Monica at four in the morning, listening in the dark to radio mystery dramas.
She told him she remembered the first time he kissed her in "My Gal Sal," how he had held it so long that Director Irving Cummings had had to shoot a half-dozen retakes to appease the Hays office. She told him she remembered how the bottom dropped out of her life the night after she saw him to the train that took him to Boston, thence onto the deep.
She told him that what else she remembered--and very vividly--was her unhappy marriage to Edward Judson, a marriage she had plunged into with more trust than judgment. She told him that she didn't want to make another mistake, that he had been away five months and that people change in far less, that the end of the war was a long way off and that it might be a wiser thing to put the marriage off and see how they felt when he came back and they had gotten to know themselves all over again.
"It's as much for your good as mine," she told him with that unquenchable sincerity that is so much a part of her.
Vic's answer was brief. "Okay, Rita. Don't worry. You're not breaking my heart!" He hung up the phone and turned to the gayety-filled room.
But there was little gayety in the bosun's heart. For the next few days he went through the motions of having a hilarious time.
At length the time was close when the three Coast Guardsmen must report back to ship, so they journeyed to Boston and had a last look at Vic's favorite hangout, the Ritz Carlton. There in the dining room that night Vic and his "Gestapo" were spinning tales, reminiscing and, every now and then, taking a quick gander at a pair of attractive legs, when the captain handed Vic a note.
"If it's from a woman, I don't want it," Vic said.
"It's from a gentleman."
He opened it, read it and looked around. It was Huntington Hartford, the scion of the A. and P. Millions and a Stork Club buddy of Vic's dating back several years. With him was a platinum blonde.
He read the note again.
"Will you join us, sailor?" the note read. He was about to shake his head when the icy blonde made with a smile. At fifty miles it would melt an iceberg.
Vic turned to his "Gestapo." "Pardon me, boys," he said. "I'll be right back."
Scorchy cut loose with that rippling laugh of his. The big bosun was himself again. It was high time.