Article from: "Our Marriage is a Ghastly Mistake!" Motion Picture April 1966.
She can laugh about it now --eight years after the fact, but TV's Barbara Feldon candidly admits that as she stood at the altar, she was tempted to tell her groom...
"Our Marriage Is A Ghastly Mistake!"
For the past eight years, bachelors on both the East and West Coast have known that Barbara is completely unavailable, as she is deeply in love with her Belgian-born husband, Lucien Feldon. When they are parted for a few days, she will sit munching a salad and talk to Lucien on the phone every night. One look at Barbara and you know that this is a girl who would never have to spend a single lonely night by herself. But those evenings when Lucien can't be with her, she will spend her time sculpting, knitting or painting. Of Lucien, Barbara says, "We love each other deeply." Then she growls, "He's the ultimate tiger."
So why was she crying on her wedding day? Were those tears of happiness that streamed down her cheeks?
"Oh no," she admitted recently, as we sat chatting together in her dressing room. In her orange blouse and slacks she was a bright spot of color in the room. "I had the worst case of wedding jitters you ever saw. Lucien and I had been dating for about six months. After a couple of months we knew that he was for me and I was for him--there was no question about it at all. He is an incredibly handsome man--blonde, blue-eyed, and tall. But I wasn't infatuated just with his looks. We were absolutely compatible. We liked the same things; we liked each other's friends; we'd learned to share our favorite places.
"Well you can see why we felt at first that we had everything going for us. And so we made plans to get married on the second day of spring in 1958. Since I was born in Pittsburgh, and my parents still lived there, arrangements were made for us to get married in a church there. We were to drive to my parents' home, change into our wedding outfits and then drive to the church.
"It was March 21st, the first day of spring, when we started to drive. Lucien was at the wheel--I didn't know how to drive at that time. As he drove, it began to snow. The snow swirled down faster and faster until the streets and roads were piled high with snow. When we got to the turnpike, it was closed. Dismayed, we realized we would have to take another route--one that would take us hours longer.
"At that moment, I realized I wasn't at all eager to have Lucien make the detour. All of a sudden it dawned on me that I had changed my mind about wanting to get married. I thought, 'What am I doing here with this man I've known for only a few months? I want to stay single!'
"Our wedding was set for the next day. How could I possibly change things at the last minute? I felt a wild hope that we wouldn't be able to get through he snowdrifts to the scene of our wedding--that Lucien would say, 'Let's forget about the whole thing.'
"But he didn't. It took us 24 hours to drive to Pittsburgh, fighting wind and weather. When we finally arrived at my parents' home, the two of us certainly didn't look like a couple who were about to get married. Lucien was wearing slacks; I arrived at my mother's house in blue jeans and in panic, one hour before the wedding was to take place.
"Exhausted, jittery, I thought, 'How did a nice single girl like me ever get into such a quandary? I must have been tricked into it! It was an absurd thought, but I'd temporarily lost my sense of perspective. Unknown to me, Lucien was going through the same sort of panic as I was. He was also wishing he knew of some way to get out of becoming a bridegroom.
"But somehow, since I couldn't thing of any way out and didn't have the nerve to tell Lucien how I felt, about an hour later I was standing at the alter taking my vows.
"I had always envisioned myself a bride in white, speaking her vows in a strong voice. Instead, in a practical moment, I'd decided to get married in a blue suit that would also be good for traveling, so there went the fantasy of being a bride in white.
"As for that strong firm voice, I spoke in such a low voice they couldn't hear me in the first row. I don't know how I got through the vows at all. Every inch of me was shaking. I'd had no sleep, only a scanty breakfast. All these things helped to make my jitters worse. I had the most ghastly nightmarish feeling--as though this wedding couldn't be happening. All my life I'd been preparing for this awesome thing--being married. At least I'd thought I was prepared for it. But now I knew I wasn't. I was committing myself to someone for the rest of my life. At that moment, I was sure it was the wrong someone! I didn't know that he felt the same way: that our wedding was a ghastly mistake.
"At the moment we were taking those solemn vows, we felt completely estranged from each other. Previously, during our courtship, it had been fantasy time; now I felt as if tomorrow was eternity."
I interrupted, "Bette Davis once told me that the marriage contract is the most difficult contract any woman is ever asked to agree to."
Barbara said, "The wedding-day jitters I felt must be very common. Whenever I've told my story to other couples, nearly always they tell me that they went through a similar experience. It seems that no matter how intensely two people have wanted to marry, when the actual moment comes, there is great fear of the giant step they are taking.
"Some time after the marriage ceremony everything suddenly comes back into focus. The feeling of alienation disappears, and your mate is once again the person you knew you wanted.
"After the wedding, Lucien and I went to the reception at the country club my father belonged to. We scarcely looked at each other. We hardly touched the food. We swallowed some wedding cake, and left the reception. Finally, we were in our car headed back for New York. We were alone at last, but being alone didn't quiet our feelings. I couldn't and wouldn't speak to him. He sat at the wheel, his face grim.
"Suddenly I realized that he wasn't speaking to me. It was the first inkling I had that he had been as shaken by the wedding experience as I. For about eight hours we scarcely spoke a word to each other. Then we hit the New Jersey turnpike; I looked at Lucien and he looked at me. For the first time I told how frightened I had been, that I had thought, 'How can I ever get out of this?' He grinned and said he had felt exactly the same way. We burst into laughter. It was good to laugh again; good to know that those moments of panic at the altar were over."
The panic was never to return, nor the fear that she had made a terrible mistake. In marriage as in courtship, they found each other most delightful companions.
Barbara was a Ziegfeld Follies' showgirl when she first met Lucien. She was waiting outside Carnegie Hall in New York City for a boyfriend with whom she had a date. "I didn't have a romance going with the boy I was waiting for," she explained. "As I was waiting, Lucien happened to be walking by Carnegie Hall. It seemed he was planning to make a telephone call." At any rate, he asked her for a light for his cigarette and also for change of a quarter.
"At that time, I was very wary of speaking to men in New York," explained Barbara. "Ordinarily I would not have spoken to a stranger. But I was sure my boyfriend would arrive in about five minutes--so what's the harm?
"Lucien asked me if I was in show business. Perhaps he guessed that I had been taking a dance lesson in that building. He mentioned some people he knew in the theater; some of them were mutual friends. Forty minutes passed--still no sign of my boyfriend. I later learned that he had been detained in his office and hadn't been able to call me, since I was in a public place.
"After talking to Lucien for about an hour, I felt very comfortable with him. When he asked, 'Why don't we go out for some coffee?' I agreed, and we went to a luncheon counter. There we continued."
"Did you feel odd because he was a pickup?" I asked.
"I never considered our meeting a pickup," Barbara explained. "It wasn't like someone saying, 'Hey, baby, will you come with me?" Lucien is an intelligent, educated, nice person.
"After our first meeting, we continued to date, although not steadily at first. I knew I was infatuated with Lucien, but I wasn't going to let myself be carried away.
"At first I was very cautious with Lucien. I was living alone; a girl starting her career has to be careful. Slowly we learned to trust each other. We didn't exactly fall in love; we grew into love.
"We seemed to have an instinct, each of us, as to what would please the other. I remember one day, a few months after we met, buying him a schnauzer I named Mendes-France, after a premier of France. I gave Lucien the dog as a surprise one evening at dinner. He was completely broken up at the thought that I had bought the schnauzer for him. He thought Mendes was wonderful. Unfortunately, Mendes was accidentally killed after Lucien and I were married."
Just as Barbara's gift of Mendes to Lucien helped show how deeply she understood him, so he gave her an odd gift during their courtship which said more clearly than words, "You're for me, I'm for you."
Lucien's gift might have seemed kookie to some. It was a grandfather's watch that didn't work. To Barbara, the fact that it doesn't work is part of its enchantment. "The watch that didn't work was the kind of gift that said, 'I want to give you something -not something you need -but something from the heart.' Picking such an unusual gift showed that Lucien understood me as no previous boyfriend ever had. Only a man like Lucien would show such deep sensitivity."
After their marriage, Barbara gave up her acting career for a while, and she and Lucien opened an art gallery in Greenwich Village.
"It was an exciting venture," she said. "It opened a new door in our lives. We were associating with artists, and they are an interesting group. We didn't make much money running that gallery. At the time abstract expressionistic paintings were in vogue. But there was only a small market for them. Very few people wanted to hang those paintings in their own living rooms. Running the art gallery was a satisfying life for Lucien for a while because he believed in what he was doing but it was not profitable. About four years ago he began representing photographers instead of artists. He also produces TV commercials."
"Including some of those you've appeared in?"
"No, not the ones I'm in. I'm under contract for those commercials. Several years ago, I decided I wanted to do commercials. It was an obvious way for an actress to earn good money. I went to an advertising agency; they told me, 'There's no use in wasting your time and ours. You're not the type to sell anything. You're much to sultry.'
"At that time, the only kind of woman who was considered able to sell anything was a hard-selling pitchwoman. A woman in a commercial had to speak in a very authoritative voice. My approach was, 'If you want to listen, swell if not, that's okay.' It was a soft sell. Nobody wanted the soft sell then.
"Later, after I became a model, the agency I was modeling for decided to send me to a certain firm to do a commercial. 'Don't bother,' I said. 'I've been told by an authority I can't sell a thing.'
"After arguing with me, they sent me to a most creative advertising agency. The director shot me as a girl who comes out of a shower, dries herself with a towel, and talks in an intimate voice about deodorant pads. I thought I was awful, that I was doing a hard sell. I didn't learn till later that when I was selling my hardest, I was speaking in such a whisper you could hardly hear me.
"Charles Revson of Revlon saw the commercial, liked the new approach (which was a soft sell inspite of what I'd thought) and signed me to an exclusive four-month contract. They prepared some offbeat commercials and then came Top Brass. They hired a brilliant writer--the first to develop the concept of a girl on a tiger rug urging men to be tigers." These commercials made Barbara's face, voice and figure well-known, though few people knew her name at that time. But they sure liked her soft, seductive voice.
From tigers to a sexy espionage agent was an easy step. The producer of Get Smart wanted a girl like Barbara, who was sultry and could do tongue-in-cheek things. After all, her commercials had been tongue-in-cheek.
"Previously, I'd made several guest appearances on TV, often coming out to Hollywood to do them. But Lucien and I decided I would never appear in a series in Hollywood on a regular basis. First of all, we didn't like the idea of separations, and his work is mostly in New York. Secondly, I was a New Yorkophile, mad about New York and not crazy about California. But when I made the pilot for Get Smart it was such a satisfying, joyful experience, I reconsidered. We found that Lucien could come out to California every Friday night and stay with me till Monday night. We'd have three full days together every week, days when we could do anything we wanted just for fun. Since the series started, I've had several weeks off, too. Then I fly to New York to be with Lucien. I had thought I wouldn't like California, but now I love it. At our fingertips we have the best of both worlds. I find the people in TV are very democratic, that people in California judge you by what you are and not just by your fašade. They seem to take more time to get to know what you are really like."
Since Barbara has such great sex appeal, I asked her if she'd give me some tips on how other girls can acquire it.
"I don't think of sex appeal as a physical thing. A man does not have to be handsome to have it. Bogie had sex appeal, though he was not handsome. Sex appeal is that element of communication which relies on vibrancy and warmth. Anna Magnani has it. It's the vital response a woman has toward and for a man. Without it, she can be the most perfectly-proportioned Venus-like creature, but she will fall flat after a while. I think how much sex appeal a girl has depends on how much interest she has in a man and in life.
"Clothes are important and women should dress for men. If a girl dresses for other women's approval, she's missing the whole point. A woman who dresses for the approval of other women is defending herself against criticism. She's often pretending to be something she's not.
"When I went with different boyfriends, I dressed differently for each. Now I select the tings I like and have the saleswoman put them way for me. Then I come back again with my husband and try on the clothes I've selected for his approval. I by only what he likes. If he didn't like a dress I bought, I couldn't enjoy wearing it."
Today, basking in her new happiness, Barbara says, "People tell me, 'Life is not a bed of roses.' Sometimes I think it is. At least it has been for me. I'm doing work I love, I'm married to the man I love, we're having a wonderful time. It's like I'm resting in a field with a peach in one hand and a daisy in the other, loving this moment. I know their are other fields, other worlds for Lucien and me to explore, but right now this field is wonderful."
Barbara has come a long way from the girl who cried at her wedding.
The unknown future which caused such fear has turned into this joyous present, each moment of which she enjoys for it own sake. Meeting Barbara, you can't help thinking that she will always have the ability to be this happy.
* "I cried at my own wedding," confessed Barbara Feldon, that tiger-girl (famous for lying seductively on a tiger rug in a TV commercial) who is now becoming equally famous as Agent 99, the sexy, soft-spoken girl dedicated to helping Maxwell Smart in the spoof spy series, Get Smart.
* New Yorkers to the core, Barbara and Lucien Feldon find delight in wandering through the city, discovering new charms, enjoying the old. Be it a homey chess game, lazing in Central Park, stealing a kiss while strolling, or dog-walking past the Time-Life Building, the Feldon's are always paced to Manhattan's scintillating tempo.
Thanks goes to Jenna Terranova for providing this article. J