That's what people say ... and the lie is enough to make me laugh --- when I can keep from crying. But the fact remains that my son-in-law and I don't always see eye-to-eye.
For instance, I'm very sensitive about overstaying my welcome. Bobby's forever coaxing me to stay for dinner. And at least five times out of ten I say thanks but no thanks. If there's one thing I refuse to be it's one of those mothers-in-law who are always around.
After all marriage is a private affair, and three is a crowd --- especially if the third is a mother-in-law. No one needs to tell me. I know it. But try telling Bobby.
I say no and Bobby says yes. And when Bobby makes his mind up he's pretty hard to budge. "You're going," he says, "and that's it."
With a son-in-law like that how in the world can you feel like a meddling mother-in-law? He makes you feel so wanted. He's not politely suffering my presence. He makes me feel it's his pleasure to have me around.
And believe me, a mother-in-law is a hypersensitive mechanism. I'd be the first to know it if he wasn't sincere. Not long ago Bobby insisted that I join Sandy and him for dinner at La Scala.
"Thanks, but some other time," I said. "I'm wearing slacks. I'm not dressed for it. And besides, you kids want to be alone."
I really meant what I said, but a lot of good it did. "Look, Maryush," Bobby put his hands on my shoulders and gave me that I-won't-take-no-for-an-answer expression. "If we wanted to be alone we wouldn't have asked you. Right? Right. One thing I don't take from a mother-in-law is back talk. Right? So we've made reservations. We want you along. You're coming."
There is nothing new about this. Bobby and I always have gotten along --- contrary to what you may have heard. And unless you've had cotton in your ears and blinders over your eyes, the chances are that you've heard plenty --- all the way back to Rome when Sandy and Bobby first fell in love.
For some strange reason there never has been a shortage of self-appointed experts who keep volunteering the "inside information" that the trouble with Bobby and Sandy --- even when there was trouble between them --- is me. At times it's enough to make you laugh --- if you can keep from crying.
What really hurts is that these malicious lies bother Sandy more than they bother me. There was one time the papers came out with stories that I had moved to New York because I'd been the cause of friction between Bobby and Sandy. Stupid things like that. Well, the truth is that I never moved to New York --- for any reason.
It so happened, at that time I made my annual visit to New York to spend Russian Christmas with my mother. That was the same week my father died so I made two trips to New York within three days. All the know-it-alls had to know was that I'd gone to the East Coast. Unconfused by the facts, they jumped to their own totally erroneous conclusions.
As unpleasant as it may be, I've gradually learned to accept it or to shrug it off as best I can. The people I know love me. The people involved --- Sandy and Bobby-realize it's not true. Beyond that, what can I do?
Take the time Sandy and Bobby went through their separation. Every know-it-all from Hollywood to Broadway and back was sure that somehow the sinister mother-in-law was at the bottom of it. Even when Sandy and Bobby got married, the know-it-alls were sure that the wedding all but took place over my dead body --- especially when the body (live) was missing from the ceremony.
What the know-it-alls didn't trouble to consider was the fact that Sandy and Bobby eloped! You don't invite people to an elopement -- not even the bride's mother.
The know-it-alls seemed evenly divided between those who "just knew" that Sandy was marrying to escape me --- and those who "just knew" that Sandy was eloping because I was opposed to the marriage. As usual, the know-it-alls didn't know what they were talking about.
The funny thing was that Sandy phoned me from New York when she and Bobby decided to get married on the spur-of-the-moment, and she actually asked me to fly out for their elopement!
"Gosh, Sandy," I said, "how can I come to an elopement? That's all you need --- for the mother-in-law to show up at the elopement! You know what an elopement is, don't you? Nobody's supposed to know."
With hindsight I can say that perhaps I should have attended anyhow. Who would have dreamed what a field day the press would have over the fact that I wasn't at the wedding! What made it look worse was that Bobby's relatives were there --- and I wasn't.
But what the know-it-alls didn't know --- or discounted --- was that Bobby and Sandy were having dinner with Bobby's married sister, Nina, when they suddenly decided not to wait any longer. The family was celebrating Nina's birthday and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to get married then and there.
So right away the know-it-alls decided that I had to be against the marriage or I would have been there. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I will admit that I was a little saddened because I had always dreamed of seeing Sandy married in a gown with all the trimmings of a church wedding. But it didn't take me long to realize that Sandy was right in getting married the way she did, and that she knew exactly what she was doing.
It was precisely because her marriage was sacred to her that she and Bobby decided to elope. With her and Bobby in the public eye as they are, it would have been impossible for them to have a big church wedding without everyone knowing about it. There was a danger of it turning into a circus and then it no longer would be sacred.
In the long run eloping turned out to be their only solution. But at the time I was only thinking as a mother. I might have been a little disappointed because I'd had other visions, but it didn't take long to get over it. And I never was estranged from Sandy -- or on the outs with Bobby because of it.
And while I was reading all this horrible publicity about how there was supposed to be a big rift and how they were supposed to have married over my objections and there was supposed to be all this trouble, I got this letter Sandy had written to me after the wedding ceremony while she and Bobby were on the plane flying to California.
Actually it was the first letter I'd ever received from Sandy. Until then we'd never been apart long enough for there to be reason to write a letter.
"Put this in a safe place --- like a vault or something," she wrote, "because when I write a letter, history is being made."
As for the rest of the letter, well you didn't even have to know her. You'd just fill up with tears reading it. It was the sweetest, most wonderful letter.
She described everything she had worn, described her innermost feelings, described how much she and Bobby were in love. She explained how all the excitement over their engagement had been getting out of hand and why she and Bobby decided to elope. It was the most tender correspondence a mother could hope to receive. Suddenly my little girl was a married woman!
A major adjustment for me? How could it not be --- whoever Sandy married? It did happen so quickly. Most mothers have a chance to catch their breath between the time their daughters start dating and the time they marry.
Well, I didn't have that with Sandy. I never had time to form these little notions of what her husband would be like. In fact, the oddest thing happened. Once shortly before Sandy went to Rome to co-star with Bobby --- whom she'd never met --- in Come September, she said for no apparent reason, "Mom, do you think I've met the man I'll marry?"
We laughed about it --- and I particularly remember it because it was the only reference she ever made to a husband. Since she was only 17 I didn't take it very seriously. I suppose I did want her to go out and have fun like other girls her age. But I never was worried about it --- because I'd already been reconciled for years to the fact that Sandy was different. I really didn't expect her to go through the stages of the average teen-age girl. You know --- looking for dates, running and joining clubs and getting into social activities. Sandy never reached that stage -- and yet she was beyond it. I somehow realized that she would skip this entirely. I guess I must have known in my heart that she wasn't going to go through a "Corliss Archer" period when every week there would be a new heartthrob. On the other hand, I certainly didn't expect her to marry the first boy she dated two months after she met him. That was bit of a jolt, I confess --- but not a disappointment.
I more or less took for granted that Sandy, being the kind of girl she is, would be fairly serious about any boy she started going with. She wasn't the one to go out simply to find out if she liked a boy. I always felt that when Sandy started dating on her own we'd have to watch because it was going to be serious. And it did happen just like that --- only a little faster. Even then, far from being against Bobby, I was all for him. All I ever wanted for my daughter was a husband who would love and cherish her. That's the only mental picture I ever had of the man she would marry --- that he'd love and cherish her.
The funny thing is --- with that yardstick in mind --- I thought Bobby had the makings of a fine husband before anyone, including Bobby and Sandy, dreamed they were falling in love. He always was telling me how much he admired my relationship with Sandy and how nice it was to have a mother. He had been so close to his own mother, so he understood. There was just no doubt about his sincerity and the depth of his feeling. "You know," I said to Sandy, and this was before she'd given the slightest inkling of being interested in him, "with his feeling toward the women in his family, his wife will be very important with Bobby."
Just as I had to adjust, Sandy and Bobby had to adjust, too. Sandy had her certain way of life and Bobby had his certain way of life. And neither of them knew about the other's. They didn't know one another's families. They didn't know one another's backgrounds --- or even one another's quirks. They knew nothing about each other.
If two people had been courting 19 years, there still would be things that come up as husband and wife that don't come up when dating. They must get accustomed to it, and it all depends on how much they love each other as to the outcome.
Now Sandy and Bobby were practically just acquaintances when they got married. Everything, as I say, was so quick. Do you realize that she was a girl friend, a fiancee, bride and a mother in one year's span? Ordinarily this all happens in a five year period.
Naturally I was aware of some of their early problems, but I was sure that with the love they felt for each other they would find a way of working things through. I'm not saying Bobby really ever had any doubts about me, but if he did who could blame him? Had I been in his position, with all the papers carrying stories about the mother-in-law's supposed misgivings and so forth, I'd sooner or later have started having doubts, too. Who wouldn't? Well, when they were separated, I knew all doubts would be either confirmed or dispelled for good. Bobby would know soon enough, and once and for all, if his motherin-law was for him --- or against him.
I can't take any of the credit for Sandy and Bobby getting together again after the separation. I can take some satisfaction in saying I think I always understood --- as a mother-in-law should --- that whatever was wrong it was strictly between the two of them.
This didn't mean I didn't have feelings. Of course I did. When I say, as I have, that I liked Bobby even during the separation this was true. I did. Naturally during the separation I had to distinguish between Bobby the man and Bobby my son-in-law. Bobby didn't suddenly become a different person because they were having troubles. I still thought the world of him. But naturally my big concern during that period was Sandy's happiness. Being my son-in-law put Bobby in a somewhat different light. My daughter was terribly hurt because they were separated. She was not happy with the separation. I realize also that Bobby was not happy. But I was with my daughter and I didn't like to see her so sad.
My conviction was that they loved each other very much and would find their way back --- if left to themselves. There never was a discussion about the separation --- about who was right and who was wrong. I would no more think of trying to turn Sandy against Bobby than she would think of turning me against him --- especially during the separation. All I had to do was listen to my daughter talk and I knew she loved him. Her conversation always was with love. Never with bitterness. There never was any doubt.
Not that I'm trying to take any bows as an ideal mother-in-law. Actually I'm indebted to Sandy and Bobby. Not once did either try to put me on the spot. It's so easy --- and so tempting --- to seek support and justification in situations like that; but they didn't, either one. As a result, no matter what else happened my relationship with them remained completely unaffected.
At the time of the separation Sandy's home was besieged by reporters and photographers. Yet she was so thoughtful of my feelings. She phoned me and said, "Mother, I'll talk to you when I can. But don't come over to the house this week." That was supposed to be the time a girl runs home to mother, the time she needs a shoulder to cry on. But she didn't want to risk it even seeming that I was in any way involved. She didn't want any reporter to catch me at her house, or any photographer to take my picture there so they could make up another story about here comes the mother-in-law. Now that I look back I'm convinced the separation was the best thing that could have happened --- for Sandy, for Bobby and for me.
I was completely reassured that my daughter loved Bobby --- because if she didn't, this was a very good chance for her to prove it. The same held for Bobby. If either had any doubts about their love they got rid of them while they were apart and missed each other so much.
I also feel that each of them got something out of me during the separation. It's entirely possible that both had secret doubts about how I felt. I know if I were Bobby I would have. With all those innuendoes flying around in the press, what was he to think? Had I been the least bit tempted to meddle, the separation would have afforded me all the excuse I would have needed. I'm certain that because I was so careful to stay out of it, Bobby definitely was reassured I always have liked him, and he knew I didn't have anything to do with their problems.
It also would have been natural for Sandy to think, "Gee, maybe Mama did resent my marriage." But now she knew better. She never could say that I had tried swaying her either way, that I had pushed her into going back or that I had tried to talk her into not going back. In fact only the other day on the set where Sandy and Bobby were making That Funny Feeling, she said something to me jokingly that I'm sure gives her great pleasure. "I don't think I have a family any more!" she exclaimed. "You're always taking Bobby's side in everything." I'm sure that is the way Sandy or any girl in love wishes it to be --- love me, love my husband. In Bobby's case, it's no problem.
In all frankness, I think the separation was their biggest crisis. I also happen to think it was their biggest triumph. I feel that the second time they got together, when they reconciled, was really their first marriage. They now knew each other --- in so many different ways.
My relationship with Bobby and Sandy is a reversal of that old show business chestnut. I don't call them. They call me. And as often as not it's Bobby who does the calling.
"Maryush, come on over. We're going to play Convention" .... "Maryush, you're going to stay for dinner, aren't you? You'd better!" .... "Maryush, where you been hiding? Dodd's been asking for you." .... "Maryush, you gotta stay. We're showing some home movies of when we were in Rome." And we'd watch the movies and the memories would come back, and Bobby would say, "Hey, Maryush, remember that day?" And I'd laugh, "Yes, that was the day I was really angry."
When Bobby and Sandy invite me I know it's from the heart. I know they're not just being polite. They consider me family --- not an intruder. If it was up to Bobby and Sandy I'd stay and eat dinner every night. They don't worry about being alone enough. I'm the one who dreams up ways of leaving them to themselves. I purposely don't live in the same neighborhood. I live in Beverly Hills and they live in Toluca Lake. Fortunately for me, it pleases Sandy and Bobby for the twain to meet very often. They and Dodd are my life. Nothing is more important to me than their happiness.
But there is one thing I'd like to say, and it has nothing to do with being a martyr. It has nothing to do with loving them less or feeling less loved. But if ever I felt I was harming them or interfering in any way with their lives, if ever it reached a point where they'd be better off without me, I would be content to wait to see them only once a year.
The way I feel about Bobby and Sandy has nothing to do with seeing them every day. I would miss them if I didn't. It's just that if I felt their happiness depended on my staying away they never would see me.
But that's a danger I do not honestly foresee. If ever I tried it I know exactly what Bobby would say --- what he always says, "Maryush --- would I ask you if I didn't want you?"
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