Sunday, 27 October 2013

Wedding Bells For Dennis Day

The world knew Jack Benny was married to Mary Livingstone but people willing to accept them on the radio as having some kind of vague, but quite non-marital, relationship. And the world must have known Dennis wasn’t a goofy young man with the occasional hots for Mary. If anyone did, they shouldn’t have after reading the following story about happy husband Dennis in the July 1948 edition of Radio and Television Mirror.

Day was at the peak of his fame. He not only appeared on the Benny show, but he had his own programme on Wednesday nights on NBC. There wasn’t much competition at the time the story was written; CBS was airing The American Melody Hour, ABC countered with Mayor of the Town and Mutual was running Scotland Yard.

Radio and Television Mirror was an odd amalgam of romantic fiction, radio listings and news, and “inside stories” aimed at housewives. Female subjects of stories were either glamour pusses, or stereotypes of the ‘50s who stayed at home and cooked and cleaned, with at least one comic disaster story, and something about food. This article is no exception. And anyone familiar with Dennis’ character on radio might be taken aback by the revelation he packed a gun in his car.

Writer Robbin Coons’ career covering Hollywood dated back to the early sound days. He worked for the State Times in Baton Rouge before joining the Associated Press in 1920 at age 15. He spent some time as a political reporter but was sent to Los Angeles in 1928 where he covered movies until being shipped to the Pacific as a war correspondent in 1945. After the war, he freelanced in Hollywood until he died of a heart attack on September 20, 1949.

The Wife in the Life of Dennis Day
Dennis was like any other bachelor: he had his list of wife-specifications. But one day he became an exception. He met the girl who filled them.
THIS is the story of some golden days in the life of Dennis Day. . . .
It's the tale of a bridegroom who did not forget the wedding ring, and of a bride whose very first biscuits were neither burned to a crisp nor stony-hard; of a wedding that was "simply beautiful" and of a honeymoon that was brief but perfect—unless you count as imperfections' such minor details as the car radiator that froze in the night, the mountain lion that got away, the lamb chops that played iceberg. . . .
The story began, actually, when Boy met Girl. That was two years ago.
Margaret Ellen Almquist was the daughter of family friends of Dennis's folks, the McNultys. She lived in Lynwood, a pleasant community close to Los Angeles but far from the gossip columns of radio and screen. One Sunday afternoon the McNultys and a couple of their boys called on the Almquists, and Peggy was there, home from the University of California—and the McNulty boy known as Dennis Day asked for a date right then and there.
None of this was in the script Hollywood's matchmakers had laid out for the very personable and eligible Dennis. The way Hollywood doped it, Dennis Day would fall eventually for one of its own career-and-glamor girls. But Dennis, a home boy, picked Peggy, a home girl, just as those who really knew the lad had always known he would. Peggy — blue-eyed, brown-haired, cream-skinned—is as pretty and wholesome as a May morning.
So that first date led to another, and finally to the date on which, some eight months ago, Dennis asked that question and got his "Yes." Well, as the folks all said, it was a beautiful wedding, just as Peggy and Dennis had wanted it.
"Quiet, with dignity, and just the two families and family friends," they'd agreed when talking it over, "because this is the only wedding we'll ever have—and we want it to be ours."
“I'LL ask Betty to be my matron of honor," said Peg. (Betty — Mrs. Jerome Linenkugel—is a longtime friend of Peg's.)
The day in the lives of Dennis and Peggy was a Thursday (January 29th), the place the beautiful old chapel of Mission San Juan Capistrano, some fifty miles from Hollywood. Here, 172 years ago, California's pioneer padres dedicated this holy ground in the then pagan wilderness. The mission bells the padres heard still ring sweetly today, and the towering gray olives and golden acacias they planted still shade the fragrant gardens they laid out.
Our Mr. Day, before the nuptial Mass began, was not the least bit nervous. Unlike the breathless, hapless young man he portrays on his own air show, unlike the meek and mild butt of Jack Benny's jokes on Sundays, Dennis was poised, calm, and collected.
"It's only the cold," he whispered to his brother and best rrian John McNulty, "that's making my teeth chatter and my hands shake. These thick adobe walls, you know. . . ."
"Yes, I know," John grinned sympathetically. "You want me to take the ring now?"
"N-n-no, not yet. I—I just want to keep it here in my pocket where I can check on it—myself—once in a while."
Father John Conlon officiated, and Father George Gallagher sang "Panis Angelicus" and "Ave Maria," and white tapers gleamed before the carved altar of Spanish gold-leaf. And Peggy Almquist, a picture bride in white satin and veil, became Mrs. Eugene Dennis McNulty, wearing a slender platinum band encrusted with small stones to match her dazzling engagement diamond.
There followed the wedding breakfast at nearby Balboa, at the home of Peggy's uncle Joseph Bahan, with all the padres joining their good strong voices in songs to Dennis and his bride, and Dennis and Peggy so busy kissing guests and being kissed they scarcely had a chance to eat. The breakfast was gay, a regular family reunion with McNultys and Almquists from miles around, and it was hours before Peggy could slip away to change to her "going away" outfit—a smartly trim tailored suit—and return to join Dennis in their "escape." More kisses, a few affectionate tears, then the dash to Dennis's parked gray convertible, and they were off under a shower of rice and shouted goodbyes. "I've a wonderful idea, Peggy," said Dennis suddenly as they sped along.
"Let's," he said deadpan, "get married!"
"M-m-m. . . ." She shook her head. "Never again—because that time was for keeps!"
The honeymoon site was near Warner Hot Springs, a resort north of San Diego. Dennis and Peggy bypassed the Springs for his friend Ben Benbough's ranch, 640 acres in a wilderness of desert-mountain country. Benbough was an overseas pal of Dennis's, during their Navy days in the war, and his offer of the secluded ranch for the honeymoon was eagerly accepted.
Secluded? Except for the caretaker's cottage, two miles from the ranch house, there's not a human dwelling for miles. The house itself is of stone, with the three bedrooms in knotty pine, a stone fireplace in every room.
THE sun already was losing its warmth and the night's chill creeping into the air when Dennis and Peggy pulled up at the door. Fires were already laid, waiting for a match, and in no time Dennis had them crackling.
"You're beautiful, Mrs. McNulty," he remarked solemnly. "Can you cook?"
"By some reports, m'lord," replied Peggy.
"But I reserve the right to do the steaks," he warned.
That first meal was something to remember.
Succulent steaks, barbecued in the Dennis manner, which means they must be marinated in a special sauce before the flames touch them. Stuffed baked potatoes, done Peggy-style with onions and cream cheese. Corn on the cob. Green salad. And biscuits, Peggy's own, feather-light and golden brown. ("I'm here to testify," said Dennis later, "that Peggy is a cook
They ate by firelight, with the dark velvet sky framed in the windows, the stars huge and brilliant and romantic. But there was one item Dennis had forgotten. In that country the winter days may be warm, but the nights are freezing cold. In the morning, when he suggested a sightseeing ride, he found the gray convertible balky. He had neglected to empty the radiator, and it was frozen solid.
"Well," said Peggy helpfully. "Walking is nice, too."
So they took a sightseeing hike instead. As Dennis remarked, they didn't have to go anywhere. No singing lesson to take, no rehearsals to rush to, no on-the-air deadlines. Four whole days of freedom from the hectic rush of his career, and a longer honeymoon trip to anticipate later, when he would take Peggy to New York (which she had never seen) while he recorded songs for his next film, “Babes in Toyland.” Sunday, their last day, with the car's radiator now nicely thawed, they drove to the quaint chapel of Santa Isabel for Mass, and they delighted in the singing of the Indian worshippers. It was on the way back that they met their mountain lion—the big one that got away. " Unfortunately," says Dennis.
They were driving along when the cat loomed, suddenly, just ahead of the car, and Dennis had to swerve to avoid striking the animal. Peggy gasped, and Dennis thought longingly of his gun collection at home while he reached for his .22 pistol in the glove compartment. But the cat was too fast. With one leap it disappeared into a roadside thicket.
"Now," said Dennis, "I'm going to sulk. That was a fast 125 bucks that just escaped me—there's a bounty on those cats. As a married man with responsibilities, I have to think about items like that!"
Well, that honeymoon ended, too soon, when Mr. and Mrs. McNulty parked their car in the Dennis Day home garage in Hollywood's Los Feliz section and Dennis, true to tradition, carried his bride over the threshold. To hear him tell it, he did it in a walk—but "He almost dropped me," teased Peggy later.
"But, honey, you're a big girl," Dennis alibied, grinning.
Actually, Peggy is a slim young creature. And, incidentally, she meets the Day specifications for a wife as Dennis once outlined them in pre-Peggy days: "... a girl with good health and a zest for life ... a sense of humor . . . interested in music . . . can cook and sew . . . and she must love children. . . ."
The Day home, a two-story Mediterranean-style dwelling, has twelve rooms, enough to meet space requirements for the fulfillment of their mutual desire for small McNultys. The newlyweds are settling down there now, looking for household help but with Peggy, meanwhile, doing what Dennis calls a great job of "pushing that vacuum cleaner, cooking those meals, and washing those dishes—she washes and I dry." PEGGY markets in the new blue Olds that was Dennis's wedding gift to her (she gave him a gold watch band) and she talks to decorators about a few changes they'll make in the home.
She's arranging display space for her collection of demi-tasse cups, and trying to decide whether to bring her pet cocker, Mickey, to live with Dennis's cocker, Dink Trout. She and Dennis are working out a budget, and planning their New York trip, and how she finds time to write poetry (a secret avocation of hers which Dennis proudly reveals to her dismay) is beyond calculation. And Dennis, when he isn't working at radio or pictures or his new song-publishing business, is laboring on the new barbecue. The bids he received for its construction were steep, and — "I've got two good hands, and friends," he explains. The friends are Pat Sullivan, a fire chief, and John Fitzgerald and John Kowser.
And—oh, yes, about those lamb chops that played iceberg. . . .
The Days' first meal at home was somewhat less idyllic than their firelit first meal in the desert. It seems that Peggy, newly initiated to the ways of deep-freeze units, forgot to allow those lamb chops time to thaw out before cooking. When Dennis came home to dinner that evening, the chops were still hunks of icy granite.
"We had pork and beans," reports Peggy ruefully.
"Peggy, you see," beams Dennis approvingly, "is a resourceful, all-around cook. She knows all there is to know about can-openers too!"

Dennis and Peggy had a marriage with lasted through the birth of ten children until his death on June 22, 1988.

1 comment:

  1. His real name was Owen Patrick McNulty.