Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Friday, August 09, 2013

For Rhonda on Her 90th Birthday

In the classic movie “Citizen Kane,” a very old man reminisces, “One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all, but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl.”

My girl in the white dress is a movie star of the 1940s and 1950s, Rhonda Fleming, and
tomorrow is her 90th birthday.

One evening in 1955, my best friend Ed Feingersh turned up at our nightly hangout Costello's with a stunning woman with red hair and green eyes.

"This is the friend I was telling you about," he said to her and introduced the actress he had been photographing that afternoon. Just divorced, Rhonda had told Eddie she was lonely in a strange city and Eddie must have decided she was too tall for him so he brought her to meet me.

We had a couple of drinks, and she was everything a man could want, beautiful, bright, friendly and open, with no Hollywood airs. 
We were getting along fine, but something in my head had other plans.

Before dinner, I excused myself to make a phone call. I asked the woman who would become the mother of my children to join us. We had been seeing each other for months, but that night I knew for sure I was going to marry her.
Ever since, Rhonda Fleming has been in a corner of my mind, and I still watch some of her 40 movies on TCM. Truth is, she was not much of an actress, but gorgeous enough to be dubbed “the Queen of Technicolor.”

In one of her first, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound,” she played a teen-aged nymphomaniac and her mother, she told me, had to explain what that was.

She went on to have six marriages, the longest to a super-wealthy producer and theater owner. As his widow, she became a leading Los Angeles philanthropist, funding both a gynecological and cancer center at UCLA.

Alas, she was not perfect. She also became a leading Republican and supported Mitt Romney in the last election, but dream girls can be forgiven anything.

Happy birthday, Rhonda, from a ferry that passed in the night.

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