Encounters with John Wayne Ch. 30bysurober1©
Part 4—He's moving on but keeping tabs on her...
After their last encounter at the studio, John Wayne kept tabs on Diana Maitland from a distance through her boss, and occasionally through Ward. About once a month, Wayne would have a nice bottle of wine delivered to her at her office, hoping she would think her boss was sending them to her, until Ward told him after one of his visits that she asked Ward to tell him she was enjoying the wine and to thank him. He should've known she would figure it out—he always seemed to forget just how smart she is.
He forgot that again when he had her boss' friend sneak him into the nightclub one night a couple months later so he could see her from a distance and listen to her sing. It had to be fate that he chose that particular night, because she was wearing the black halter dress he'd bought for her and she looked almost exactly as she did the night she wore it for him—her hair, her make-up... except this time she had on a few pieces of sparkling jewelry. His knees nearly buckled again when he saw her and he sat down heavily on the seat at the table in the darkened corner that the nightclub owner led him to. He pulled out his cigarettes and just slowly sipped on tequila and smoked as he watched her perform.
She had just started her first set when he arrived, and he watched and listened as she sang all different types of music; old standards, soft contemporary numbers, songs from musicals and even a sultry jazz tune. Her voice had more of a range than he first thought, because part of the tune was in a lower register, and when she sang it, she sounded as sexy as she looked; she had really started to come out of the shell she'd been keeping herself in since she had been with him. He heard a couple young men at a table in front of him talking about her.
One of the men growled, and then said quietly, "Goddamn, she's a hot little thing! And I've got something that's burnin' yearnin' to be inside of you, gorgeous!"
The other man snickered quietly and said, "No kiddin'! And look at her face and the way she moves! I'll bet that's what she looks like when she's on top of a man...damn I'd like to get me some of that!"
Wayne took a deep drag on his cigarette, then exhaled slowly and leaned toward the young men, just close enough so they could see who he was and said in a quiet, menacing voice, "You fellows are talking about someone very special to me, and if you utter one more goddamn comment like that about her, then I'm going to smash your teeth down your throat and have you thrown out of here. You got that?"
The young men's eyes widened when they saw him, and all they did was stare at him while he issued his warning, then they both mumbled, "Yes, sir, Mr. Wayne." Then one of them continued, "We're real sorry, but we couldn't help it. See, we're on leave right now and we haven't been around many women for a while and she's just the most gorgeous thing we've seen since we got into town this morning!"
Wayne asked, "You men are on leave? From where?"
The same one replied, "San Diego, sir. Our ship just docked yesterday from a 3-month cruise. And well, we've seen San Diego before, so we'd thought we'd come up to L.A. for a few days and catch some different sights."
Wayne commented, "Navy men, eh? Well, I guess I can forgive you for ardently admiring a beautiful woman after being away from them for a while. But you two need to remember that all women are somebody's wife, mother, daughter, sister or niece, and how would you feel if you heard some man say something like what you said about your own sister?"
"Gee, Mr. Wayne. We never thought about it that way before. I guess we were being very disrespectful of her...and you. We'll try to keep that in mind from now on. Thank you, sir, for the advice, and your understanding."
Wayne said quietly, "Sure thing, son. Now, if you men will keep quiet about me being here, I'll pick up your bar tab—is that a deal?"
"You bet! We won't say a word! Thanks a lot!" they both said as they laughed quietly at their good fortune.
In between sets, the owner of the club came to Wayne's table to check on him and Wayne told the owner he was paying for the two young Navy men's drinks and asked the owner if the musicians and singer ever took special requests. The owner said that they'd had occasional special requests if it was a song that the band and the singer knew, so he asked the owner to see if the musicians knew a special song that he wanted to hear her sing. The owner came back a few minutes later and said that the musicians did know the song and they would notify Diana that it had been requested when she came back out for her next set.
When she came out, he saw the piano player telling her about the request, and as soon as she heard which song it was, she immediately started scanning the darkened club like she was looking for someone. He knew she suspected it was he, but if she couldn't see him, then maybe she'd go ahead and sing it. He saw her look at the piano player and nod her head in agreement. So the piano started with the opening notes of "Unforgettable" and the band joined in when Diana started singing.
He watched her face as she sang, and he could tell she was remembering singing it to him as she let every ounce of her emotions show on her face. She also took turns looking toward and gesturing at different areas of the room, like she wasn't sure if he was there, but she was going to cover the room just in case. During the instrumental break in the song, she continued to look around the darkened hall like she somehow might be able to spot him. Was it fate or did she somehow know he was there—because she sang the entire last three lines of the song looking and gesturing directly toward where he was sitting in the dark with such a look of love and longing on her face, her eyes welling with tears and a slight catch in her voice on the last word.
As the last notes died and the music ended, she dropped her head and backed away from the microphone to wipe away a few tears that she couldn't stop. There was a moment of stunned silence when music died, and then the room erupted into thunderous applause, whistles and shouts of "bravo!" Diana lifted up her head as tears still shimmered in her eyes and she smiled sadly as she took a couple bows, then she went back to the microphone and said a couple "thank you's," and when the room quieted, she said, "That was for...the man of my dreams," as she glanced toward where he was again.
She never saw him, but somehow she knew he was there. Who else would've requested that song? She picked the darkest area of the room figuring that would be where he'd hide himself and sang the last lines like she could see his face looking at her when she sang it to him before. She continued with the rest of her sets, still occasionally glancing toward that darkest corner whenever she would sing a love song. She wasn't sure if he was still there or not, but she thought she caught glimpses of a dark figure that never moved but was steadily smoking cigarettes—like he would be—and she was going to let him know how she still felt if it was he.
When "Unforgettable" ended, Wayne had stood up with everyone else around him and clapped as loud as he could while tears swam in his eyes; when it quieted again and she said it was "for the man of her dreams" as she looked directly toward him, he realized she knew he was there. The young Navy men looked at him and one of them said quietly, "She obviously sang that to you, Mr. Wayne. We can see why she's so special to you. Is she going to be your next wife?"
He glanced at the young men, and said quietly, "I wanted her to be, but she said no."
The young men looked flabbergasted and one of them said, "But she looked right at you and it was all over her face that she loves you...why would she turn YOU down? Is she crazy?"
Wayne said quietly as he stared at her, "I guess it just goes to prove that, as in movies, even in real life there's not always a happy ending to some great love stories...the leading man doesn't always get the girl. But what she and I have is special...we'll always love each other...and she is...unforgettable."
He continued to watch her through her second set, noticing that every time she sang a love song, she would be looking mostly in his direction...had someone told her he was there? When the owner came to check on him again, Wayne asked the man if he had told Diana that he was there, and the owner assured him that he had not. Wayne knew then that it was their magical connection that had tipped her off as soon as she had been told that "Unforgettable" had been requested.
He couldn't stick around until the end because he knew it would probably be harder for her if she actually saw him, so he left before the end of her last set, but not before he asked the Navy men to do him a favor. They readily agreed, asking for his autograph and thanking him again for buying their drinks, so he made them memorize a brief message to deliver to Diana at the end of the night, and made them promise that if they told any of this story to their friends or family that they leave Diana's name out of it.
He stood to leave and then stared at her for several long moments because she looked his way as she was ending another song, and he froze, his heart breaking again at the expression on her face and the words she was singing to him...
I'll find you in the morning sun, and when the night is new, I'll be looking at the moon, but I'll be seeing you.
It took every ounce of his strength to make himself walk out of that nightclub. He had to leave without getting anywhere near her because he knew he probably wouldn't be able to control himself. He was starting to feel deeply for Pilar again, and he couldn't do anything else to risk hurting her; he already felt conflicted enough because he'd fallen in love with two women at the same time. But now that the choice had been made as to which one he was going to marry, he wasn't about to risk throwing that away because he loved and wanted Diana as well.
He drove back to the hotel, telling himself the whole way that he'd done the right thing. He reminded himself of what she had told him. She'd be OK...eventually, she'd said. She just needed more time...she's loved him all her life...and now she knew he loved her, but they couldn't be together...of course she'd need time to get over that. And she's younger than he... she has more time...she'll find happiness with someone worthy of her...when she's ready. He just hoped he would never have to see her with that someone...
She'd seen a tall, dark figure stand in that same corner she'd been singing to, and they didn't move when she looked that way as she sang the last lines of the song, but when the song ended, she saw the figure turn and leave through a nearby dark exit hallway. She knew it was him and that he purposely didn't stay because he knew it would be hard on her to actually see his face instead of just in her dreams. Her heart felt heavy for a few minutes, but luckily her last few songs were upbeat melodies so they helped to take her mind off of him for the most part.
After the end of the show, she had gone back to the dressing room to change into her street clothes, and when she came out, the owner of the nightclub told her that two young Navy men had requested to meet her. She started to tell the owner that she wasn't up to it, but he told her that the young men said they had an important message for her, so she went out to meet them. The young men were very polite and told her how much they enjoyed her singing and how gorgeous they thought she was, so she thanked them and then reminded them that they'd said they had an important message for her and asked them whom the message was from.
The two young men looked at each other and then one of them said, "It's from the man of your dreams." She narrowed her eyes slightly, as she didn't know whether to believe them or not because they could be making this up just to get to meet her. Then the young man continued, "He told us to tell you that your performance tonight made you unforgettable to everyone here, and he said to tell you that he told you so."
She stood there frowning slightly, still trying to figure out if they were actually relaying a message from the big man or not and what that last part meant. Then the other young man spoke up and said, "He said if you didn't seem to believe that message, that I was to tell you he said 'Varlabenga, little girl'...whatever that means!"
She immediately burst out crying and hugged the young man that had spoken that last message, and cried on his shoulder for a couple minutes, while he patted her back awkwardly and tried to comfort her. When she stopped crying and looked at the young men, they glanced at each other and then one of them said, "Boy, if John Wayne couldn't get you to marry him, I guess we'd have no chance at all!"
She smiled softly as she used a napkin one of them handed her to wipe her tears away, then she said, "Oh, don't sell yourselves short, boys. You'd have just as much of a chance if it was meant to be! People fall in love for all kinds of reasons; the trick is to know when it's the right kind of love for you on which to build a life together. What he and I have is special and we'll always love each other...but it wasn't the right kind of love on which we could've built a marriage, and we both know that," she ended softly as she stared off into space.
Then she looked at the young men and asked them for a favor; "If you tell any of your friends about meeting John Wayne and learning about him and me, I would appreciate it if you don't tell anyone who I am, don't tell them my name or the name of this club. I really don't want anyone else to know about our relationship; it would be best for everyone, especially me, if this did not become public knowledge...will you promise me that?"
They told her they had already promised the same thing to Mr. Wayne and that they would keep it secret. Then she got curious as to how they had met him at all when he should've tried to stay hidden from everyone, so she asked them how that happened.
Both young men looked uncomfortable as they glanced at each other, then one of them started, "Well...we were watching you sing one of those really hot, jazzy numbers and you looked so... good, that my friend and I sort of made a couple of...inappropriate remarks about you, and Mr. Wayne heard us and threatened us with bodily injury if we said anything else like that about you!
She smiled and shook her head; she should've known—he would do anything to defend her honor! Then she asked them, "But you're apparently friends with him now...how did that happen?"
"Well, my friend and I apologized profusely and explained to him that we were on leave and just couldn't help ourselves because you were so gorgeous! And Mr. Wayne accepted our apology and gave us some good advice and bought all our drinks for the rest of the night if we promised not to let on that he was here!
And then when he requested that song and you sang it mostly to him and dedicated it to the man of your dreams, we figured that you already knew he was here, and we could tell that you loved him as much as he loved you, so we asked him if you were going to be his next wife. You could've knocked us over with a feather when he said he'd wanted you to be but you said no! And, you know, it's funny, but he said almost the exact same thing about you guy's relationship that you said...that what you two have is special and that you'd always love each other. My friend and I just think it's so sad that two people who love each other as much as you and Mr. Wayne obviously do, feel that you don't belong together...but we hope you both find happiness some day."
She thanked them for their kindness and they politely escorted her out of the nightclub and hailed a taxi for her to take her home. She cried quietly in the back seat all the way home as she thought about everything that had happened that night. She knew it was going to take a long time for her to find any peace and happiness without the big man.
John Wayne made no further effort after that night to see or be near Diana again. A few months later in November, he married Pilar in Hawaii, as she had accompanied him there while he was shooting some location scenes for one of the movies he was currently involved with. He got a call from his attorney telling him that his divorce from Chata was final, and he just felt the need to keep moving on, so he made all the arrangements and he and Pilar were married on the beach at sunset.
Diana had known all along that he was going to marry Pilar, but when she heard that it had actually happened, she went into a tailspin for several months. She went home to Virginia during the Christmas and New Year holidays, and retreated from the world again when she returned to L.A.—until Ward Bond unexpectedly showed up at her office one day in March 1955. Ward was asking her where she'd been and why she hadn't been at the nightclub recently.
Diana looked at him with vacant eyes and said, "I'm sorry, but I haven't felt much like singing lately." Ward reminded her that it had been her choice not to marry Duke and that she had only herself to blame. Then she frowned at Ward and asked him, "What the hell are you doing here any way?"
Ward replied, "Well, for a couple reasons. First, because I wanted to tell you that I'm married now, too, and to sort of thank you—it happened because of you." When Diana looked curious, he continued, "I took her to the nightclub when I was there to check up on you one time, and when she asked me why I so interested in you, I had to tell her that I was checking up on you for a friend; she thought that was so nice that she finally agreed to marry me." Diana smiled softly at him and told him how happy she was for him, and then asked what was the other reason he had come to see her.
Ward said quietly, "Because Duke has been worried about you. He knows you retreated into your shell again after you heard he'd married Pilar and, although he expected it to upset you a bit, he's feeling guilty that it has affected you this badly. He knows you haven't been seeing anyone, he knows you went on only about 3 dates last year and none since you heard he'd married. He knows you well enough to know that you're hurting and probably letting your old painful memories of rejection creep in, and he wanted me to remind you that you rejected him; and to tell you that it was high time you stopped feeling sorry for yourself and get back out into the world again. He didn't hurt you—you hurt him and now you're still hurting him, and you're hurting yourself! STOP IT!" Ward barked loudly as he grasped her arms and shook her gently.
Then he added softly but insistently, "Whatever happened to that sexy, feisty little spitfire that almost made me fall in love with her, too? I miss that Diana...please bring her back!"
Diana smiled sadly as she looked at him; he wasn't telling her anything she hadn't been telling herself for weeks, but she just hadn't had the heart or the strength to stop feeling sorry for herself. And now she knew that the big man was still keeping tabs on her—almost a year after they met, fell in love, spent the most unforgettable romantic and erotic weekend together, only to realize that they weren't meant to share their lives together. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly as she looked Ward in the eyes and said, "OK. Tell...Captain Hard Ass that the message has been received loud and clear, and that the...what did you say...sexy, feisty little spitfire Diana...is about to make a comeback!"
Ward barked a loud laugh and exclaimed, "That's my girl!" as he picked her up and spun her around once and set her down again.