Now I Wish I Had Run Away With Barbara Nichols
This was "my love," in 1966
Okay, I was young
and didn't know what life was all about. So sue me. At age 12, 1966, I got my first sip of the sometimes-forbidden nectar of "falling in love," with a female. But this was no girl of my age bracket. No, this was a pure, one-hundred percent, woman. A "blond bombshell," who captivated both movie and television screen. And thanks to my newly-discovered puberty and how active male hormones can be, I instantly fell in love, hot, maddening, passionate love with actress Barbara Nichols. I wish I could say that I was the only male of age 12 to lay claim to that fact, but I didn't go into this distant "love affair" with my eyes shut. I knew that I wasn't the only male who adored Nichols. Frankly, I have never met one single (or married) guy who didn't idolize this blond beauty that with just her entering a room would stop time itself.
Barbara was born to us in 1928 and sadly, she left for a better place in 1976. And now at age 58, I am still as much in love with her as I was the first time I saw her gracefully move along the screen and literally take over the black and white television show about gangsters, the old-fashioned kind with Tommy guns, long, black cars, moonshine runners, and sharp-brimmed hats, that kept my attention so well. She simply walked to a window and said, "heyyyy, Al, now get with it, doll. I want out of this crummy town. I want to see Hollywood," and with that one, solitary line, I was done for. Demolished emotionally. Crushed at heart. But loved every minute of this new type of "pain" that appears to everyone who is growing up.
Although I do not condone the use of tobacco, Barbara Nichols made smoking cigarettes look good. Even sexy. She would not light her own cigarettes. The sure-sign of a "doll" from the Silver Screen Era. Nichols, or Barbara, as I called her in my dreams, would wait for the nearest man, not a gentleman, to light her cigarette. Then slowly she would exhale the smoke into the air even while quoting her lines that were especially-written for the roles that made her famous: the girlfriend of a mobster, bootlegger, or show girl. Sometimes Barbara took on the role of a stripper and did it with comfortable ease. No role was too hard. Or too easy for Barbara. She was a pro through and through.
Images of Barbara Nichols as she is remembered
What's not to love about Barbara?
I ask this question to the red-blooded guys of my readership. Barbara Nichols, in my uneducated, humble opinion, had it all. And by "all," I mean looks and lot of them. From her ice-blue eyes that could charm down the angels with harps, to her full, red lips that never missed a line when it was her cue in a show. Nichols was born and bred for show business. And for this fact, I've never met anyone who disputed me. Barbara Nichols, comparable to Gene Harlow, Gloria Swanson, and even the sultry Marilyn Monroe, was more of a natural actress than these movie legends. Nichols seemingly knew what line she was to say without that much work being involved. I said all of that to say that acting came natural to Barbara. And it showed in every motion picture, drama or sitcom she was cast for. Pure talent. Unbridled and unable to be copied. That was "my" Barbara Nichols.
Barbara Nichols was no "slouch"
in any role she accepted. From a mobster's girlfriend with a Brooklyn slang, to the wife of a hard-working farmer on the western prairie, Barbara Nichols devoted herself to performing with such intensity and fire that many around her would sometimes say, "she acts like this is the only move she will ever star in," and they weren't far off the mark. Barbara loved to work. And loved show business work. It didn't matter. Barbara loved drama, light-drama and even comedy as she made appearances on CBS' and Paul Hennings' super-hit, "The Beverly Hillbillies," as love-sick Jethro Bodine's girlfriend. Nichols loved the role because she was a master of deadpan delivery. Her timing in delivering a comical line was near-perfect. And with her dry, emotionless expression, the line was made even funnier.
Just a sample of Barbara Nichols' film work
"Sweet Smell of Success," "Charley and The Angel," "The Swinger," "Dear Heart," "Adam-12," "Emergency," with Jerry Lewis' "Disorderly Orderly," and with titles too many to mention.
No matter what the plot. No matter the role. Barbara Nichols was the consummate actress. She never overlooked one detail in her preparation for the roles she was contracted to do. One Hollywood insider said that to Barbara, "there was no such thing as an unimportant role," and that was undoubtedly the truth for the track record of films and television work she left behind for us to enjoy.
Now I suppose you want to know about my plans
to run off with this buxom blond beauty. Do not be coy with me. I know what you are saying, "a boy of twelve falling desperately in love with a star like Barbara Nichols. What a joke," but hold it for a minute. I can explain with such an air of intelligence that you will have tears in your eyes because you doubted me.
In 1966, high gasoline prices were non-existent. You could fill-up your car, get a burger, a movie and have change left out of a five-dollar bill. No joke. (OPEC ministers, are you listening?) I know. Some of the guys I ran around with, were older guys who had their own cars and were hot on the trail of dates every night of the week. So with that piece of my plan in place. I set out to design the "perfect" get-away plan so I could leave my hometown of Hamilton, Alabama to be with "my one and only love," Barbara Nichols.
I would mow enough lawns and do enough odd-jobs for neighbors so I could save-up enough dough that so with the guy who was gulllible, I mean smart enough, to drive me to Birmingham, Alabama, would have gasoline to spare. When I reached the airport in Birmingham, I could buy an airline ticket to Hollywood, California, to see Barbara Nichols, my "heart throb," and still give my buddy with the car a sizeable tip for taking such a risk.
I knew that by running-off like a wild man, my mom and dad would be frantic with shock and anger, so I thought of leaving a well-worded "goodbye note," behind and word it so that it would appear that a highly-religious man and his wife took me to Hollywood under the guidance of God who told them that "I" was a special boy who needed to "minister" to Barbara Nichols, one of His children. So far. So good.
Upon my arrival in Hollywood, I would instantly look for a Yellow Cab with a driver who knew exactly where Barbara Nichols lived. Then when he dropped me off at her house, then my twelve-year-old innocence would kick-in securing myself with a sure-fire, ironclad meeting with this beauty who had broken my young heart to pieces.
I could picture it as it played-out. I would dress in shabby clothing to make Barbara feel sorry for me and I had read where she had a big heart for the misfortunate, so my plan was like "gang busters," as I kept picturing her answer the door to her lavish mansion and looking down at me with her icy-blue eyes and asking, "little doll, are you lost?"
"Yes, Miss Nichols. I am lost. I haven't had a bite to eat in days. I am an orphan who got lost from a Hollywood Tour of Stars, like you, Homes. Please, miss Nichols, don't send me back to that awful orphanage. They treat us like animals. I promise to be good. Not eat much and do all of your housework for you, for miss Nichols, I've read all of your articles and seen most of your shows . . .and pardon me for saying this, but you are tops with me," and then as if God Himself came down in-person to secure my place in Barbara's life, she would be weeping like a baby and finally say, "gee, little doll, I dunno. I guess ya' can stay for a couple of nights, but I gotta find you a place to live," and I would be hugging the fire out her her at this point.
Then to seal the deal, I would bow-down on my hands and knees to say "thank you," to this gorgeous movie idol and be taken inside her mansion for meal fit for a king.
When after a few weeks, I would choose just the right moment to tell her of my undying love and admiration for her. She would fall into my arms. We would kiss for a long time. Embrace again and I would enjoy the aroma of her expensive Chanel No. 5 perfume.
Then she would look at me so softly. Smile that smile that had made her a "movie goddess," and say, "Kenneth, doll, take me away from all of this Hollywood glitz and glamour. I long to be your girl. Just your girl. And take care of our modest home somewhere in Mexico where they don't know me." I would be ecstatic with joy.
"I guess with your millions, I won't have to get a job to support us, right, Barbara, my love?"
"Millions??? (she giggles so loud the neighbors' lights come on), oh that money? I used it to pay my agents, lawyers, and managers. If you truly love me like you say you do, Kenneth, you will find a job so I can stay home and cook for you," she would explain while looking deeply into my eyes.
"What kind of work does a husky boy like you do, Kenneth?"? she would coo.
"Uhh, mow yards and do odd-jobs, my "love goddess," I would say.
By the next day at noon, I would have hitch-hiked almost to the Arizona state line.