Jean Hazlewood was so sure she would be going to the junior prom with Richard Widmark that when he quit calling her, she was totally bewildered. She related the story in an interview later in life.
“That was the day before Dick suddenly switched girls, the day before he invited the most gorgeous wench on the campus to go to the prom with him. I said to my sorority sister, ‘What goes? I thought Dick liked me.’ She assured me Dick didn’t want to go steady with any girl, and that no girl lasted more than two weeks with him.”
Jean Hazlewood and Richard Widmark would still see each other on campus, after the disappointment of the prom, for Jean anyway. Jean didn’t know what to think with the sudden end to her relationship with Dick. They would politely nod to each other when Jean crossed paths with him.
Widmark was a lone wolf on campus, and it made him attractive to Jean and many other ladies at Lake Forest.
“He never acquired any of the social graces; he didn’t have time. Teenage frivolities left him cold. He would stalk around the campus, lost in a dozen things — football, debating, honor societies, class presidency, dramatics and work. He worked during any free time he had from his scholastic and other campus activities. He waited tables on campus and at Marshall Field’s branch store in downtown Lake Forest. He was also the head of the boys’ clothing department in that same Marshall Field’s.”
It was a heart-wrenching time for Jean Hazlewood in 1935, during the summer break from school, when her mother Stella died on June 16. When she returned to Lake Forest in the fall to continue her studies in journalism, she continued to cross paths with Richard Widmark. Jean said of that time, when she was apart from Widmark, but still noting his campus life, “It was thrilling just to see the ambition that burned him up so intensely. A guy like that is irresistible.” The feeling might have been mutual because Richard Widmark would start dating Jean Hazlewood again, and this time it was for a very long time.
Richard Widmark graduated from Lake Forest College in 1936 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in speech. In the summer of 1937, he and one of his college friends, Fred Gottlieb, embarked on a bicycle tour of Europe. His interest in the issues that faced Germany and Europe during this time began with a passionate professor at Lake Forest. This got Widmark all steamed up, and he decided he needed to go and see for himself, what was going on in Germany. Widmark filmed a documentary on the Hitler German youth camps for a two-week period. After returning to the States, Widmark returned to Lake Forest College.
Widmark stated later in life, after the war, that, “At the time, it seemed slightly dull, but now it’s very interesting. I’ve been interested in that period all my life.” The trip would take on added significance when Widmark had one of the lead roles in one his most renowned films, “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961), a drama about the Nazi war crime trials held in Germany after World War II.
“Well, we didn’t get back together again for two years,” Jean Widmark said in an interview in January of 1949. “By that time Dick had graduated and had been asked to return to the college as a drama instructor.”
The college offered Widmark a job teaching, in the Speech and Dramatics Department, and he accepted. He earned $150 per month as an instructor. One day they crossed paths again, and this time, Richard Widmark asked Jean Hazlewood to go on a boat ride. The boat ride was just the beginning of a thrilling ride that would have more highs than either one could ever imagine. The ride would carry them through life for almost 60 years. “We started dating again. This time we became a steady twosome, and Dick gave me his fraternity pin. When he began to teach drama and speech, I just had to be an actress!”
When Widmark started teaching, Jean became one of his students. “When we started going with one another once more, we did it up right. It was most handy for me, I might add, going with the teacher. The night before exams, for instance, he would call me up and give me the exact wording of the questions. (He left the answers for me to find.) The next day, I’d go happily to the post, purposely miss one portion of the test, so things would look legal, and wind up with the sharpest grades you ever saw.
But the rest of the faculty didn’t like our seeing each other. This culminated one morning when the dean sent for me, and intimated that he thought it was very bad for morale — or something — for Professor Widmark to be seen constantly with one of his students. (He’d been just plain “Undergraduate Widmark” just six months before, of course, but that didn’t make any difference.) So to keep the peace, Dick and I did most of our chatting by phone after that, morning, noon and far into the night.”
Jean also related this about her husband, after he was just into his movie career. “You know my husband as Richard Widmark, one of the nastiest characters ever to hit the screen: the gentleman who laughed in “Kiss of Death” and who merely went around looking menacing in “Street With No Name.” But I knew him when he was ‘Professor Widmark,’ a mean man with an examination paper.”
She looked forward to Professor Widmark’s class, but not all of his students felt the same, as she related in an interview years later.
“My husband is a punctual man, never more than five minutes late. Usually he arrives just on time. When he was a college instructor, the students used to hope he would be 10 minutes late, since the college rules permitted cutting of the class if the instructor was that late. Occasionally, Dick would be five minutes late but never more than that.”
Richard Widmark found himself with an unexpected motivation as an instructor when Jean enrolled in his speech class, and he remembered it this way.
“She (Jean) told me later she only took the class because she figured I’d give her a good grade, and once she was in there, I found myself ‘performing’ for her benefit. I was more concerned with impressing her than my teaching. It was about the same time when I realized what I really wanted to do was act, not teach. So I decided to become an actor just about the same time I decided to become a husband.”
Widmark had this to say about his teaching skills. “I was the world’s lousiest teacher. Lake Forest, apparently, was equally hard pressed for an instructor. I taught ‘em all wrong. I shudder when it took me 15 years to unlearn what I taught them.”
Jean graduated in 1938 and went to New York to study at The American Academy.
“Dick and I wrote like crazy. And then he came east too, to become — almost instantly — one of the most active radio actors in Manhattan.”
Widmark was unsatisfied with teaching at Lake Forest and followed Jean to New York. He would have a successful career in radio and theater. He was considered a top ranking figure in the New York radio industry from 1938 to 1948.
Richard Widmark married his college sweetheart, playwright and screenwriter Jean Hazlewood, April 5, 1942. They were happily married for 55 years and had one daughter, Anne Heath Widmark, born July 25, 1945. Jean’s father married Ruth Copeland, after the death of Jean’s mother, Estella. He died June 25, 1953. He had thought Richard Widmark to be “a nothing and bumpkin,” upon meeting his daughter’s man, but he would live to see the facts prove him wrong. I’ll have more Becoming Richard Widmark in couple of weeks.