Scarlett’s had three husbands, and I’m going to be an old maid!” While that tearful cry may have proved true for O’Hara’s sister Suellen in Gone with the Wind, it hardly applies to the actress who played the part. Evelyn Keyes is on her fourth marriage, and she describes all of them, plus a squadron of lovers, in her new autobiography, Scarlett O’Hara’s Younger Sister.
“She made more men than movies,” one reviewer commented, but he exaggerates. While Keyes appeared in 44 films, her steamy book mentions only 20 affairs (four of which wound up at the altar). But who’s counting?
Keyes’ best-remembered film is, of course, GWTW. In preparation, the Atlanta native labored for weeks to regain the Southern accent that Hollywood producers had demanded she lose. She had other starring roles in Here Comes Mr. Jordan and The Jolson Story, but there were more clinkers than hits. “I’m the first to admit,” says Keyes, “that I never achieved my potential as an actress.”
The reason apparently is that some of the most charismatic men of her era got in the way. With the exception of her first husband, Barton Bainbridge, who was in the construction business, Keyes’ lineup of lovers reads like The Celebrity Register.
As a wide-eyed, 17-year-old dancer from Georgia, she got her first job with Cecil B. DeMille. He hired her, Keyes says, because she didn’t wear bright-red nail polish. Her first husband shot himself while she was having an affair with Hungarian director Charles Vidor. Vidor became husband No. 2, but the marriage lasted only one year.
Actor-director John Huston, who never really stopped living the life of a bachelor, was No. 3. He had a habit of bringing Evelyn unusual surprises, like the 13-year-old Mexican orphan he picked up while filming Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The boy was sent to boarding school. Evelyn remained Mrs. Huston for three and a half years.
Along the way were affairs with David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Kirk Douglas and Mike Todd. Since 1957 her fourth husband has been bandleader Artie Shaw, whose seven previous wives included Lana Turner and Ava Gardner. Keyes and Shaw have been separated for nearly a decade. “We’ll get divorced only if Artie finds someone else to marry,” she says. “I certainly don’t intend to marry again. I’m grown up now.”
After a two-year tour with No, No, Nanette, Keyes settled down to the quiet, dedicated existence of a lady of letters. Having sold the Connecticut house where she once lived with Shaw, she may settle permanently on the West Coast again. But these days Evelyn lives out of a suitcase and spends her usual four hours a day working on a suspense novel that is being hustled by superagent Irving Lazar.
Writing agrees with her. “It’s heaven—the best part of my life,” she beams. Does Scarlett’s 58-year-old younger sister ever get lonely? “I’m not looking for any man. I have discovered myself.”