Hollywood Wives From The Glitter and The Glory To The Cold Shoulder City
You Daily News 20th October 1985
I FELT Incapacitated, like I was not capable of running the house, paying the bills, details that were always handled by a business manager. Making my own travel plans, I hadn't done that ever—the studios always did that," said the former ,Mrs. George Segal over lunch recently at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Marion Segal was married for 26 years to the star of many major films, including "A Touch of Class" (1972), "King Rat" (1965) and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966). Three years ago the marriage ended. Her daughters were in college. Her husband was living in New York with a younger woman. (He subsequently married Linda Rogott, 36, a show-business agent). She had joined what they call in movie-agent parlance "cold shoulder city." An ex-wife on the other side of 30 is likely never to be asked anywhere ever again.
On that Marion Segal would agree with Jackie Collins, who wrote in "Hollywood Wives" the lines: "Woman was there to look good and play hostess. Man was there to provide."
And so would all the other members of LADIES (Life After Divorce Is Eventually Sane), a self-help group created by celebrity ex-wives. The group is linked to other programs for displaced homemakers that are tied to government efforts to help women across the country make it on their own.
Across the lunch table actress Jackie Joseph is saying: "We're not here to talk about what horrible guys our ex-husbands are. Our message is that there is hope after divorce. We are a group who have something in common— we were divorced from husbands who have been in the public eye."
Joseph, who still retains her Las Vegas show-girl figure, is the good-natured spokeswoman for the group. For 20 years she was the wife of Ken Berry—star of TV's "Mayberry R.F.D." (1968-71) and "F-Troop" (1965-67)—and still a popular actor-dancer. They divorced six years ago, but fans still stop her in the street
"They tell me how much they love my ex-husband. What do you do? I just smile and say nothing."
WHEN YOU TALK TO the members of the LADIES group you discover that celebrity divorces are not all acrimony or alimony. Often there is no alimony—when funds have been "sheltered," for instance, or when under California's 50-50 community property law what you inherit is half the debts.
The credit cards and charge accounts stop. Sometimes the electricity and water do, too. And, in a quintessential Hollywood development, there is the question of "celebrity goodwill." Lawyers now are writing clauses for such compensation into divorce settlements.
"Celebrity goodwill" covers the advantages of marriage to a well-known person—smooth service and the best tables in restaurants, no waiting in line for theater tickets and other little extras being on the end of a famous arm can bring. A In "Hollywood Wives," the women spend their time draped in Galanos and Saint Laurent lunching on salads and tidbits of gossip at all the right restaurants. The rest of the time they idle around Beverly Hills in their Rolls or Mercedes, buying up stores at whim and then exercising their bodies so they can squeeze into the latest designs.
There's some truth to this image, even for ex-Hollywood wives. Joseph and Segal picked the venue for lunch, the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel, very much a "right spot." Segal didn't want to smile too much as she was having cosmetic work on her teeth, but she was enthusiastic about a cut-rate deal she'd worked out with an exercise coach.
She's 48, a film editor who worked on five of her former husband's pictures. For many years, she says, they lived the life of "a pasha" or persons of high rank. Now she identifies more with the LADIES, members such as Patti (Mrs. Jerry) Lewis, Bob-bi (Mrs. Glenn) Campbell and Lynn (Mrs. Michael) Landon, who meet once a month at their homes (they also host regular "public" meetings). Landon brought the women together when she said on a TV talk show that she'd like to speak to others who had been through the same experience.
"None of us knew each other," said Joseph of the first meeting, "but we found ourselves laughing at things that seemed gut-wrenchingly tragic a few days before. The biggest thing was finding other women in the same boat."
"AH the husbands seem the same," Segal said. "People who become actors— their egos aren't exactly small. They become intoxicated with their own success, and ego drives them to test their power in every area."
Throughout her marriage she had to cope with the overriding Hollywood curse— insecurity.
"One of the problems an actor always faces is what does he do when the job is over and, in George's case, he never had a next movie that was coming up. He was always in the tentative state of hot knowing if he was ever going to work again. So he wouldn't be able to go away and take a vacation and really enjoy himself, and he'd hang around the house and get neurotic.
"But at the same time he did have whatever he wanted in terms of people mixing drinks for him, people coming over to play music for him. I don't even know if George knows where the post office is in Beverly Hills. He never did any of that stuff."
Segal—who after her divorce took night classes in which they taught "everyday things like balancing your checkbook"—is a striking example of the wife of a famous face who, when others are thinking of drifting toward retirement, must start all over again.
"I was so young when I married George that I hadn't had time to develop other sides of myself or make lasting friendships with women. LADIES has provided that. You slip now and then, become depressed—but when you do, we now, luckily, have each other. We all get that terrible guilt thing of saying: "If only I'd made turkey soup better, maybe he would have stayed.'"
There is also, they all acknowledge, the feeling of sexual rejection, that he would rather be somewhere else. The members of LADIES all say that is part of how they help each other—re-establishing their own self-worth and esteem.
Most of them are careful to point out that their marriages were 50-50 arrangements, but Segal also argues: "The reason is midlife crisis. It's happened to all our husbands at about the same age—between 42 and 56. They suddenly look at their lives and realize that this is their last chance to have a red Ferrari, a tanned blond. "Success never changes anybody—all it does is unmask them. All of these men decided to become actors. If they don't make it they're bitter and miserable for the rest of their lives. If they do get to be stars or semistars, famous enough for people to come up to them in the street, and they get deferential treatment, it's very hard to handle that. They soon believe they are kings. George used to say to me, 'We're royalty." But we were just two kids who got married a long time ago."
Joseph, who plowed her life into her husband's, is now writing TV shows, acting when she gets the chance and coordinating much of the LADIES' nationwide activities. Her description of her situation sounds like a film synopsis.
"Suddenly, happily ever after is ripped off. The thing is, you're not a criminal, and you shouldn't be afraid to go out and enjoy life."
For ex-Hollywood wives there are some unique problems, as Segal points out.
"Who gets the friends is a problem because it's very hurtful. A lot of people will always go with the star, but you learn to realize that was why they were there in the first place. They weren't my friends."
The bigger the names of the people in difficulty— even by marriage—the greater the interest in them. LADIES is fast becoming the divorce equivalent of the Betty Ford alcohol and drug rehabilitation clinic in Palm Springs, and Segal says, "I guess it's for the same reason that people watch soap operas—they want to see someone with worse problems than themselves."
Patti Lewis has been the ex-Mrs. Jerry Lewis for two years. She was married for 36. The difference takes a little getting used to. She still lives in a mansion with one of their six children, a teenage son, but this elegant silver-haired woman still seems at something of a loss.
WHEN HE HAD heart surgery I called the hospital, but the doctors didn't think I was THE Mrs. Lewis." (The new Mrs. Lewis is Sandra "Sam" Pitnick.)
Lynn Landon met her husband when he was one of the stars of "Bonanza," before he became one of Hollywood's most successful actor-producers with series such as "Little House on the Prairie" and "Highway to Heaven." More than 20 years ago, she says, it was instant.
"We took a look at each other and that was it."
Five years ago, after' 19 years of marriage, she found herself going it alone. When she met new people she would give herself the name Lynn Nolan to see if they liked her for herself and not the Landon connection.
She now runs her own Hollywood clothing store and says: "When Michael opted for a different life style, I started blaming myself. It wasn't until this past year that I realized it had nothing to do with him haying another woman. It had everything to do with Michael. I don't believe he left me for Cindy (his new wife). If it hadn't been Cindy, it would have been someone else.
"When you read about your ex-husband and another woman in the newspapers it makes you feel just awful. But after a while I realized! was in control of that, too. I did not have to read it.
"Each step you take, especially after being what they call the 'Hollywood wife,* is very rewarding."
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