STATISTICS SHOW THAT IN THE UNITED States a woman gets divorced every 15 minutes. There is no truth to the rumor that the woman is actress Jennifer O’Neill, although given her marital record since she first rose to prominence 22 years ago—as the older woman in the movie Summer of ’42 who initiates a teenage boy into the ways of love—it’s easy to see how such a story might start. Teen model O’Neill dropped out of Manhattan’s Professional Children’s School to wed her first husband, IBM executive Dean Rossiter, when she was just 17. And last month, in a no-frills ceremony conducted at the home of a friend in Austin, Tex., the 44-year-old actress took her seventh stroll down the aisle—with Neil Bonin, 34, an aspiring actor she had met two months before, and with whom, she says, she had never slept.
For the record, O’Neill has reached the seven-husband milestone sooner than Zsa Zsa (who was 63), Liz (59) and Lana Turner (49). Still, as she reflects on a domestic dossier that includes three children by as many different spouses, two shootings and a stabbing, O’Neill seems refreshingly unrepentant—especially for a born-again Christian (see marriage No. 6, to religiously inclined writer Richard Alan). “I don’t apologize,” she says, at home on her 26-acre horse ranch in Malibu. O’Neill bought the spread with her second fortune in 1985, after losing her original nest egg to bad investments during her fifth marriage, to personal manager John Lederer. “I have a great reverence for marriage,” she adds. “I always did—maybe not for the healthiest reasons. OK? But I knew I wanted to be married.”
O’Neill has been married for as briefly as one year (to husband two, novelist Joseph Roster, and four, songwriter Jeff “Leader of the Pack” Barry) and as long as six years (to Rossiter, and husband five, Lederer, with whom she has a son, Reis, 12, who lives with his father). She sees no pattern to her failed marriages, except that “I was always in love with love”—and perhaps somewhat less so with the men involved, especially, say, husband three, Nick De Noia, a TV producer who was shot dead by unknown assailants 11 years after he and O’Neill divorced. Nor can her mother, Renee, an Agoura Hills. Calif., homemaker who has been married to the actress’ father, Oscar, a retired exporter of medical supplies, for 47 years, put her finger on the problem. “Who knows?” she says. “Maybe they couldn’t adapt to each other.”
And yet who says there is a problem? O’Neill remains as radiant as ever, her face surprisingly free of rice marks. She seems to have long since recovered from the wound she suffered in 1982 when, alone at the home she owned in Bedford Hills, N.Y., she accidentally shot herself with a .38 caliber handgun while inspecting the weapon. And the trauma that came, weeks later, when her then husband, Lederer, accidentally stabbed himself with a knife—that’s also far behind her. Her first feature film in six years—Discretion Assured, costarring Michael York—will reach theaters this spring. She seems to have a good relationship with her daughter by Rossiter, Aimee, 25, an animal trainer for movies and TV, as well as with Reis and her son by Alan, 5-year-old Cooper. Now, in Bonin, she has a new husband—who says that he knew that he’d get married “as I got up in years.”
Bonin, who has had a few bit parts on soaps, was 13 when Summer of ’42 came out, though he can’t recall seeing the movie and says, “I ought to rent it, I guess.” O’Neill, meanwhile, remembers the first time she saw the tall, dark Virginian, sitting in a Manhattan restaurant. “I don’t flirt with strangers,” she says, but her gaze seemed so fixed that the friend she was dining with invited Bonin over. O’Neill and Bonin went out the following evening, then again the next night. “On the third date,” says Bonin, “I got her phone number.”
O’Neill says she has come to believe in not engaging in premarital sex, because “That’s the way it’s supposed to be.” Bonin, who describes himself as “essentially born-again without even knowing it,” says that his wife’s rules “felt like the right thing to do.” The pair spent a lot of time together, though, and it was during a cross-country drive with Cooper that things got serious. Bonin popped the question in New Orleans, and after some hasty phone arrangements they were married at the family home of O’Neill’s former assistant, Mimi Whittington, 500 miles later.
This time the bride wore black jeans and a ruffled blouse, but her hopes were still those of a teenager gowned in white. “I’m not impulsive,” O’Neill says. “I’m bold—emotionally bold. And I’ve told Neil, ‘I really hope you are who I think you are, because I don’t know if I have the heart to take this again.’ ”
JULIE KLEIN in Los Angeles and JOAN JENKINS in Houston