Once upon a time money was no problem for Joan Wrigley. As a child, she used to climb into her grandfather’s lap and whisper, “Grandpa, I’ve spent my allowance.” Millionaire bakery owner Frank Fischer would peel off $10 and tell her, “My dear, I hope you’ll never be broke.” These days it would take a lot of those $10 bills to salvage Joan Fischer Devine Dexheimer Wrigley, 46. The Chicago socialite owes lawyers more than half a million dollars—and her miscellaneous debts add up to another $500,000, at least. Among her creditors are Elizabeth Arden ($22,000), a Chicago boutique ($18,000) and her ex-husband ($38,000 in a court judgment). Last week, in the cruelest chapter of her riches-to-rags career, Joan Wrigley was evicted from the $400,000 10-room condominium she had occupied for a decade. Now she is living in a nearby townhouse owned by her son. “I could give up and crawl into a hole, but I don’t want to do that,” Wrigley says gamely. “Somehow, somewhere, I feel a court is going to say, ‘This should not be.’ ”
The courts, in fact, made Joan Wrigley what she is today. Her plight goes back to 1970, when the twice-divorced Joan became engaged to William Wrigley, now 48, heir to the chewing-gum-and-baseball (Chicago Cubs) fortune. Bill, who had given his first wife a generous divorce settlement, asked Joan to sign a prenuptial agreement that he could leave her as much—or as little—as he wished in his will. “I discussed this with my folks after the first divorce,” Bill explains. “In the event of my death, I felt that the family stock should be protected.” Joan signed the paper—as she tells it—because she was deeply in love and eager to provide stability for her children. “Bill and I didn’t go out much, and when we did we’d look for the nearest potted palm and not talk to anybody else,” she recalls.
“You couldn’t expect that to go on forever,” observes one friend. It didn’t. Within five years the Wrigleys were squabbling over the two most volatile subjects in a marriage: money and sex. “First he stopped giving me an allowance, so I had to charge everything,” Joan says. “Whenever I’d ask for something, he’d retreat into complaints about my spending. We had a wonderful marriage as long as he wasn’t pressed, but when I reminded him he’d promised this or that, he would change. And there was a sex problem.” She claims she persuaded him to go to her psychiatrist and that Bill took along an adding machine and “yards of tapes” to demonstrate her extravagance. “His attitude was, ‘How dare you want to discuss sex problems?’ ” she contends. “From then on communication went downhill.”
One day in 1976, while they were still living together in the North Side con-do, Bill Wrigley was served with papers from a lawsuit filed by Joan. Its purpose was to set aside their prenuptial agreement. “I was floored,” he recalls. “I went to my lawyers with it.” What followed was 10 suits and countersuits in two states. Bill sued for an annulment in Wisconsin, where he has legal residence. Joan countersued for divorce in Illinois. She also charged her husband with adultery and fraud (and then filed for bankruptcy herself).
Bill won every case. A Wisconsin judge declared that Joan’s two previous divorces, both quickies obtained in Alabama, were invalid, so that her marriage to Bill was illegal from the start. Although Joan claims she contributed $1,700 a month to household expenses—and that she came up with the idea for Wrigley’s successful Big Red chewing gum, introduced in 1976—she was denied alimony. The Wisconsin court ordered her to repay the $38,000 it cost Bill Wrigley to educate her son Chris, and last week, after years of legal delays, ordered her out of the apartment. “It’s not an eviction,” Wrigley insists. “She lived there rent-free for five years while the case was in court.”
These days Joan talks wistfully of the perks of being a Wrigley. “Limousines, butlers and maids in attendance at every turn,” she sighs. “I liked the preferential treatment.” On a business trip with Bill, she remembers, she lacked a vaccination required to enter Australia. He persuaded the U.S. ambassador to intervene on their behalf. All that is gone. Thanks to her family, Joan Wrigley won’t be joining the breadline, but she still has the debts to contend with—not to mention the bitterness. “Someday I’d like to teach a course to help women avoid the position I find myself in,” says Joan. “Sure, love is wonderful, but unless you protect yourself you’re left with nothing but a great big hole. And you’re the one who’s given them the shovel.”