By People Staff
February 27, 1984 12:00 PM


Johnny Carson bounds on stage to sustained applause and manic cries of “Hi-yoh!” from the studio audience. Halfway through his Tonight Show monologue, with its usual mix of good jokes and groaners, Carson tells this one: “I went to see my butcher the other day, Murray Giblets. I said, ‘How do you pick a good turkey?’ And he says, ‘You ought to know. You’re a three-time loser.’ ”

Like a child with a scab, Carson, normally the most private of men, can’t stop picking at the wreckage of his 11-year marriage to Joanna Carson, his third wife. Using the oldest remedy for pain, he jokes about it.

The jokes, of course, are predicated on the audience’s familiarity with Carson’s current marital woes and his earlier failures, first with Jody Wolcott, then with Joanne Copeland. (The similar names of his three wives have caused more than one wag to observe that Carson never has to change the monograms on his towels.) Between Joanna’s demand for $220,000 in temporary monthly support, the increasingly aggressive flirting of female Tonight guests and the tabloid stories about Joanna and Johnny’s new and past romances, the Carson divorce is clearly the split of the year.

Much of the acrimony will go public this week when lawyers for both sides meet in court to hash out the question of temporary support. The actual divorce and resulting community property division (50-50, according to California law) is expected later this year, though it may well be settled out of court, since Carson will not be eager to make his extensive holdings—certainly in the tens of millions—public.

These days, Johnny, 58, divides his time between his Malibu beach house and a pied-à-terre he has long kept at the Beverly Hills Hotel. His new amour is Alex Mass, a 30ish secretary who is described by a friend of Johnny’s as being “a very family oriented, private person from a world completely polar to the Hollywood scene.” When Johnny recently bought Alex expensive sportswear at Rodeo Drive’s hoity-toity Gianni Versace boutique, a salesperson observed that she seemed thrilled and unaccustomed to such largesse. Says a Carson acquaintance, “He needs a plaything right now, and I would think that it’s a lot of fun to play Pygmalion with someone like her.”

Joanna, 43, has been staying at the Carsons’ other house, a $5-million mansion in Bel Air, and at her suite at the Pierre in New York, alternating between her L.A. charity activities and her New York clothing design interests.

Her constant escort lately has been Bob Parkinson, a Hollywood producer (Richard Pryor’s recent Here and Now movie and the This Is Your Life TV show). A friend of Joanna’s says the handsome, silver-haired Parkinson is filling Johnny’s shoes nicely. “He’s a very nice, very quiet man,” she maintains. “He’s more like a friend, and it’s great for someone going through this to have a friend.” Parkinson’s interest in Joanna, a stunner with her statuesque build and dark hair, fits right in with his image as a connoisseur of beauty. For 10 years he was the executive vice president of Miss Universe Inc., the company that puts on the beauty pageant.

Says another friend who dined with Joanna recently, “She is doing really well. She’s the same person she always was, charming, gracious and lovely. The real story may be how well she is actually doing. She is coming out of this a winner.” Clearly, though, bitterness remains. A fellow charity worker reports that during a meeting held at Joanna’s house last fall, “her bulletin board was filled with pictures of Johnny and his various dates. And her secretary had obviously cut out all the stories about the divorce and put them up on the board.”

Carson has repeatedly said that his “greatest personal failure was when I was divorced from my first wife.” Jody Wolcott was a fellow student with Carson at the University of Nebraska and served as assistant for his magic act. They married in 1948 and had three sons, Chris, now 33, Ricky, 31, and Cory, 30. Press reports about the “promising young funster,” as Johnny was dubbed in 1955, focus on Jody as the happy suburban wife waiting with her crew-cut boys at home in Harrison, N.Y. for Johnny to return from Manhattan and his duties as host of a daytime quiz show called Who Do You Trust? (ironically, the original name was Do You Trust Your Wife?).

This seemingly rosy picture of domestic bliss came to an end in 1959, when Johnny and Jody separated and he moved to Manhattan. “Johnny was finished at 4 o’clock each day,” recalled a staffer on Who Do You Trust? “But he used to hang around town for hours. He found it more and more difficult to get back to Harrison and the family, and eventually he and Jody separated. You might call it New York and the beginning of success.” The couple finally divorced in 1963 and Jody Wolcott has resolutely stayed out of the public eye ever since. She moved to Southern California a year ago and seemed to be covering her tracks when she went so far as to tell the University of Nebraska alumni office to drop her name from the school’s mailing list. Says a secretary at the university, “This is a woman who doesn’t want to be found.”

An ex-Mrs. Carson who is easy to find and anything but shy about discussing Johnny is Joanne Copeland. Now 52, Joanne was a model and game show hostess when she and Carson were first introduced; they were married in August of 1963, a year after Carson took over as Tonight Show host from Jack Paar.

The two lived in a plush 10-room duplex at the tony United Nations Plaza complex. Joanne, a petite brunette, spent much of her time fixing up the apartment (“Johnny’s the client—I’m just the decorator,” she said in 1968), going so far as to paint the foyer herself in a chocolate brown that she and Johnny concocted and called El Greco Bronze.

Today Joanne lives contentedly in a large house with a pool in the same Bel Air section of L.A. as Joanna. Following a bout with viral pneumonia, Joanne recently returned to her job as a co-host on the USA Network’s Alive and Well health show. After divorcing Johnny in 1972, Joanne got her Ph.D. in nutritional biochemistry, which enabled her to chat up the show’s guest stars about health problems, vitamins, exercise and holistic healing. “I learned how to interview by watching Johnny work,” she says. “He’s the absolute master.”

Joanne blames her breakup with Johnny on physical and emotional problems that she began having in the late 1960s. “I could be sitting in the back of a chauffeured limousine—a sable lap robe over my legs—surrounded with packages from Fifth Avenue shops, and suddenly I’d burst out crying,” she recalls. After psychiatrists prescribed drugs including lithium, and told her she was losing her identity in Johnny’s shadow, Joanne moved to Los Angeles in 1970. There, a doctor practicing holistic medicine said that her problems stemmed from low blood sugar and low thyroid function. Says Joanne, who is on a special diet to keep her condition under control, “Had it been diagnosed earlier, I more than likely would still be married to Johnny.”

The divorce was “devastatingly painful,” Joanne says, and she swears she won’t remarry. “I don’t want to take a chance on going through it again. Our marriage was very special, and a childhood fantasy was shattered when it didn’t last forever.” Of her ex, who continues to pay her a reported $100,000 annually in alimony, she says, “Johnny is a classy guy and deserves respect.”

Carson’s sons are now out on their own. The younger two, Ricky and Cory, live in Los Angeles and work as free-lance TV stage managers. Cory also teaches classical guitar. The eldest son, Chris, lives in an apartment in an un-chic section of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and, until recently, worked in a pro shop and taught golf at a country club there. Joanne, who during her marriage to Johnny saw the boys on weekends and vacations, has been in touch with them sporadically in recent years. “Each of them has a part of Johnny’s personality.”

Nasty and nice talk from some old mates


‘Kris and I were doomed’

It was 1971, and Kris Kristofferson was grasping the fame he had sought so long when his 10-year marriage to Fran Beer came to an end. Everyone Fran knew sent her clippings about his romantic exploits, and that, she recalls, “was very hard for me. Even though I wanted out of the marriage, it still hurt to see other women have a crack at him.”

Fran had dated Kris in high school in Palo Alto, Calif., where he was the football star and she was prom queen. The marriage foundered when Kris, who was an Army officer stationed in West Germany, became serious about his singing and songwriting. After his discharge, the Kristoffersons moved to Nashville, and Fran was “scared to death. I had no attraction to the life of a starving musician.” The two fought bitterly, and their 1968 separation was a relief for both. They have since made peace. He helps support her, daughter Tracy, 22, and Kris Jr., 16, and she says, “I want Kris to be happy.”


Carol Burnett ‘had more drive

They met in the theater arts school at UCLA in 1953. On the day they married two years later, Carol made her TV debut as the girlfriend of Paul Winchell’s dummy, Jerry Mahoney. Saroyan watched his wife get break after break and laughed it off when strangers called him “Mr. Burnett.”

Don, 55, isn’t positive that Carol’s success contributed to the breakup of their eight-year marriage. (It was his second, her first; she is now separated from second husband Joe Hamilton.) Still, he says, “I suppose it did put a strain on it. You’d be inhuman if it didn’t.”

Now helping run his third wife’s clothing business in Beverly Hills, Saroyan says, “I didn’t get famous, but I also haven’t had all the heartaches.”


Stevie Wonder was her first love

Although Syreeta Wright’s friendship with Stevie Wonder, 33, survived a mid-’70s divorce and remarriage on both sides, Syreeta says that her marriage to the superstar was stifling. “I had to get away from Stevie. He felt obligated to take care of me like a kid. It meant I was always living in his shadow.”

A singer and a songwriter, Syreeta rebelled when the overprotective Wonder tried to direct her career during their four-and-a-half-year marriage. “Stevie would have his fingers in the pie and be influencing my career without my even knowing it,” she says. “I finally had to learn to stand on my own, so I just went through about 18 months without seeing him. Now I can see him as a friend, without almost yelling out, ‘Save me.’ ”

During that hiatus, Syreeta wrote songs and studied record production to prepare for her next album, which will be released this year on the Motown label. “For the first time,” she says, “I’m taking charge of my career, and it feels great. Now I’m in control, not him.”


Kenny Rogers’ ambition drove her away

Janice Gordon was 17, and Kenny Rogers just “a great big 19-year-old boy with a flattop,” she says, when he married her in 1957. But his heart was set on stardom, and while his new wife stayed at home with their daughter, Carole Lynne (born nine months after the nuptials), he practiced with his band and scrambled to support the family. Janice was achingly lonely. She knew her husband had talent but worried that “so do thousands and thousands of other people who never make it. I tried to get him to do something more stable.”

Kenny clung to his ambitions, and a bitter Janice walked out after two years. She nursed the hurt for another 15. “I hated Kenny,” she says. “I felt he was basically selfish and he expected everyone to understand him.”

The thaw began in 1976 when Carole, then 18, wrote to tell her father that she and Janice (who had split from her second husband) were mired in debt. Although Kenny had anted up only sporadically after Janice sued him for child support, he sent a check and has been helping the two ever since. “When I realized Carole had a strong urge to know her father, I decided it was ridiculous to hate him so much,” says Janice. “Besides, he hadn’t done anything a million other men hadn’t done.”


Goldie Hawn threatened his ego

The beginning of Goldie Hawn’s success as a performer marked the beginning of the end of her marriage to director Gus Trikonis, whom she had met when they were both chorus dancers in Los Angeles. Although Trikonis, 46, works regularly now (his recent credits include the film Take This Job and Shove It and last year’s TV movie Dempsey), he was still struggling when giggly Goldie became a Laugh-In star in 1968.

“I felt I should be the breadwinner,” Gus says. “Her success became an incredible threat to my ego. Goldie tried her best to deal with it, but she had to flex her muscles. She said, ‘I have to get on with what I’m doing.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s fine. I’ll be around.’ But it sort of ended.”

The divorce became final after Goldie met singer Bill Hudson (whom she married in 1976 but later shed). It was “a rude awakening,” says Trikonis; the invitations stopped and their mutual friends began to drop away. “I was very hurt,” he remembers. “I understood that Goldie was the power that drew people to us, but I thought when we made friends we made friends.” His consolation prize was a $75,000 settlement from Goldie, who kept their houses in Bel Air and at Malibu.


Marriage to Vidal ‘had become painful’

Beverly Adams was a 21-year-old American starlet madly in love with high-profile British hairstylist Vidal Sassoon when they wed in 1967. Still, the marriage had problems from the outset. Her parents, conservative Catholics, were less than enthusiastic about Vidal, who was Jewish and 18 years her senior. Beverly’s early years with Sassoon were lean. “A friend used to loan me jewelry,” she says. “Every night at midnight I’d have to return it.”

After four children, one of whom was adopted, Beverly grew restless. Sassoon had set up shop in California and constantly surrounded himself with people, which made her feel as if she were living “in a fish-bowl.” The conflicts added up; she began waking “with my jaw tense and stomach tight” and realized the marriage was over.

Since their 1979 divorce, she has taken other prominent lovers—she was with actor Erik Estrada off and on and is now seeing Mexican bullfighter Antonio Lomelin. Entanglements have taught her to “be prepared to maintain your own identity.”


Life didn’t end after Dean

Falling into anonymity wasn’t a problem for Jeanne Martin when she separated from Dean in 1969 after 20 years of marriage. If there were those who snubbed her because she was no longer the wife of a star, she didn’t notice. “I have such a strong sense of self, and always have had, that it never occurred to me,” she says.

Still, she sought professional help after the breakup: “I knew I was all right, but I wanted to make sure I stayed that way. It was really for dealing with the children [four by Dean’s first wife, three of their own] and knowing how to help them adjust.”

Jeanne, in her 50s, denies the recent rumors that she and Dean, 66, are headed for a reconciliation. Today, she says, the two are “just good, loving friends.”


Diana Ross’ ex: Like brother and sister

Robert Ellis (who shortened his real name, Robert Ellis Silberstein, for business purposes) was divorced by Ross in 1977 after six years of marriage. But he says their relationship now is “almost too good to believe, like brother and sister.”

A Manhattan-based business manager who handles rock performers like Meat-loaf and Status Quo, Ellis, 38, has a house near Diana’s in Connecticut and sees their three children four or five times a week. “We have a very casual approach,” says Ellis, who has never felt intimidated by Ross’s stardom. “The kids will come over, or I’ll wander over to Diana’s for dinner. Our separation wasn’t a Helen Reddy-Jeff Wald situation.”


He misses Glenda Jackson’s big bucks

Roy Hodges, 57, is frank about the fact that he still yearns for the easy life he knew as Glenda’s husband. He has described their 18-year marriage, which ended in 1976, as “the years of wine and roses and jet travel.” Hodges has said, “Being very honest indeed and at the risk of sounding shockingly mercenary, I’d give anything to be close to that many millions again.”

Once an actor, Hodges met Glenda when both were working with a repertory company in Crewe, an industrial city in Cheshire, England. While her star was rising, he occupied himself raising their son, Daniel, born in 1969, and running an art gallery near their London home. Hodges’ idyll ended in 1975, when Glenda introduced him to her lover, lighting expert Andy Phillips. “I was hurt and insulted,” Hodges said. “I remember him arriving. ‘What do you drink?’ I asked. ‘Whiskey.’ ‘Help yourself,’ I replied. He gave me a look—and I just knew. It spoke everything. ‘I already have,’ it said.”

After the split, Glenda gave her husband enough money to buy a house in London—a place, he observed, that has “got nothing on the house where I lived when I was married to Glenda. I kissed that lifestyle goodbye literally overnight. Do I miss it? You bet I do.”


John ‘was always demanding’

Unlike her ex, Liz DeLorean has kept a low profile in the 15 years since the two were divorced in 1969. A member of the exclusive High Ridge Country Club, near Palm Beach, Fla., where Liz works as a receptionist, once approached her and said, “I hear John DeLorean’s ex-wife works here. Which one is she?”

Elizabeth Higgins, at the time of the courtship a service representative for Michigan Bell, had been dazzled when a mutual friend introduced her to the 26-year-old auto executive in 1951, and the marriage that began three years later was “very, very good,” she says. DeLorean catapulted to the top of GM, and Liz found herself presiding over a five-bedroom estate in Bingham Farms, a Detroit suburb.

The dark days came in 1967. John, who had taken up with a fast-living L.A. crowd, began to dress more Hollywood than Detroit and turned the maid’s room into an exercise center where Liz “would find him hanging from the ceiling.” He traveled constantly, and a heartbroken Liz asked him to move out, she says, when “I found he was living with a Las Vegas show girl.” Although the 1969 divorce was friendly enough, Liz harbors some regrets about the settlement, from which she received “very little.”

Since their parting Liz, who lives happily alone in a small beach house, has seldom heard from John. She dates but says she’ll never remarry: “I’ve never found anyone I love as much as I loved John.”


Joan Rivers’ first marriage to college student James Sanger, a Bond clothing store heir, ended some 30 years ago after only six months because, she joked, “he never had dinner cooked when I got home; he forgot little things, like getting out of bed in the morning; he was always lying there figuring out how to retire before he even started work.” Since 1965 she has been married to producer Edgar Rosenberg.

Woody Allen’s marriage to Harlene Rosen began in 1955, when he was 19 and she 16. He obviously felt that immaturity—hers, not his—was a factor in their split five years later. “I would be at home in the bathtub taking a bath, and my wife would walk in and sink my boats.” Harlene was not amused. In 1967, five years after their divorce, she threatened to sue Allen for $1 million for “holding her up to scorn and ridicule.”

Neither Rivers nor Allen discusses that first spouse, and neither uses their exes in their acts. But as Joan said recently, after learning Sanger had left a message that he was “proud” of her success: “I couldn’t care less, if it took him 21 years to realize that’s me up there.”