Hollywood Ex-Wives Club
ON A MILD, SUNNY AFTERNOON SIX years after her divorce, Sandi Nimoy, a petite woman in a blue pantsuit, is nestled into an armchair in the densely furnished living room of Jackie Joseph’s Burbank bungalow. Talking about life after Leonard—who left her for actress Susan Bay, the current Mrs. Nimoy—Sandi is surrounded by the sympathetic company of eight other Hollywood ex-wives, including Joseph, who was married to former Mayberry RED, star Ken Berry from 1960 to 1977. “It’s not easy to forget a person who still is in your face,” says the 61-year-old Nimoy, who had two children with the man now internationally recognized as Star Trek’s Spock. And last spring, she mentions, the couple had a close encounter of the unexpected kind. “I ran into him,” says Nimoy. “He acted like I was some stranger on the street.”
“Sandi,” soothes Lynn Landon, 61, who was for 19 years Mrs. Michael Landon No. 2 and is the mother of five of his nine children. “There’s nothing you can do about his reaction.”
“I know,” agrees Nimoy, “but we were married for 32 years and 10 months. I grew up with him.” She recalls the lean years when he was a struggling actor. “I had a $10 a week food allowance. We lived in a housing project. I took our babies to a clinic.”
“That was probably a good time,” says Landon, providing an upbeat spin, “a time of building together.”
But Nimoy is back in the exasperating here-and-now of a marriage she never expected to end. “I got a letter from Brandeis University,” she says. “They invited me to some Star Trek: The Next Generation fund-raiser! This is crazy! Why are they sending this to me? It shakes me up.”
Dealing with unpleasant aftershocks is one of the reasons Nimoy has joined these impeccably groomed, unmarried women of a certain age: Patricia Daily, 54, married to Bob New-hart costar Bill Daily (best known as neighbor Howard Borden), for 25 years, divorcing in 1983, and mother of two children; Susan Stafford, 50, married to former Saturday Night Live producer Dick Ebersol for five years; Patti Lewis, 72, the mother of six sons in her 36-year marriage to Jerry Lewis; and Loralee Knotts, 48, wed to Don Knotts for 14 years, until 1989. They are a handful of the roughly 20 members of LADIES, short for Life after Divorce Is Eventually Sane.
The acronym may suggest a spy network operated by Jackie Collins, but in reality this is a loosely run, 14-year-old support group for what a supermarket tabloid once unkindly referred to as “Hollywood dumpettes.” Like Nimoy and Patti Lewis, many of these “ladies” were dutiful housewives, mothers and helpmates, sloughed off when their mates finally got a full taste of genuine stardom. Now they meet monthly at different members’ houses to share their feelings of kinship. As Joseph once put it, “I think we were all married to the same man.”
Actress Joseph, 61, has been the group’s president almost since the start. “She’s the worker,” says Lynn Landon, LADIES’ vice president. The treasurer is Gene Hackman’s ex-wife Faye, who’s on vacation this week. (Dues, which range up to $170 a year, depending on what the member can afford, are donated to charity.)
It was Landon who served as impetus for the group in 1981. That was not long after a private detective confirmed her suspicions that her then husband was having an affair with Cindy Clerico, the Little House on the Prairie extra who became his third wife in 1983. Landon, who fought for and won a generous settlement, made her peace with the actor before he died in 1992. But at the time of their separation, she confesses, “I was numb.” Making it all the harder was the tabloids’ fervid coverage of the breakup. “I’d see photos of Michael and Cindy and the headline, ‘Michael Landon: Happy at Last.’ I couldn’t get away from it.” After a while, she says, “I just wanted to get an ax. I really wanted to know how other women handled it.”
By “it” she doesn’t mean the ax, but the pain. Landon first called her friend Marilyn Funt; ex-wife of Candid Camera host Allen and author of a 1980 book about life as a celebrity appendage, Are Yon Anybody? After a flurry of additional calls around town, 17 divorcees, including Tony Curtis’s third wife, Leslie, and Glenn Campbell’s second, Billie Jean, turned up at Landon’s home.
In that first meeting the women practically competed to swap stories about custody battles, betrayal and alimony. Many of them lost their homes. “We knew we were on to something,” says Landon. Since then most of the war stories have been retired, the members now laugh as often they cry (“One woman wanted to keep feeding her ex-husband fats in order to cholesterol him to death,” says Landon), and the emphasis is on positive action.
At the moment, Pat Daily is proudly sharing good news. She’s now getting a pension through Bill’s TV and movie unions. “It took a long time,” she says. “And, unfortunately, I’m sharing this with another wife. But I’m grateful.”
“For so long,” Landon explains to the group, “Pat didn’t do anything because she wanted to be nice. It’s important to know what you’re entitled to.”
“I have a new attitude adjustment,” announces Loralee Knotts. “I’ve never preserved any time for me. Now I take a 35-to 40-minute walk every morning. Nobody gets me at this time. It’s empowering.”
The ladies also try to give an emotional boost to divorced housewives, non celeb division. Joseph, Landon and Nimoy make frequent speaking appearances for the national organization Women Work! “You know, people ask us why we still get together—even some members ask,” says Joseph, laughing. “It may sound goofy, but the important thing is the idea that if we can get over these magical stars, then other women can get over their grief and get on with their lives, too.”
In the last minutes of this afternoon’s meeting, the ladies turn their attention to news of members who have, happily, found new, non-Hollywood husbands. (A ring doesn’t mean expulsion: Cookie Mackenzie, 44, who was wed to Flip Wilson for six years and has since remarried, is at this meeting.) Marian Segal, actor George’s ex, is now married to a rabbi “and looking beautiful,” says Landon. Buddy Ebsen’s second wife, Nancy, 76, married again last year, this time to an old high school sweetheart. “Last I heard she was happy as a clam,” says Landon.
“We’ve all got to go back to our high school reunions,” says Daily, laughing.
“Going steady is all I want,” says Nimoy.
Daily asks her, “Are you happy?”
Nimoy hesitates. “I’m free,” she says cautiously, then picks up assurance. “It’s great. I was married long enough.”
MARIA EFTIMIADES in Los Angeles