Brief Encounter: Short Hollywood Marriages

Hollywood marriages are often butt of jokes since they are often extremely short or numerous. While Comet Over Hollywood previously identified more than 70 lengthy and successful Hollywood marriages, there are also some that are remarkably brief. This Valentine’s Day we are focusing on those brief encounters. These classic Hollywood marriages are all under a year, from marriage to divorce or annulment. For example, Rudolph Valentino and Jean Acker were married in 1919 and are credited with “the shortest Hollywood marriage” at 6 hours. However, their divorce was not finalized until 1922, so this post will not focus on their marriage. This piece also won’t look at marriages that were shortened by death. Here is a sampling of brief encounters for your Valentine’s Day:

27 Jun 1964, Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA --- Ethel Merman and Ernest Borgnine at Their Wedding --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

27 Jun 1964, Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA — Ethel Merman and Ernest Borgnine at Their Wedding — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Ethel Merman and Ernest Borgnine (June 27, 1964 – Nov. 18, 1964)
Borgnine was the gruff working man in films and Merman was the glamorous Broadway diva. The two met in November of 1963, the same year Borgnine divorced from his wife, Mexican actress Katy Jurado.
Merman was nine years older than Borgnine. After they met, Borgnine started courting Merman.
“I’ve never been in love, really in love, before,” Merman told reporters according to Ethel Merman: A Life by Brian Kellow. “For the first time in my life I feel protected.”
After a six month courtship, the two were married.
“Everyone thinks she’s loud and brash. But she’s the opposite,” Borgnine was quoted in Brass Diva: The Life and Legends of Ethel Merman by Caryl Flinn. “She’s soft, gentle and shy. And you know me, I’m ‘Marty.’”
The two married on June 26, 1964, and were separated 32 days later on July 28, 1964.Their divorce was finalized that November.
Merman never gave reasons for the divorce and Borgnine said in interviews it’s because more people knew him than her on their honeymoon.
“Everybody knew me, but they didn’t know Ethel overseas,” Borgnine said in an interview. “The more they recognised me, the madder she got. That’s what hurt her, so she started taking it out on me.
After the divorce, Merman referred to the marriage as “That thing.” In her autobiography, the chapter “My Marriage to Ernest Borgnine” is one blank page.

George Brent and Ann Sheridan

George Brent and Ann Sheridan

Ann Sheridan and George Brent (Jan. 5, 1942 – Jan. 5, 1943)
Warner Brothers stars Ann Sheridan and George Brent began exclusively dating in July 1940 while filming “Honeymoon for Three.” The gossip columns soon began predicting marriage, according to the book George Brent: Ireland’s Gift to Hollywood and Its Leading Ladies by Scott O’Brien.
“I read that we will be husband and wife before 1941,” O’Brien quoted Sheridan in his book. “We keep saying that it’s getting mighty close now.”
The two were very different: Brent was much more proper and Sheridan was casual, rough around the edges and rubbed elbows with the hairdressers and men on set, according to O’Brien’s book.
Brent even told reporters in 1941 why he and Sheridan wouldn’t get married. But on Dec. 7, 1941, Brent and Sheridan were having lunch with screenwriter Bess Meredith when the news of the Pearl Harbor attacks came through. Meredith’s son, John Lucas, recalls that O’Brien remarked, “What incentive is there in planning for the future when they don’t know what will happen in the next week or year.”
It’s suggested that the war motivated their decision to get married, and the two were married shortly after the New Year in Palm Beach, Fla.
However, their separation was announced in September 1942.
“This is an amicable separation. It is caused by divergent interests of our separate careers,” according to a Sept. 28, Associated Press news brief “Ann Sheridan and George Brent to Go Separate Ways.”
Ann told media that they had differing likes and dislikes and also partially blamed Brent’s shyness, as she liked to go out and mingle with people.
“We simply had too many odds against us,” she said, quoted in O’Brien’s book. “A marriage cannot last if one tries to dominate the other’s life.”

Angela Lansbury and Richard Cromwell (Sept. 27, 1945 – Sept. 11, 1946)
At age 19, actress Angela Lansbury married 35 year old actor Richard Cromwell. Cromwell’s career was on the downslope and Lansbury didn’t know at the time that he was gay.
Cromwell met Lansbury when he was honorably discharged from the Coast Guard, according to a Sept. 22, 1945, news brief, “Angela Lansbury to wed Richard Cromwell.
Rumors say that she came home to find Cromwell with a man, according to Darwin Porter’s “Howard Hughes: Hell’s Angels,” but several other sources say Cromwell left Lansburg a note; apologizing and saying he couldn’t go on with their marriage.
“I didn’t know until we were separated that he was gay,” Lansbury was quoted in Porter’s book. The two remained friends until Cromwell’s 1960 death.
The Associated Press reported in September 1946, in the news brief “Miss Lansbury Sheds Richard Cromwell” that Cromwell told Lansbury to get a divorce and “she obliged.”
“I can’t share my life with anyone,” Cromwell was quoted in the Sept. 12, 1946, news brief.

Suzanne Pleshette and Troy Donahue

Suzanne Pleshette and Troy Donahue

Suzanne Pleshette and Troy Donahue (Jan. 4, 1964 – Sept. 8, 1964)
Suzanne Pleshette and Troy Donahue starred together in their first film “Rome Adventure” (1962) and then starred together in “A Distant Trumpet” (1964).
The two were together for three and a half years, from the time they started dating to their divorce, according to Dec. 5, 1964, article “Divorcee Suzanne Pleshette is the Marrying Kind.”
“Yes, we were really married, but it only lasted a few months, so it’s not really worth answering in detail,” Donahue said.
A July 1, 1964, news brief said Suzanne Pleshette sued Donahue for mental cruelty, but she did not ask for alimony. They separate on June 13.
“One item that can be broken, and broken more than once, yet keep on functioning is the human heart,” Pleshette said after their divorce.
“There was no bitterness,” Pleshette said in the Dec. 5, 1964, article. “We’re still very friendly.”

Elizabeth Taylor with first husband Conrad "Nicky" Hilton, Jr.

Elizabeth Taylor with first husband Conrad “Nicky” Hilton, Jr.

Elizabeth Taylor and Conrad Hilton Jr. (May 6, 1950 – Jan. 29 1951)
Conrad “Nicky” Hilton, Jr., was Elizabeth Taylor’s first husband. Hilton, 22, first saw Taylor, 17, at the Mocambo while she was with Jane Powell’s wedding party. Taylor’s fiancé, Bill Pawley, had just broken off their engagement and she was desolate.
Hilton met the approval of Mr. and Mrs. Taylor and came to their home for dinner. During most of their dates, Taylor’s and Hilton’s parents were present, and Elizabeth wasn’t entirely interested in Hilton’s romantic advances because she was still pining for Pawley, according to the book Elizabeth Taylor by John B. Allan.
Taylor was 18 when she married Hilton. While some believed she married him in revolt to her mother, Taylor later said this wasn’t true. If it was, she would have married one of her other boyfriends, according to Allan’s book.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where Taylor was under contract, arranged the wedding and stars such as Ginger Rogers, Greer Garson, Esther Williams, Dick Powell and Ann Miller were part of 700 guests. At her wedding, Elizabeth had her first glasses of champagne, according to the book “Elizabeth” by J. Randy Taraborrelli, exhibiting how young and inexperienced she was at the time.
The honeymoon last five months and the marriage lasted only seven months, according to Allan’s book. During their honeymoon, Conrad drank and gambled in Monte Carlo, leaving Elizabeth alone.
In December 1950, Taylor filed for divorce.
“I am very sorry that Nick and I are unable to adjust our differences and that we have come to a final parting of ways. We both regret this decision, but after personal discussions we realize there is no possibility of reconciliation,” Taylor said.
Elizabeth didn’t ask for any for any alimony because she “didn’t need a prize for failing,” according to Taraborrelli.
Of Taylor’s eight marriages, her only other brief marriage included the second marriage to Richard Burton which lasted from Oct. 10, 1975 to July 29, 1976, when they divorced a second time.

Actor-Director Dennis Hopper with fiancee Michelle Phillips shown as they arrived for the Academy Awards. April 7, 1970, Hollywood. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Actor-Director Dennis Hopper with fiancee Michelle Phillips shown as they arrived for the Academy Awards. April 7, 1970, Hollywood. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Michelle Phillips and Dennis Hopper (Oct. 31, 1970 – Nov. 8 1970)
Actor Dennis Hopper and Michelle Phillips, model and band member of the Mamas and the Papas, were married for eight days.
This time period was a particularly wild time during Dennis Hopper’s career and the eight days he Phillips were married is no exception, according to a 2007 Vanity Fair article.
In the 2007 Vanity Fair interview, Phillips did not share much about their brief marriage, except calling Hopper’s behavior “excruciating.”
When Phillips left him, her father made her go to a divorce lawyer saying “Men like that never change…It’ll be embarrassing for a few weeks; then it will be over.”

Edmond O'Brien and Nancy Kelly in a publicity still.

Edmond O’Brien and Nancy Kelly in a publicity still.

Edmond O’Brien and Nancy Kelly (Feb. 19, 1941 – Feb. 2, 1942)
Actors Edmond O’Brien and Nancy Kelly eloped to Yuma, AZ, without telling family or friends after being engaged for two years, according to an INS news brief from Feb. 20, 1941, “Nancy Kelly Elopes with Edmond O’Brien.”
Kelly was 19 and O’Brien was 24.
“They hadn’t spoken to each other for two weeks, but that was nothing new,” Nancy Kelly’s mother, Nan, was quoted in the news brief ‘Nancy Kelly Weds, Will Be Back On Job Soon.’ “They had occasionally broken their engagement during the past three years. Edmond invited her to dinner when they agreed to let bygones be bygones, and I guess they just suddenly decided it would be better to get married right away.”
However, by June 1941, it was reported that Kelly and her husband separated, and Kelly went home to her mother.
A Feb. 3, 1942, Associated Press brief reported that Kelly said O’Brien “broke promises he had made when they became reconciled after a previous separation.”

Jean Harlow and her third and last husband, Harold Rosson.

Jean Harlow and her third and last husband, Harold Rosson.

Jean Harlow and Harold Rosson (Sept. 13 1933 – March 11, 1934)
Jean Harlow’s marriage to cinematographer Harold Rosson was her third and last marriage that lasted only 18 months.
There was no evidence that Harlow and Rosson had any feelings for each other. Due to the suspicious death of her husband Paul Bern, Harlow’s mother and the studio were searching for a husband for her, according to the book Jean Harlow: Tarnished Angel by David Bret.
Harlow proposed to Rosson to avoid the studio’s selection of a husband for her, and he accepted. An hour later, they were on a flight to get married, according to the Bret book.
They divorced eight months later.

Lana Turner with first husband Artie Shaw.

Lana Turner with first husband Artie Shaw.

Lana Turner and Artie Shaw (Feb. 13, 1940 – Sept. 12, 1940)
Lana and Artie Shaw met on the set of “Dancing Co-Ed” and the couple did not hit it off. She found him to be arrogant and too serious and he thought she was a brainless star.
However, he asked her on dates and she turned him down. Shaw happened to call one evening after Greg Bautzer stood her up, so she said yes. Shaw wooed her by driving down to Santa Monica and talking about his life philosophies. That same night, on Feb. 13, 1940, the two flew to Las Vegas and got married. According to daughter Cheryl Crane, Lana soon realized she married a stranger–she wasn’t even aware that he had been married twice before, but she tried to make the marriage work. However, Shaw tried to change Lana.
“He was only interested in trying to change me completely,” she said.
The couple fought constantly and were only married for four months and 11 days-from Feb. 1940 to Sept. 1940. He wouldn’t part with a piano Lana’s mother had given them, so she took his clarinet.
During the divorce proceedings, Lana found out she was pregnant, but Shaw said he didn’t believe it was his baby. She decided to get an abortion and Shaw didn’t stop her.

Marie Windsor and Ted Steele (April 21, 1946 – March 6, 1947)
Actress Marie Windsor married bandleader Ted Steele in her hometown of Marysville, Utah, according to a brief published April 19, 1946.
“They’ll still be living with their former roommates. They can’t find a place to live,” the brief reported.
Their marriage was annulled in 1947.

(Betty) Jane Greer and Rudy Vallee at their wedding.

(Betty) Jane Greer and Rudy Vallee at their wedding.

Jane Greer and Rudy Vallee (Dec. 2, 1943 – July 27, 1944)
Before hitting stardom and when her name was still Betty Jane Greer, Greer was crooner Rudy Vallee’s third wife.
Vallee was working as a band leader for the Coast Guard during World War II, and Greer found fame when she modeled the new WAC uniform for national magazines. Vallee saw the pictures and contacted her, saying she should come to Hollywood and was given a contract by Howard Hughes, according to the Aug. 20, 1943, brief. Greer was not in a film until 1945.
After she came to Hollywood, Vallee was Greer’s manager, according to Michael Pitts’ book “The Rise of Crooners.”
An Aug. 20, 1943, INS brief—“Rudy Vallee to Wed After War”—announced that Lt. Vallee was engaged with Betty Jane Greer and they would marry when the war was over. When they were married, Vallee said she had been his pin-up girl ever since he saw her picture on a magazine cover.
The two married in 1943, before the end of the war as Vallee had said, and Greer filed for divorce in March 1944, according to an Associated Press March 7, 1944 article, “Bettyjane Greer to Divorce Rudy Vallee.”
“There’s something about the possessiveness of marriage that hasn’t worked out with us. We were much happier when we were just going together,” Greer was quoted.
Despite their divorce, both “declared: We still love each other,” according to the March 7, 1944, article.
“We will continue to see each other a great deal, but marriage seemed unwise at this particular time,” Vallee is quoted.
Greer didn’t ask for alimony. In the divorce court, Greer testified that Vallee called her “beautiful but dumb,” according to the July 28, 1944, Associated Press article “Betty Jane Greer Wins Freedom.”
“He said I was stupid and had the mind of a child, but I loved Rudy very much and tried to make a go of our marriage, but it was no use.”
In return, Vallee said “Betty Jane is one of the finest persons I have ever known.”

Robert Walker and Barbara Ford

Robert Walker and Barbara Ford

Barbara Ford and Robert Walker (July 8, 1948 – Dec. 16, 1948)
After Robert Walker’s first wife Jennifer Jones divorced him to marry producer David O. Selznick, Walker’s life seemed to go into a downward spiral, and many feel he never got over the divorce. He was self destructive and often drunk, according to the book “Katharine (Hepburn) the Great” by Darwin Porter.
Walker only knew Barbara Ford, daughter of director John Ford, for five or six weeks before they married. Walker and Barbara met at Joanne Dru and Dick Haymes’ home, according to “John Ford: Hollywood’s Old Master” by Ronald L. Davis.
When they were courting, many say Walker seemed like a changed man; happier and willing to work, according to a January 1949 Modern Screen article.
The wedding was against John Ford’s advice, who hoped Barbara would marry Harry Carey, Jr.
However, the marriage only lasted five months.
“Walker, still trying to drown the pain of his 1945 divorce from Jennifer Jones, began physically abusing Pappy’s (Ford) daughter just five weeks after the wedding,” according to the book “Three Bad Men: John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond” by Scott Allen Nollen.
Ward Bond threatened to “beat the hell out of that goddamned sissy, son of a bitch” but John Ford convinced him not to.
They were divorced by December 1948.

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5 thoughts on “Brief Encounter: Short Hollywood Marriages

  1. Fascinating article. I didn’t know Edmond O’Brien and Nancy Kelly were married, or that Robert Walker married John Ford’s daughter. The odd couple are definitely Borgnine and Merman.

    Like

  2. This was a fun article! Thanks for writing it.

    I noticed you quoted Darwin Porter and David Bret a few times – both are widely discredited biographers who don’t name sources. Bret in particular has a horrible reputation. What are your thoughts on their work?

    Like

    • I’ll be completely honest–I hadn’t heard of them prior and thought some of their stuff seemed a bit…questionable. Some of it cross referenced with other things I found so I kept it.

      There wasn’t much that I could find on Cromwell/Lansbury. Not even a photo!

      Like

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