10 Celebrity Palimony Cases
I deserve my fair share
The word “palimony” stems from “alimony” a court-ordered financial amount paid by one spouse to the other, after a legal separation or divorce. During the 1977 case of Marvin v. Marvin, the plaintiff’s Attorney created the word “palimony”, to justify a claim for a division of assets between an unmarried couple, on the basis that the “pal” had been promised the same rights as a spouse regarding his or her share of marital assets.
“There is a promise made in any bed ... spoke or silent, a promise is surely made.”— The Crucible by Arthur Miller
Breach of promise
The roots for a suit for palimony can be found in the obsolete laws regarding breach of promise. This, perhaps more honestly called “heart balm" became a viable cause of action at some unspecified time before or during the Middle Ages.
If a woman was known to have been cast aside, her marital opportunities could be hampered. Given the social mores, the sacrifice of virginity as a result of this promise could destroy any marital prospects. Surprisingly, as recently as 1915, respected soldier and top notch footballer Louis Merrilat was sued by Helen Van Ness for having broken off their engagement. Although Merrilat prevailed in having this claim dismissed, he felt the need to employ renowned lawyer Clarence Darrow in order to do so. The following celebrity cases are in no particular order.
1. Marvin v. Marvin. Michelle Triola Marvin v. Lee Marvin
Although Lee Marvin was largely known for military and western films such as "The Caine Mutiny, Cat Ballou and The Dirty Dozen", it was during the filming of "Ship of Fools" that he met Michelle Triola. Shortly after having met, they decided to share a home and lived together from 1964 until 1970.
In 1971 she sued him. According to her testimony in their later court duel, the two had reached a compromise. She consented to give up her acting and singing careers, as well as her wish to have children. In exchange, Marvin vowed to provide her with enough wealth to live a life free of any need to seek further income. She believed their trade-off to be the equivalent of a marriage contract. Perhaps at the time, Marvin shared this sense of commitment. Whatever his views might have been at that time, he ended their six year liaison, apparently feeling no obligation to provide Michelle with any means of further support.
Given the absence of any written agreement or contract, Michelle brought Marvin’s erotic letters into court as evidence. In the most intimate of these, he suggested they spend the rest of their lives together in one bed. Confronted with this, Marvin dismissed it as mere pillow talk, implying no promises of lifetime support.
A further controversy arose as to Michelle’s decision to change her last name to “Triola Marvin". She claimed this to have been a decision made together in mutual tenderness. Conversely, Lee Marvin contended she had made this change after their break-up, in an effort to give weight to a claim which lacked the slightest validity.
In 1977 Michelle was awarded $104,000, but in 1981 the Court of appeal nullified the award on the basis that there was no contract between them. Consequently the first case claiming Palimony failed.
2. Locke v. Eastwood: Sondra Locke v. Clint Eastwood
Having met in late 1975 during the filming of "The Outlaw Josey Wales", Sondra Locke and Clint Eastwood lived together, intermittently for fourteen years. During this time, they made six films together. Their closeness on every level was such that she had two abortions and a tubal-ligation, based on their mutual view that parenting would disrupt the flow of their life as a Hollywood celebrities.
For years not completely faithful to Locke, during the late 1980s, Eastwood's devotion began to fade. After a serious quarrel, he ordered her to leave the home they had shared for thirteen years. Her pretexts for postponing departure resulted in Eastwood’s having the locks changed, and sending Sondra’s possessions to a storage facility.
In 1989, Locke brought a palimony suit against Eastwood. In 1990, moments before the case was to be decided, the two reached an out of court settlement. By its terms, Locke would drop her palimony claim in exchange for Eastwood’s promise to agree a film directing package for her with Warner Brothers.
Locke proposed thirty projects to Warner Brothers all of which were scuttled. Locke suspected Eastwood of colluding with Warner's in rejecting her proposals. Hence, in 1996 she sued Eastwood for fraud, based on his failing to fulfill the palimony settlement. At trial; shortly before the jury gave its verdict, Locke accepted an undisclosed financial settlement from Eastwood. In 1999 Locke also accepted a further undisclosed settlement from Warner Brothers for their part in the collusion, thus harming her career.
3. Thorson v. Liberace: Scott Thorson v. Wladziu Liberace
Though his musical gifts were acknowledged during his childhood, Liberace’s hope of becoming a famed concert pianist faded when he understood the limits of his abilities. Disappointed but resilient, he morphed into one of those celebrities as well-known for their personas as their talents. Hence, in conservative, clean-cut post WWII America, he became notorious for his ostentatious dress, outlandish hairstyle and nearly omnipresent Candelabra upon his piano.
Homosexual in an era when such a label evoked instantaneous stigma, he cultivated friendships with women, allowing the world to assume amorous overtones. So successful was his concealment that only his 1987 death from AIDS confirmed rumor.
Liberace’s gender preference was almost unmasked when, in 1982, former lover, Scott Thorson, sued him for palimony. The age difference between the two was large, Liberace having been born in 1919, and Thorson 1959. Thorson was sixteen years old when he met Liberace (Thorson would later claim Liberace’s predilection for boys would end their involvement; when he reached his early twenties, Liberace began seeking younger partners.) Thorson alleged the depth of their commitment was such that, at Liberace’s request, he had his face surgically changed in order to resemble a younger version of Liberace.
The contractual aspect of his claim consisted in Liberace’s alleged promise to pay him $70,000 per year for his services as companion, personal assistant, chauffeur and dog trainer. While there was no question of his having performed these services, the promise and amount were disputed. Liberace had also supported Thorson in a lordly manner during their five years together.
Originally, Thorson sued Liberace for $113 million, but settled out of court for $75,000, plus three pet dogs and cars equaling an additional $20,000. Later he would claim he could have acquired far more, but felt compassion due to his knowledge Liberace was ill. Thorson's memoir states, some years later, aware Liberace was dying, during a final visit, all acrimony on both sides was forgiven.
4. Nelson v. Navratilova: Judy Nelson v. Martina Navratilova
During 1982, Texas-born Judy Nelson’s eleven year-old son Eddie was carrying tennis balls for the Czechoslovakian born global tennis champion. Young Eddie, doubtless proud to introduce his mom to a star athlete, could surely never have guessed at the years of repercussions to come. Indeed, Judy Nelson was in a seemingly stable marriage, and the mother of two growing sons. Perhaps her marriage would have continued without any major strain, but for this chance meeting.
For the next two years Judy and Martina maintained contact via correspondence. Slowly, friendship evolved into emotions of deeper complexity. In March 1984, during a lengthy lunch, the two women spoke, for the first time, of their love for each other. While same gender marriage had yet to be legalized, its emotional equivalent was allowed. Hence, Judy and Martina, in a church, exchanged rings in a ceremony akin to a conventional wedding.
In deciding upon the terms of their partnership, Martina and Judy were determined to become joined in the sense that whatever decisions they made or ideas they might try, they would be equal in division of both losses and gains. A document stating these terms was co-signed in a lawyer’s office, and their agreement videoed. According to Judy, she then created an almost womb-like environment for Martina, taking charge of their household in every respect, making sure Martina ate the right foods before every match, wore suitable clothing, comforted her after defeats, and did all she could to assuage overall insecurities.
Then in 1991 Martina ended their bond. When asked the reason, during a TV interview, Judy said she did not know - and wished she could comprehend it. Unable to agree a financial settlement Judy issued a $7.5 million palimony suit, citing the original partnership documents. Martina voiced almost nothing to the media in her defense, beyond stating Judy’s lawsuit was based upon greed. Rather than struggle through the ugliness of courtroom recriminations, Judy and Martina reached an out of court settlement rumored to be $3.5 million. In 2010 Martina agreed another out of court settlement for a palimony claim from her lesbian partner of eight years Toni Layton whose claim and circumstances were similar to those of Judy.
5. Barnett v. King: Marilyn Barnett v. Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King, grew up in an era when her parents reflected the general world view of homosexuals as evil. This may have forestalled her acceptance, even to herself, of her bisexuality.
At age 21, she married Larry King, a young man not to be confused with the famous radio/TV talk show host. Their marriage lasted from 1965 until 1987. Billie Jean has stated she was completely in love with Larry, adding she would never have married him if she held any doubts regarding her feelings. Still, during 1968, she felt impelled to acknowledged her long-repressed desires for women. Perhaps the smothering of these urges for so long resulted in her becoming according to her memoir, entitled Billie Jean, as “a pushy bull dyke”. This was, however, confined to her sphere; she was not yet ready for public acknowledgement.
In 1971, when an attraction developed between herself and her secretary, Marilyn Barnett, she felt eager to enter into a relationship with this trusted friend and employee. She describes Barnett as pretty, with a birdlike voice. Despite their closeness, Billie Jean felt some surprise by Marilyn’s request for continuous letters, especially given the rigors of the road while touring. Still, she complied, her letters indicating the intimacy of their connection.
Tragically, in 1980, Marilyn became paraplegic due to a fall. There is no indication, however, that this impacted upon Billie Jean’s decision to end their relationship. In 1981, Marilyn brought a palimony suit, using the letters as evidence and thereby “outing” Ms. King. At first, Billie Jean denied their involvement. Later, she decided to hold a press conference where, accompanied by her husband and parents, she admitted to the liaison.
Marilyn's palimony suit, claiming entitlement to half of all Ms. King’s income over a seven year period, plus lifetime financial support and half the value of a $500.000 property failed, based on the court having found no contractual bond to have existed between the two.
6. Plott v. Griffin: Brent Plott v. Mervyn Griffin
Born in 1925, Merv Griffin’s show business career lasted, in various forms, from 1944 until his death from cancer in 2007. His most productive years were as TV talk and game show host. Little was known regarding his personal life, beyond the fact of his being married to award-winning actress Julann (Wright) Griffin from 1958 until their divorce in 1976.
During that same year, Griffin first met Brent Plott in Monte Carlo. According to Plott, Griffin urged him to return to America with him as his live-in lover. Plott declined, later stating via his lawyer, his refusal was due to his wish to remain free to enhance his education and explore the world of antique dealership. Once Griffin went back to America, Plott alleged, he barraged him with letters and other communications, which included a vow to support him for the rest of his life. Despite Griffin’s lengthy, versatile career, plott claimed he begged him to become his business advisor. Hence, despite some reluctance, Plott succumbed.
After working for Griffin for some years, in 1991, at age 37, Plott brought a palimony suit against him for $200 million, claiming he had been Griffin’s paramour and chief business advisor. As such, he was entitled to half of Griffin’s earnings during the seven years of their collaboration. Still, Plott could not produce one trace of documentation.
Merv Griffin described Plott as having worked for him as a bodyguard, chauffeur and horse-trainer, for which he was paid an appropriate salary. As part of security staff, Plott lived in an apartment owned by Griffin, but their proximity ended there. His employment had terminated several years prior to this lawsuit. The court found in Griffin’s favor, and the claim was dismissed with prejudice, meaning, that the same claim or a similarity (res judicata) cannot be restarted.
7. Eleanor (Lorraine) Oliver v. The Estate of Henry T Mudd
Henry Mudd, born in 1913 was the son of Harvey Mudd who founded the Cyprus mines corporation. In 1955, the year of Harvey's death, Henry became the chairman and chief executive of the substantial Mudd mining operations. He and his mother Mildred co-founded the famous Harvey Mudd College in his father’s honor.
His inheritance, provided him with ample wealth, enabling him to provide financial security for his seven mistresses. This continued until Mudd reached his mid-70s.
There seems to have been no concealment, a few of these paramours sometimes taking vacations together with him. When, eight months before his death, he wed one of them, Vanessa, the other five were invited to attend the wedding festivities–with one major exception. That was Eleanor (Lorraine) Oliver, who had a thirteen year relationship with him.
Mudd had severed their relationship shortly before his marriage to Vanessa. Once eliminated from his life and financial maintenance, Oliver brought a $5 million palimony suit, alleging an implicit contract, a pledge of continued ownership of the home, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
According to her claim, during their intimate moments, he referred to her as his wife. Having set her up in a magnificent home, she claimed it was hers in all but name; and that Mudd had guaranteed she would be allowed to live there for the rest of her life. The executors of the Mudd estate had evicted her from the home, and charged her back rent from the time they had ordered her to vacate the property.
Her palimony claim failed. The jury’s decision had been a contentious struggle. So vociferous did their debating become that they feared they might penetrate the walls of the courtroom. Still, the majority found Oliver’s claim had no basis in law, as a result of her failure to produce any written contract. Hence, after a protracted courtroom duel, she was not awarded one cent.
8. Zaremba v. Cliburn: Thomas E Zaremba v. Harvey Lavan Cliburn
Harvey Lavan (Van) Cliburn, born on July 12 1934, was soon recognized as a musical prodigy. First taught piano at age three by his mother, an accomplished piano teacher, Cliburn went on to win numerous awards and to garner global accolades. Although Cliburn never concealed his male gender preference, he doubtless felt some chagrin when, in 1996, his former live-in lover and assistant, Thomas Zaremba, brought a palimony suit against him.
According to Zaremba, who had formerly worked as a mortician, he and Van Cliburn met and began an intimate relationship during 1966. In 1977, Cliburn asked Zaremba to move into his home. A verbal contract was made, in which Zaremba agreed to become Cliburn’s partner, both in affection and overall management of domestic and business duties. These tasks ranged from shopping to negotiating with creditors and real estate agents, in exchange for a share of Cliburn’s income.
After seventeen years Cliburn ended the relationship and Zaremba brought a palimony suit against him, adding a further dimension by stating Van Cliburn had caused him emotional distress by exposing him to HIV, a sexually transmitted virus.
Both claims failed at court and again at the court of appeal. This decision was based on Zaremba’s inability to provide any written documentation, a prerequisite for success in a palimony suit in nearly all jurisdictions. Regarding his claim for emotional distress, the court did not find Van Cliburn’s conduct sufficiently intentional or reckless enough to have caused him Zaremba the anguish necessary to pass the required threshold.
9. Morgan v. Bloomingdale: Victoria Lynn Morgan v. Alfred Schiffer Bloomingdale
Born in 1916, Alfred Bloomingdale was heir to the fortune developed from the Bloomingdale shopping centers. An instinct for accumulation of wealth led to his being dubbed the “father of the credit card”, in that he created a system by which the affluent could revel in evenings of relaxation without carrying large amounts of cash. His “dine and sign” experiment spawned the credit card industry.
Unfortunately, near his death on August 23 1982, Bloomingdale’s public integrity was besmirched by a palimony suit brought against him by former mistress Vicky Morgan.
Who was Vicky Morgan?
Born on August 9 1952, at eighteen she was both married and had an illegitimate son named Todd. She was a model and also an usherette at the Hollywood Grauman's Chinese Theater where she met Bloomingdale. He offered her as his mistress a lavish apartment, and a bejeweled lifestyle, which she was happy to accept.
Then, diagnosed in 1982 with terminal throat cancer, plus added pressure from his wife, Bloomingdale ended their twelve year liaison. An agreement that paid Vicky $10,000 a month was also terminated by his wife Betsy which in effect left Vicky destitute. Consequently Vicky filed a palimony suit for $11 million.
The court’s conclusion
Ever since the days when common law marriages were accepted as legal, a bond based solely on sexual services was not deemed a legal bond, as its source was the illegal act of prostitution. Hence, Vicky’s palimony suit was dismissed. Still, promises made by Bloomingdale in letters to her were deemed to represent a binding contract to pay her $10,000 per month for two years, constituting $240,000.
Vicky was murdered on July 7 1983, her flatmate beat her to death with a baseball bat. The Bloomingdale's received an unexpected postscript. Given Vicky’s court award, $200,000 was owed to her heir. As her sole heir was her son Todd, at 15, Alfred Bloomingdale’s estate was required to continue the payments designated to his murdered mother.
10. Janan George Harb v. His Royal Highness Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Fahd Abdul Aziz
According to the testimony of the Palestinian-born Janan Harb, at age 19, she and the then Saudi Arabian Prince Fahd were in March 1968, married according to Islamic Sharia Law in a clandestine ceremony in London. This concealment was due to her Christian upbringing.
Janan then moved to the Fahd home in Riyadh Saudi Arabia. Her union with him was childless, she claimed, due to Fahd having ordered her to terminate three pregnancies by abortion. Scandal, he feared, would result from public knowledge of his paternity. In 1970, the Saudi royal family exiled Janan, on the pretext she was to blame for his addiction to the drug methadone. Fahd did, however, agree to support her for the rest of her life, and did so until 1995 when he suffered a stroke.
In the summer of 2003, aware the then King Fahd was dying, Janan met with the King’s son, Prince Abdul Aziz to discuss the financial terms of his father's promise to support her. Aziz agreed to settle the promise and pay her 12 million pounds, and transfer to her two properties in Chelsea London. King Fahd died in 2005, but Aziz had failed to abide to his agreement to uphold his father's promise.
Janan took her claim to the courts and for another ten years Aziz and his lawyers used the legal jungle to fight her claim. He went to such lengths as claiming the promise died with his father, state immunity, media intrusion, and finally that he did not submit to the jurisdiction of the English courts.
Aziz was ordered to attend court on 20 July 2015. but failed to do so, and was fined £25,000 for contempt. The case was heard in his absence. Hence whilst Aziz remained insulated in his home country, Janan had to endure the distress of prolonged cross examination. However the judge found in her favor, believing the validity of the Islamic marriage and the promise given her by King Fahd. She was awarded £12 million and the London properties. Aziz was ordered to pay £1 million in costs.
Janan remained reserved when leaving court, describing Aziz as failing to honor his father's promise and being very mean.
At the time of this writing the saga continues with both an appeal and the enforcement of judgments.
© 2015 Colleen Swan