EXPIRED: 10/30/09 – Michelle Triola Marvin, 76, a struggling actress, put the “pal” in “palimony.”
Michelle met actor Lee Marvin in 1964 when she had a bit part in the movie “Ship of Fools.” He was married but it wasn’t long before he left his wife and the two moved in together. His career blossomed, and after winning an Academy Award for best actor in “Cat Ballou,” Marvin asked Michelle to give up her career and said he would take care of her. She did, and in 1970 she took also his last name. But they didn’t marry.
Shortly thereafter, he had her evicted and cut off her monthly allowance. So, she took him to court.
Her attorney, Marvin Mitchelson, calculated that Mr. Marvin had earned $3.6 million during the six years of their cohabitation. Michelle sued for half of that sum, $1.8 million. Mitchelson, who was already a famous celebrity divorce lawyer, said he intended to “put marriage on trial” in the Marvin case. There were no alimony rights because the couple never married, so Mitchelson dubbed the request “palimony” and the name stuck.
In court it was a grand case of he said / she said. He said he never loved her; she said he proposed marriage twice. He said she threatened suicide; she said he made her pregnant three times and paid for an abortion. The Court went on to explain that while the state abolished common law marriage in 1896, California law recognizes non-marital relationship contracts which may be express or implied, oral or written–but they must be provable in any case.
Eventually, it was ruled that since Triola and Marvin never had a contract, she was not entitled to any money. She eventually won $104,000, although the award was overturned.
She later went on to live with actor Dick Van Dyke, her partner of 30 years. He put her in Diagnosis: Murder, so I guess that’s something.
The case set a precedent in California law that allowed unmarried partners to sue for financial support, and many similar cases followed, much to the chagrin of Hollywood couples ever since. Just ask Liberace who was sued for $113 million in palimony by his partner Scott Thorson; or Judy Nelson who filed a palimony suit against women’s tennis star Martina Navratilova after their breakup in 1991.
I guess this was the catalyst for the pre-nup.