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'Star Dumps Wife' Headline Sparked Birth of Group

March 12, 1988|JAN HOFMANN | Jan Hoffman is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

He walked out on her birthday, a few months shy of their 34th wedding anniversary. She was devastated. For two weeks, she stayed in bed under heavy sedation.

Weeks later, she was still so depressed she could not lift her arms and was barely able to walk. Somehow, she managed to get to a therapist, who is now helping her put together a life that focuses on her, not her husband.

She is Sandi Nimoy, former wife of actor/director Leonard Nimoy, better known as Mr. Spock of "Star Trek" fame. When she saw the supermarket tabloid headlines shouting, "Star Dumps Wife on Her Birthday for New Love," she "started to scream," she said last week at a women's conference at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo.

Many of the divorced women in the audience cried as Nimoy, also tearful, told her story. Their own breakups may not have made the front page of the National Enquirer, but otherwise they strongly identified with what she was saying.

"I met Leonard in 1953; we were married in 1954. I believed--well, we all did, then--that my husband and children came first, and I put all my energy into that. I read scripts for him. I did whatever I could to help his career.

"I went from my father's house to being with my husband. I didn't have that time in between when you find out you're a person."

Nimoy is now one of several wives and former wives of the famous involved in a group called L.A.D.I.E.S (Life After Divorce Is Eventually Sane), which offers support not only to women who have been married to celebrities but to other divorced and separated women rebuilding their lives.

It was with other L.A.D.I.E.S members, not her husband, that Nimoy celebrated her 34th wedding anniversary. At the Saddleback conference, she was joined by Jackie Joseph (former wife of actor/dancer Ken Berry) and Tasha Schaal (once married to actor Dick Schaal).

Although former wives of celebrities have unique problems to deal with ("Sandi opens a magazine, and there's an ad for a commemorative plate with her husband's picture on it," Joseph pointed out), their stories are those of divorced women everywhere. Joseph said when the first group of wives got together at the home of Lynn Landon (former wife of actor Michael), "in essence, it seemed we all were married to the same person."

Other women active in the group include Faye Hackman, former wife of actor Gene Hackman, and Yuki Morita, separated from actor Pat Morita.

The group began several years ago, Joseph said, when Patty McLeod (she and her husband, actor Gavin McLeod, have since remarried each other) and Lynn Landon, ex-wife of actor Michael Landon, "invited a bunch of women to get together at Lynn's house.

"And I thought, 'Gee, I've always wanted to see Lynn Landon's house,' so I went," Joseph said.

"Although some of us had met before at this or that function, we really didn't know each other," Joseph said. "But at that first meeting, strangers became instant caring people. In essence, it seemed we all were married to the same person."

After that meeting, Joseph said, the women decided to "go out and talk to divorced people and tell them there's nothing wrong with them; they're not failures."

Schaal has now taken the cause a step further. She founded Divorce Anonymous, a group loosely based on the Alcoholics Anonymous formula, which has just begun meetings in Orange County.

In addition to public appearances, the women of L.A.D.I.E.S serve as an informal support group for each other. "When one of us is down, the others pick her up," Joseph said.

"At first, I only joined the support group because I thought I was such a cheerful person I'd be beneficial to the others," Joseph said. "But it wasn't long before I admitted I needed support, too.

"I wish medicine would come up with a name for how it feels. It's an intense physical pain, from deep in the center of you, where your soul sort of resides," she said, placing her hands on her chest.

"You lose a lot of weight. I thought that was the good part. When I got down to a size 2, I thought, maybe now he'll want me again. But my friends saw how awful I looked.

"I felt like such a zero. I didn't even think I deserved to get my hair done. When I felt a piece sticking out, I'd just cut it off with a toenail clipper," Joseph said.

Former wives of celebrities have some problems to deal with that most divorced women don't face, Joseph said. Their husbands may have left, but "it's very hard to get away from famous people."

That problem is particularly difficult for Sandi Nimoy, whose husband seems to be everywhere. "She opens a magazine, and there's an ad for a commemorative plate with his picture on it," Joseph said. "She turns on the TV, and there he is. He was on the cover of Newsweek, and now there's a little picture of that cover on all the subscription cards."

But doesn't fortune also come with that fame? And don't these women get a sizable slice of that?

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