I’ve been married many times, mothered many children, walked down four aisles and ran headlong down another. I have worn many gowns, returned many wedding bands, went through labor and Lamaze. But, I’ve never been divorced, a mother, or a bigamist.
As an actress I experienced courtships, nuptials, childbirth as scripted. My ceremonies had light and sound men, camera tracks and cables and many strangers attending –my family was never invited. Three of my husbands died; one in a drama, two in comedies; one on our honeymoon, one at the altar just as he said, “I do.”
I pretend loved them all, especially the ones I lost, in that intense, temporary way that we actors love. Those staged lives rerun in my mind, and on television. But when the pretend ended, I didn’t mourn long, as there soon was another reality to believe.
At twenty-two, a first-time faux bride as Sharon in “Finian’s Rainbow,” I strolled down the theater aisle, misty for a ceremony I hoped I’d have one day, with my own proud father giving me away instead of an actor. I imagined how I’d feel pledging my heart to one man forever, beyond a run of the play contract. Knowing how it felt to feel that way made my real life relationships seem empty by comparison, especially without a lush score played beneath.
One marriage I was glad didn’t last was to a character obsessed with the Three Stooges. My fake fiancé Josh Mostel’s love of farce extended to our reception, during which we were pelted with cream pies, flung by the real Larry, Curly and Moe in clips from an old film. Of all my fake weddings, that one was the messiest.
I longed to marry George Seurat in Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Sunday in the Park with George.” I was in love with his tenor voice in a bad case of location romance, about which actors must be vigilant. My character, Seurat’s model, Dot, ended up in a fallback marriage with Louie the baker to father her child. And the pain of settling for less haunted me beyond the production and probably kept me from making a mistake in any short- lived, starter marriage.
With Douglas Sills
Losing one husband to a brain tumor, with Kirk Douglas as my father in law, sobbing by the bedside, sobered me as to how difficult the loss of a loved one might be. I think it scared me off a bit.
—-with Shawn Pyfrom
On one series, a handsome plastic surgeon performed an emergency nose job on my character when she fell face first. He proposed to the results of his nose artistry on the spot. After he keeled over during our ceremony, the writers wrote me a rebound wedding to another man…who died on our honeymoon.
Out of pity for me, the show’s designer slipped this still single, forty-year old one of the wedding gowns to keep. It was gorgeous, cut to fit me. “I’m going to wear this gown someday for real.” I kept it wrapped in plastic in my closet like Miss Haversham in Great Expectations for twenty-five years. I would take it out to look at every few years and renew my vow to wear it.
By day a bride, by night lonely. I rehearsed all the feelings of love in so many stories for so many years. I wondered if that show would ever open.
Then, when I was sixty-four, to my astonishment, a wonderful man, who I love most of all the men I ever married, proposed to me in the bathtub. I can still recall what I was wearing—nothing but a shower cap and glasses. It wasn’t very theatrical or romantic, but it was gloriously real.
I took the gown from the closet and pulled it from its plastic. As I had lost two inches of height in the last quarter century, I had to have it hemmed, and the shoulder pads removed as fashions had changed. But the gown, my fiancé, and the event were a perfect fit.
When I had just started on Medicare, we married and I became a stepmother for the first time in any medium. We had a wedding, more beautiful than the fake ones, with no make-up or hair person to touch us up. Our friends and family gave us an ovation as we came up the aisle.
With real husband
We have replayed “Our Wedding: The Movie” shot on a single camera on our wedding day at each of our three anniversaries. I still cry. How I loved getting married, every time, but I don’t mind if I never do it again.
Unlike three of my fake husbands, my real husband lives on by my side. We have many romantic untelevised moments every day. And, best of all, so far, no one yells, “Cut!”
I’ve been published in Better After Fifty, Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Crazy Family, The Jewish Journal, Funny Times, Purple Clover, and have been a career actor on Broadway and TV series (melaniechartoff.com), currently recording the reiteration of Rugrats (as Didi and Minka), while recurring on the Cartoon Network. I recently married for the first time in my sixties and became a stepmom, too!