Lucille Ball: Marriage To Gary Morton cover

Lucille Ball: Marriage To Gary Morton

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Lucille’s second husband was perfect for the exhausted star for one reason above all other – he was the anti-Desi!


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Lucille Ball: Marriage To Gary Morton

A Normal Life

Lucille’s second husband was perfect for the exhausted star for one reason above all other – he was the anti-Desi!

Gary Morton was a second tier Borscht Belt stand-up comic with no desire to upstage the actress in Hollywood or chase other women. Amiable and honest, as long as he managed to get away for the odd game of golf he was happy.

As Lucille told reporters outside New York’s Marble Collegiate Church following the marriage ceremony on November 19, 1961, “I look forward to a nice quiet life.”

Gary and Lucille, 1989

Gary and Lucille, 1989

Image by Alan Light (CC BY 2.0)

Living In The Shadows

While nothing in the life of Lucille Ball was likely to be quiet for very long, Gary did his best to make his bride’s wishes come true, staying by her side until her death in 1989 in a 28-year marriage that lasted eight years longer than her rollercoaster union with Desi.

He undoubtedly had to live in the shadow of Desi, not least because millions of devoted TV fans expected Ricky and Lucy to be together forever.

Also, Lucille’s second marriage could never rival the passion and the tumult of her first.

Loaded And Lonely

As it turned out, that was just fine with the mother-of-two.

She might have enjoyed her newfound independence for a little while but she had no intention, as she put it, of becoming “loaded and lonely” in her twilight years.

If anyone still doubted Lucille was trying to put Desi behind her, she dressed up in the same salt and pepper silk suit and black wool coat for the wedding that she wore to her divorce hearing a year earlier.

Among the guests were her mother DeDe – whose reservations about Gary being a gold digger were satisfied by his signing of a cast iron pre-nup – together with 10-year-old Lucie and 8-year-old Desi Jr.

Trying To Move On

At the age of 50, Lucille was ready to move on. Just not as fast this time.

To many men, the idea of matching up to the undisputed First Lady of television would be intimidating but Gary appeared to have enough confidence in himself to remain attentive to his new wife’s every whim while at the same time remaining his own person.

Unlikely as it seemed, he even claimed he’d never seen an episode of ‘I Love Lucy’ before they met.

A New Challenge

After her split from Desi, Lucille had gone on a series of predictable dates with agents and business executives who prized her more for her fame than herself.

So she was all the more intrigued when she met a guy who wasn’t fawning all over her. Lucille loved nothing better than a challenge.

She’d been in final rehearsals for ‘Wildcat’, her ill-fated Broadway musical, in November 1960 when she was introduced to the struggling comedian by a mutual friend at Danny’s Hideaway, a dimly-lit showbiz hang-out in Manhattan.

Moving On

Moving On

Public Domain

Swapping Phone Numbers

According to Kathleen Brady in her biography ‘Lucille’, Gary’s silver tie dropped in her coffee cup as he leaned across the table to shake hands.

He was tall, ruggedly handsome in spite of his obvious toupee and six years younger than Lucille, a factor that didn’t bother her one jot.

Born Morton Goldapper in the Bronx, he’d had one brief marriage that was quickly annulled in 1957 and had happily lived as a bachelor making a modest living as an opening act for more established stars like Tony Bennett and Al Hirt.

But Lucille wasn’t going to let the random meeting lie. The next day, she sent Gary three silver ties to replace the one that was ruined and they swapped phone numbers.

Playing Hard To Get

Soon they were setting up a double date with actress Paula Stewart, who played Lucille’s sister on Broadway, and her fiancé, the comedian Jack Carter.

But the foursome didn’t go the way Lucille expected. It was Gary who was playing hard to get, ignoring Lucille when she held her cigarette in the air expecting a light and behaving anything but star struck.

Whatever he did it worked. “Besides liking his looks, I also liked his sense of humor,” Lucille said later. “Before I met Gary I hadn’t laughed in years. I’d made other people laugh, but I hadn’t laughed.”

Trying To Find A Keeper

“Gary made her feel like a woman,” Lucille’s close friend Robert Osborne said in ‘Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’ by Coyne Steven Sanders and Tom Gilbert.

“He made her laugh. It was somebody for her to be with,” he continued. “It’s very hard for a woman in that star category – like it was for Judy Garland and Bette Davis – to find acceptable men to be with, because they need somebody around them all the time. If it’s somebody of their equal stature in business or career, those men don’t have the time to be with them all the time. They need keepers in a certain way.”

Finding A New Role

In the early days of their marriage, Gary continued with his stand-up, leaving for an engagement in Palm Springs rather than heading off on a honeymoon. Lucille would offer encouragement and advice.

But it wasn’t long before she put her foot down and demanded he stop going on the road. Instead, he would warm up the audiences before his wife’s TV shows and make the occasional cameo appearance.

Other than developing a golf course, adding to his car collection and getting to know Lucille’s children, he found a new role as his wife’s loyal protector.

Back on Stage

©iStock

Back on Stage

It was only when Lucille invited him to play a bigger role in Desilu, the production company she launched with Desi, that his failings became more apparent.

Meeting Lucy’s Demands

Biographer Stefan Kanfer in his book ‘Ball of Fire’ tells how Gary once intervened on the ‘Lucy’ set to demand some steps were taken away only for Lucille to ridicule him.

“Gary, go buy a car, but get outta here,” she told her husband, according to Kanfer, who quoted the show’s director Maury Thompson as saying: “Gary just hung his head and left...Lucille wanted him to be another Desi, but he just couldn’t cut it.”

Gary’s name was regularly on the producer credits for Lucille’s various projects during their marriage, but it was only because that was what his wife wanted. And what Lucille wanted she invariably got.

Knowing His Place

If nothing else, he was at least smart enough to know why he was allowed to tag along and if he got bored or frustrated at being kept at arms length from the creative or business process, then he could at least, as his wife said, go and buy a car.

While once, a party at home with Lucille and Desi would be full of fun, singing, laughter and, most definitely, drinking, life with Gary was infinitely more predictable.

They gradually withdrew from their old friends. “A night at my mother’s was never going to be a surprise,” said Lucie. “It would be backgammon, maybe a movie and dinner – which would be one of five menus.”

Trying To Settle Down

Gary demanded that his wife was worshipped as the star she was.

Anything less was disloyal. If Gary or Lucille felt a friend – or a relative – had slighted her in some way they would be frozen out.

But even in the couple’s later days when they’d settled into what stood for suburbia in Beverly Hills, Desi continued to haunt the marriage.

At the studio, colleagues resented Gary’s attempts to take charge, always comparing him unfavorably to Desi.

And at home, Lucille never really escaped the part of her that forgave Desi despite everything he put her through.

Remembering The Past

“Even after she'd married Gary, whenever she'd see me, she would always take me over to a corner and say, ‘Have you heard from Desi lately?’

She wanted to know how he was getting along. There was always that great, great love there,’ Jim Bacon, veteran Hollywood reporter for the Associated Press, told People.

A few days before Desi died in December 1986 from lung cancer, Lucille drove to Del Mar, California to see him with friend Lillian Briggs Winograd, who said later: “She was very, very shook up. She left that place and broke down and said, ‘That was the one love…”

Where She Belonged

Where She Belonged

Public Domain

Knowing Her Well

After Lucille died three years later, Gary would go on to date Eva Gabor, who broke up with him claiming he was more interested in playing golf than being with her.

It was no surprise then when in 1994, he wed golf pro Susie McCallister in a marriage that would last until his death from lung cancer in 1999.

But it was something Gary said following Lucille’s death that was most poignant and reflected a truth few who knew her well would argue with.

“I guess she’s happy now,” said Gary. “She’s with Desi.”