By P.J. Gossett
HAMILTON — What do comedian Lucille Ball and journalist Barbara Walters have in common regarding Marion County? Not much, until the word divorce is thrown in.
Alabama “quickie” divorces began in 1945 and continued until 1970. During the span of these 25 years, thousands were granted divorces in Alabama.
Retired district judge Jimmy Cashion took it upon himself to research the quickie divorces and found boxes of these public records. After perusing them, he gave a presentation at Bevill State’s Brown Bag Lunch on Tuesday, Nov. 28.
The rumor mill in Marion County claims the famous Ball got a divorce in Marion County. What Cashion found can put this rumor to rest, but there was another famous person who did get a divorce in Marion County: Walters.
“She had married a gentleman named Katz,” Cashion said. “And she came here in May of 1958. Judge Moore signed the several page (divorce) document.”
Moore was Circuit Judge Robert “Bob” Moore Jr., for the 25th Judicial Circuit, containing Marion and Winston counties.
The document between Walters and Robert Henry Katz was signed on May 21, 1958. It stated she “is hereby granted permission to resume her maiden name of Walters.”
According to the document, the two were married on June 20, 1955, and separated on May 15, 1958, due to the defendant (Katz) committing “actual violence on the person of the Complainant attended with danger to her life or health, or from his conduct there was reasonable apprehension of such violence.”
“He threatened me, and I am afraid to live with him...I was forced to seek medical attention, and I lost considerable weight. I could stand it no longer,” she stated.
Perhaps the most famous quickie divorce in Alabama, according to Cashion’s research, was that of Aristotle and Tina Onassis in Washington County in 1960. Aristotle would go on to marry former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, after the death of President John F. Kennedy.
Other notable quickie divorces found by Cashion include John Daly, host of the “What’s My Line?” television show in Crenshaw County in 1959 and Lady Iris Victoria Beatrice Grace Mountbatten, who was related to the British and Spanish royal families, and divorced in Russell County in 1957. Mountbatten, an English actress and model, was the youngest great-grandchild of Queen Victoria and was a cousin to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Then there was Charles Addams, of the Addams Family fame, who divorced his second wife Estelle B. Barb, also known as “Barbara Barb,” in Limestone County in 1956. It is rumored Barb was the inspiration for the fictional character Morticia Addams.
Cashion also found Grace Metalious, who divorced her husband George in Phenix City in 1958. Metalious was the author of the novel which inspired prime time’s first television soap opera, Peyton Place.
Ball, famous for the I Love Lucy television show, which has been on the air constantly since 1951, divorced her husband Desi Arnaz in 1960, with the paperwork being filed in Santa Monica, Calif.
If they did get divorced in Marion County, it was not under the name of Arnaz, Cashion said.
How did the quickie divorces begin?
“The legislature in 1945 basically removed any residency requirement (for divorces),” Cashion explained. “If you could get to Alabama, you were deemed to have established sufficient residency to qualify for a divorce. Back in those days, almost all states didn’t have ‘no fault’ divorce. You had to prove an alleged fault, and it was strictly scrutinized, either physical abuse, verbal abuse or abandonment.”
Since Alabama had the “no fault” clause and no residency requirement, a person could fly in, pay a fee and in a few hours, be divorced.
Cashion explained some attorneys would visit the Dinkler-Tutwiler Hotel in Birmingham for lunch and then catch up with others at a room/bar in the hotel called the Jewel Box, all while the divorce was processed.
“Divorces became a gold mine for many lawyers in the state, including a number who were also state senators,” Cashion stated. “These state senators often had connections with local circuit judges, who were often former law partners.”
According to a 1962 article in Time, Alabama had become the nation’s divorce capital. This article stated Alabama granted 17,328 divorces in 1960 alone.
Some of the hotspots in Alabama, according to Cashion’s research, was in Marion and Winston counties. For example, in 1956 in Marion County, 628 divorces were granted out of an estimated population of 22,000. At least 90 percent were not native to Marion County. During the first 10 months of 1957, Marion County processed 633 divorces.
During the same time period in 1957, Winston County had granted 248 divorces with half the population of Marion. A check in Winston County in 1970 reported 3,800 divorce cases between 1963 and 1970, according to a newspaper article in the Birmingham Post-Herald.
“The postal inspectors found cardboard containers full of 2,765 divorce decrees in Judge Moore’s office,” Cashion said.
In Aug. 1970, warrants were issued for Moore’s office on suspicion of mail fraud, along with the offices of three disbarred Birmingham attorneys, J. Robert Huie, K.C. Edwards and John Ike Griffith.
After a trial with many witnesses, the verdict of guilty was given to Moore, Huie and Edwards. This was an effective end to the quickie divorces in Alabama.
See complete story in the Journal Record.