- By Barbara Marshall Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
High-profile divorces have long been a spectator sport in Palm Beach and Martin County courtrooms.
Who can forget the lines for seats at Roxanne and Peter Pulitzer’s sensational 1982 divorce? Or the media frenzy surrounding the split between Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson in a Stuart courtroom in 1993?
So, when the bitter divorce drama of Burt and Lovey Handelsman in a West Palm Beach courtroom turned this week to division of their $500 million real estate empire, it prompted a look at some other marital finales in area courtrooms.
Roxanne and Peter Pulitzer
Roxanne was a free-spirited and poor 23-year-old graduate of Palm Beach Junior College who lived in a trailer park when she was swept off her feet by Herbert “Peter” Pulitzer, a millionaire nearly twice her age, the grandson of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer and Palm Beach royalty.
He’d been married to Lilly, of the bright cotton dresses. She’d been a cheerleader in a small town in upstate New York. Yet for years, their marriage, which yielded twin boys, worked.
Until it didn’t. And the salacious details of their divorce disclosed a sordid underbelly of cocaine and kinky sex behind Palm Beach’s aggressively maintained facades.
During the 21-day divorce trial in 1982, which even drew coverage from gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson of “Rolling Stone,” each seemed to try to top the other in vicious accusations of threesomes, marijuana smuggling, cocaine parties and incest.
She was labeled “the strumpet with the trumpet” for allegedly taking a musical instrument into her bed, which she later said never happened but it sure made for juicy headlines.
Roxanne asked for $18,000 a month in alimony and custody of her sons, but Pulitzer won the prize in the end. Roxanne, shamed as a slut and a gold digger, was awarded $2,000 a month for two years and the right to see her boys every other weekend, while trying to pay astronomical legal bills on an aerobic instructor’s salary.
She endured, writing a book, “The Prize Pulitzer,” which was made into a movie and brought in $2 million. She posed for Playboy. Wrote two novels about sex, murder and double-crossing in Palm Beach. Married badly three more times.
Thirty years later, it was her ex-husband who needed money. In 2011, the Okeechobee orange groves Pulitzer owns with the couple’s sons, were failing after the loss of 88,000 trees to citrus canker.
In a moment rife with exquisite irony and generosity, Roxanne arranged for her fifth husband, Colorado management consultant Tim Boberg, to help stave off her ex’s bankruptcy and foreclosure to the tune of several million dollars, according to the Palm Beach Daily News.
Russell and Mary Alice Firestone
Before the pugilistic Pulitzers, there were the fighting Firestones: handsome Russell A. Firestone, Jr., the son of the founder of Firestone Tire and Rubber, one of the early 20th century’s great manufacturing fortunes, and his third wife, dark-haired beauty Mary Alice Sullivan Firestone, a former school teacher and Palm Beach High graduate who once dated schoolmate Burt Reynolds.
In their 1967 divorce, Firestone accused his wife of adultery and cruelty during two-years of court proceedings that made national headlines, while she made similar claims against him.
In his decision, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge James Knott said, “The extra-marital escapades of the plaintiff (Mary Alice) were bizarre and of an amatory nature which would have made Dr. Freud’s hair curl.” Trial testimony described her husband as “bounding from one bed partner to another with the erotic zest of a satyr.”
In the end, Mary Alice got the Palm Beach house, child support and $3,000 a month alimony, but not the family racehorses. She later married Kentucky coal magnate John Asher. Thirty years after her divorce from Firestone, Mary Alice sued him for $1.4 million in back alimony and child support, money he said he didn’t have.
In 1985, Asher and her son Mark were arrested at their Palm Beach home for possession of 400 grams of cocaine found in Mark’s room and two 3-foot marijuana plants growing behind their lakefront house. Charges were dropped against Mark but Mary Alice pleaded guilty to drug charges and received probation.
She died last summer. Her obituary said she became a devoted member of Christ Fellowship Church in her later life.
Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson
In the late 1980s, they were the Bandit and the Bombshell, a redneck version of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor: glamorous, tempestuous and spendthrift.
Their five-year marriage began in 1988 with helicopters flying over Reynolds’ Jupiter ranch during the nuptials and ended in a media-choked Martin County courtroom amid allegations of assault, substance abuse and infidelity.
In Reynolds’ 2015 memoir, “But Enough About Me,” he said Princess Diana once wrote him a note, thanking him for keeping her off the cover of PEOPLE magazine.
The judge ordered Reynolds to pay his ex-wife $11,000 a month in alimony and attorney fees, while also paying a $1.3 million mortgage on her California home at a time Reynolds was sinking deeply into debt. The contentious divorce had cost him lucrative endorsement deals, one for Florida citrus.
At the same time, a series of investments, including his Jupiter Dinner Theater, went bad, coupled with his declining box office stature. Reynolds sought bankruptcy protection in 1996, owing more than $10 million to creditors, including Anderson.
Their divorce sage continued for 22 years, until Reynolds finally paid off the divorce settlement in 2015, after selling his Valhalla, his Hobe Sound estate for $3.3 million.
Greg Norman and Laura Andrassy
Once, they were all best friends.
But golf legend Greg Norman’s affair with tennis great Chris Evert, who was married to one of Norman’s best friends, ended Norman’s 25-year marriage to Laura Andrassy in 2006. Legal issues associated with the split lingered in Martin County courts for a year and a half before Andrassy received a whopping $103 million settlement.
Norman also agreed that the couple’s two children would receive all of their father’s golf trophies and at least $100 million between them when he dies.
Norman, a Jupiter Island resident who spent more than six years as the world’s top golfer in the 1980s and ’90s, and Evert married in The Bahamas a month before the settlement was announced, but the marriage between two sports world luminaries lasted only 15 months.
Norman, known in the golf world as “The Shark,” married his third wife, interior designer Kirsten Kutner in 2010.
Fred and Deborah Couples
She was beautiful and flashy, bawdy and vivacious, prone to wearing short skirts and revealing tops in bright colors when most pro golfer’s wives donned sportswear that whispered sedately from the sidelines of their husbands’ golf tournaments.
At first, her husband, Fred Couples, who won the Master’s Tournament in 1992, seemed to love the attention his exuberant wife, Deborah, generated.
But when Deborah took up a hobby, she chose polo, which quickly ate up prodigious amounts of her time and her husband’s golf winnings. Her husband took up with a girlfriend, he admitted in court.
Deborah filed for divorce and asked for $168,000 per month to get her through that year’s polo season. A judge knocked it down to $52,000, then an appeals court reduced it further to $27,000.
In 1993, a sealed out-of-court settlement uncoupled the Couples’ 12 year marriage. Deborah reportedly received a $3 million lump sum and their home in Wellington’s Polo Club, but a few years later, she was having money troubles.
Six years after the divorce, her polo ponies were sold. She moved back to her home state of California, where she got a supporting role in a rom-com, but a movie career didn’t pan out. She never remarried, although Fred did in 1998.
In early 2001, friends became worried about Deborah’s depression. It seemed to have deepened following injuries from two traffic accidents.
She was 43 in May that year, when she drove to the Claremont School of Theology near her home in Corona Del Mar, climbed the chapel’s tower and jumped 70 feet to her death.
Karen and John Dodge
He was the heir to the Dodge motor car estate, one of America’s great garage-to-glory fortunes. She was an art history student from a well-to-do family who liked to party, particularly with drugs.
During 15 years in the late ’70s and ’80s, John and Karen Dodge led a riches-to-wretches story of opioid addiction, bankruptcy, arrests, rehab and ruin. At the end, their son, Johnny, was ensnared in a custody battle between them.
The millions John expected to inherit from his father evaporated as his mother, Gregg Sherwood Dodge Moran, allegedly spent $9 million to $11 million in less than 18 years, until she was arrested for raiding her son’s trust fund.
Karen, kicked out of her husband’s Palm Beach mansion, was living in flophouses when she began the long process of getting clean and sober. In the midst of it, her husband served her divorce papers.
She didn’t ask for alimony, but during a four-year legal battle, she fought for custody of their son. Within months after the judge granted it, she gave her son back to his father. Her husband wasn’t making support payments, she said, and she was enrolled in college. She couldn’t afford to keep her son in island style.
“He’s a kid who has grown up in Palm Beach all his life, and he says, ‘What? No swimming pool?’ I can’t give him what he’s accustomed to …” she told a judge in 1988.
John continued to battle his addiction demons, but Karen flourished, earning a doctorate in social welfare policy then beginning a career in public health, becoming a nationally-recognized researcher in addiction.
Henry and Alice Flagler
The man who invented Florida had a problem.
Henry Flagler had overcome tropical heat, mosquitoes, unmapped swamps and vast, snake-infested prairies to bring his railroad south to Miami. But in 1901, the energetic 71-year-old multi-millionaire encountered an obstacle he couldn’t bulldoze.
Flagler wanted to marry a third time, to 34-year-old Mary Lily Kenan, but he was still married to his institutionalized second wife, Ida Shourds.
Ida, who had nursed Flagler’s tubercular first wife, Mary, was committed to a mental hospital and diagnosed as incurably insane. And, in turn-of-the 20th century Florida, insanity was not a legal reason for divorce.
Flagler, however, was accustomed to getting what he wanted. He convinced the Florida legislature to change the law, allowing divorce in the case of insanity. Flagler was the only person granted a divorce under the law before it was repealed in 1905. (Years later, mental incapacity was reinstated as a reason for divorce.)
Ten days after his divorce, he married Mary Lily and gave her Whitehall, now the Flagler Museum, as her wedding present.
As for Ida, she outlived them both.
Mary Lily’s family still runs Flagler’s Breakers Resort in Palm Beach.