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Orchestra wives

June 27, 2007 | 11:06 pm



1957_0628_barnet02 June 28, 1957
Los Angeles

It's a tough life for orchestra wives. Consider the case of Joy Windsor, bandleader Charlie Barnet's 10th wife. In May, Barnet had assured her that his days of touring were over. "I was on the road a lot in the old days," he said. "One-night stands. The way a musician travels on the road is tired, dirty and drunk. Doesn't make for a good marriage."

"The band business has changed now. There's not much road any more.... You don't have those one-night stands."

Maybe the band business had changed, but Barnet hadn't. Windsor's complaints echoed those of his previous wife Betty Reilly, who said Barnet left her for days at a time and refused to tell her where he had been. 

In fact, Barnet had been married so often that even The Times lost count, calling Windsor Barnet's ninth wife in some stories and 10th wife in others.

The wives of Charlie Barnet, with his comments, as listed in 1955:

    1. A showgirl--It lasted about eight months.
    2. A singer--Artie Shaw was the best man. "We had a horrible fight after the ceremony and she went her way and I went mine."
    3. A showgirl--Her divorce wasn't final, so the marriage was annulled.   
    4. A singer--"It lasted a couple of years."
    5. An actress. "She was my favorite. We were married about six years."
    6. "Just a plain li'l ol' gal. It only lasted a week."
    7. 1957_0628_reillyA singer--"A couple of years."
    8. An artist--"My divorce from No. 7 wasn't final, so that one was annulled too." 

Among Barnet's wives are:

  • Rita Merritt (1947), probably wife No. 5.
  • Harriet C. Barnet
  • Betty Reilly (1953)
  • Linda Joyce Johnson (1956)
  • Joy Windsor (1957)

Wife No. 5 said in 1955: "Sorry I married him? Not a bit. If I marry again, I'd like to marry a fellow exactly like Charlie. He's a fascinating man and certainly not a bore.  In fact you never knew what was going to happen next. But being a musician he was on the road a lot and we really didn't get a chance to establish a home. It just wasn't conducive to a good marriage."

Bonus fact: In researching Charlie Barnet, I stumbled across the sad story of vocalist Ann Richards, who married bandleader Stan Kenton in 1955. She won the Downbeat poll as the No. 1 band vocalist in 1956, but left her career to be a mother, rejoining the band in 1961. After divorcing Kenton, Richards married William Botts, although she later separated from him. It was Botts who discovered her body in the bedroom of her Hollywood Hills home in 1981. Unable to find work after she ended a 10-year engagement at the Bel-Air Hotel, Richards shot herself in the head, leaving two children, Dana and Lance Kenton. Richards was 46.

(You may recall Lance Kenton was arrested in 1978 in a scheme to kill attorney Paul Morantz, who won a lawsuit against Synanon, by putting a rattlesnake in his mailbox).

Here's some Charlie Barnet.

And some Stan Kenton.

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