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Change of heart

October 16, 2007 |  8:00 am

1957_1016_wilson

Oct. 16-22, 1957
Los Angeles

1957_1018 Somewhere, perhaps in Los Angeles, is a woman who celebrated her 50th birthday on June 25, 1957, and may have no idea of the legal battle that was fought over her when she was 3 months old.

Her mother was a strikingly pretty, unmarried 21-year-old music student at UCLA who had become pregnant and decided to give up the baby girl for adoption by a Hollywood couple: Marie Wilson, star of the "My Friend Irma" pictures, and her husband, producer Robert Fallon.

In 1955, the couple had adopted a young boy after seeing him during a benefit performance in Tennessee, naming him Gregson, The Times said. They had since decided to adopt a girl and on June 28, 1957, the Fallons had taken custody of the 3-day-old baby, whom they named Christine.

Today, it is virtually impossible to imagine the stigma surrounding an unwed mother. But in 1957, The Times took diligent precautions to avoid identifying the UCLA student. Such incidents were so shameful that The Times took pains to note that the  pregnancy "did not result from a romance at the school."

The young woman and her mother arranged the adoption with the Fallons, who used the names Robert and Marie Friedman, The Times said. The young woman dropped out of classes to have the baby and the Fallons paid her $75 a month for five months, The Times said.

However, the mother changed her mind when it came time to sign the adoption papers. She wanted her baby.

Marie Wilson said: "We love her. Greg loves her. We're going to court."

The young woman, still unidentified in The Times, replied:

"It's my baby. I can't let someone else have her. I only saw her for those three days--just those three days in the hospital."

The woman's mother added: "Our daughter made a terrible mistake, but she knew that if she decided to keep the baby, we'd be on her side. She wants her baby."

1957_1020_wilson_editorial_2And so, despite warnings of terrible publicity, the young woman revealed her identity. She was Linda Leabow, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. I.G. Leabow, 3123 Queensbury Road, an apparently dazzling beauty described in The Times as "statuesquely thin." Such was the shame, however, that she refused to be photographed or to name the baby's father:

"Identity of the father of the child will never, if they can help it, be known. Mrs. Leabow  firmly maintains that her daughter has not revealed his name even to her," The Times said.

On Oct. 17, the tear-streaked actress gave the baby to Leabow.

The Fallons said: "It is with great reluctance and a heavy heart that we have decided to return Chris to her natural mother. We both believe that further airing of this incident in court would only make a legal football out of an innocent baby and cause further grief to everyone concerned.

"As any parents, our only thought has been for the welfare of Chris. We have always thought that Chris' place was in our home, but we sincerely hope now that her natural mother will give her all the love and affection that we had planned for her."

The Fallons took the baby to Dr. Gilbert Jorgensen, 1019 Gayley Ave., Westwood Village, where the Leabows were waiting in another room.

"As soon as they departed, Linda and her mother were taken to the baby," The Times said. "It was then that Linda broke down and wept as she admired her infant."

Marie Wilson said: "It's nobody's fault. It's just the adoption laws." (Above right, a Times editorial about the incident).

Wilson died of cancer Nov. 23, 1972, at the age of 54. The Times never published an obituary on Robert Fallon, although imdb.com indicates that he is dead. California death records list a dozen Robert Fallons and it's unclear which one may be the man in question.

The Times never wrote another word about Linda Leabow or her daughter. They apparently disappeared without a trace. We can only hope for the best.

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