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Movie comedian Stan Laurel accused of planning to bury wife in backyard

January 2, 2009 |  4:00 am


Stan Laurel and wife No. 4 Illiana (or, according to a revised count, wife No. 3)
1938_0426_laurel They drank, they fought and they got arrested. Such was the whirlwind year of marriage for Stan Laurel and Tovera Ivanova Shuvalova, a Russian singer who performed under the stage name Illiana (or sometimes Illeana).

When they met, Illiana, born Sept. 24, 1912, was 25 and the film comedian was 43 and freshly divorced. In fact, he was so recently divorced from Virginia Ruth Laurel (wife No. 2) that on Jan. 1, 1938, she stopped by the hotel where the newlyweds were staying to "consult with her ex-husband," according to The Times. Understand that this wasn't in Los Angeles but at the Del Ming Hotel in Yuma, Ariz.

Judging by news accounts,  it wasn't a friendly call: "While others may have viewed the situation with a smile, says Laurel, it did not seem funny to him when Mrs. Laurel disturbed his honeymoon at Yuma, Ariz., with his recent bride ... with loud knocks at his hotel door and threats to have him arrested as a bigamist."

Everything was untangled, the divorce was upheld and in February, just to make sure, Stan and Illiana returned to Yuma to be married a second time. 

1939_0413_laurel What followed was about a month of bliss, then in April there was a lawsuit by Lois N. Laurel (wife No. 1, 1926-1933). [Note that Lois is sometimes listed as wife No. 2, but in 1937, Mae Laurel, Stan's longtime vaudeville partner, entered into an agreement in which she promised to drop all contentions that they had a common law marriage from 1919 to 1925].

Lois wanted $1,355 ($19,751.14 USD 2007) a month support for their 10-year-old daughter, including $100 a month each for a chauffeur, governess and cook, $35 a month to entertain friends and $10 a month to visit beauty shops. 

Despite two ceremonies, Illiana wanted a traditional wedding, so in April 1938, the Laurels took out a marriage license and got married again in a Russian Orthodox ceremony.

And then the storybook marriage became more of a Grimm's fairy tale.

lliana was sentenced to jail for hitting two parked cars in Beverly Hills while she was driving without a license.

Then it was Stan's turn in court for a drunk driving charge, which he blamed on being upset over Illiana rather than being intoxicated.

Before he was arrested, Stan said, he and Illiana had a fight in which she tried to hit him with the handset of a telephone, threatened him with a skillet full of potatoes and threw sand in his eyes. In the struggle, he put his arm through a window, Stan said.

"She has a terrific temper," he told the court.

By the end of 1938, Illiana sued for divorce, saying that Stan drank too much, "repulsed her efforts to show him affection, behaved rudely toward their friends and on several occasions remained away from home for several days at a time without explanation," The Times said.

The couple reconciled and Illiana began 1939 with a day in jail for the reckless driving charge, soon followed by an arrest for being drunk and disorderly in a nightclub "while loudly discussing the Russian situation with herself."   

By March 1939, Illiana renewed her divorce case. She charged that Stan's account of their fighting was invented to avoid a drunk driving conviction that would cost him his movie contract. In fact, she said, on the night in question he planned to bury her alive in the backyard of their San Fernando Valley home. She said she was rescued by friends and that Stan was coming after her when he was arrested for driving on the wrong side of the road.

Their divorce was granted in May 1939 and they finalized an agreement in 1940 in which Illiana agreed to never publish anything about their relationship and that he had sole rights to dramatize "their stormy married life," The Times said.

Postscript: In 1942, Illiana was rescued after a fire broke out at the Radio Center Hotel in New York's Times Square. She had fled to the roof and was about to jump when firefighters saved her, The Times said. No further trace can be found of her.

In 1941, Stan remarried wife No. 2, Virginia Ruth, who filed for divorce in January 1946. On May 6, 1946, he married Ida Ketiva (Kitaeva) Raphael, widow of an internationally known concertina virtuoso named "Raphael Raphael Raphael."