She was ready to play this role
I’ve been married many times and mothered many children. I’ve walked down three aisles and run headlong down another. I’ve worn many wedding gowns and endured labor with a husband Lamaze-ing by my side.
I’ve never been divorced, a mother, nor a bigamist, but this is not a riddle. In real life, I didn’t get married until I was 65.
As a lifelong actress, I went through the many phases of courtship, nuptials, child rearing and relationships — scripted. My ceremonies were cluttered with lighting, sound men, camera tracks and cables. Strangers attended — my family was never invited. Three of my “husbands” died, one in a drama, two in comedies: one on our honeymoon, one at the altar just as he said “I do.”
In my pretend life, I loved them all in that intense but temporary way we actors love. When the show ended, I couldn’t mourn long, because soon there was another story waiting. I rehearsed all the feelings of love and commitment in many forms for many years, but longed for real love.
One summer, a first-time fake bride at 23, I played Sharon in the musical “Finian’s Rainbow.” I strolled down the theater aisle with the man playing my father, longing for a ceremony with my own proud father giving me away. I hoped for a marriage that would last beyond the end of summer stock.
I was grateful my next marriage did not last — to a character obsessed with the Three Stooges in a movie that included footage of them. My fake fiancé’s farce addiction extended to our reception, during which we were pelted with cream pies flung by the real Larry, Moe and Curly in clips from an old film. The pies were caught by my face, wedding dress, hat and bouquet. Of all my fake weddings, that one was the most messy.
In a case of “life leakage” and “location romance,” I longed to marry the actor who played George Seurat in Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Sunday in the Park With George.” My character, Seurat’s model, Dot, ended up in a fallback marriage. The pain of settling for less than my heart’s desire haunted me beyond the production. It probably kept me from making a mistake in a short, starter marriage. Sadly, most of my real relationships seemed just as ephemeral, especially without benefit of a lush score played beneath.
Losing a husband to a brain tumor — with Kirk Douglas, as my fake father-in-law, sobbing by my side — sobered me to how painful the loss of a loved one could be. On one comedy series, I was betrothed to a handsome plastic surgeon who performed an emergency nose job on me when I fell face-first in a diner. He proposed to the results of his artistry on the spot. After he died during our ceremony, the writers wrote me a rebound wedding to another man … who died on our honeymoon.
Out of pity for me, the show’s designer slipped this 40-year-old spinster one of the wedding gowns to keep. It was gorgeous, cut to fit me. “I’m going to wear this gown someday for real,” I swore to him, to the dress and myself. “Yes,” he patronized. “Of course you are.”
I kept it wrapped in plastic in my closet like Miss Havisham did for 25 years in “Great Expectations.” I’d look at it every few years and renew my vows to it.
By my late 40s, not having a real husband or kids weighed on me. When my real father died, hopes of him giving me away died, too.
Then, when I was 64, a real man, with whom I shared an actual, long-lasting love, proposed to me in a hotel bathtub. It wasn’t at all as I pictured a proposal would be. I was wearing nothing but a shower cap and glasses. The lighting was fluorescent, the overhead heater so loud I had to shout “YES!” It wasn’t orchestrated theatrically, but it was gloriously, skin-pinchingly real.
I took the costume gown from the closet and pulled it from its plastic. And when I had just qualified for Medicare, Stan Friedman, my nice Jewish psychologist, married me, and I became a joyous stepmother for the first time in any medium.
We had a wedding more beautiful than all the fake ones, without makeup or hair people to touch us up. And our real friends and family gave us a standing ovation as we came up the aisle. How I loved getting married, and I don’t mind if I never do it again.
Unlike some of my fake husbands, handsome Dr. Stan thrives by my side. We have many romantic, unfilmed moments every day. And, best of all, no one ever yells “Cut!”
Melanie Chartoff has acted off- and on Broadway and in many TV series; appears in “Alexander IRL” on YouTube Red; and
premieres her musical “Odd Woman Out” July 8 at the Joshua Tree Comedy Festival.
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