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'Palimony' figure Michelle Triola Marvin dies

Michelle Triola Marvin and Lee Marvin met on a film set in 1964 and lived together for six years.

Michelle Triola Marvin and Lee Marvin met on a film set in 1964 and lived together for six years.

Her attempt to win $1.8-million from actor Lee Marvin established the legal concept of palimony

Robert Jablon

Los Angeles Associated Press

Michelle Triola Marvin, whose landmark lawsuit against her former lover, Dirty Dozen actor Lee Marvin, introduced the word “palimony” into the family law lexicon and changed the legal rights of unmarried cohabiting partners, has died at age 75.

She underwent surgery for lung cancer last year and died on Friday at the Malibu home of actor Dick Van Dyke, her partner of 30 years, said family spokesman Bob Palmer.

Michelle Marvin's birth name was Triola and she met Lee Marvin while working as an extra on his 1964 movie Ship of Fools. They lived together for six years and she took his last name but never married. The relationship ended in 1970.

At first she accepted payments from him of $833 a month to support her while she tried to resume her singing and acting career. But after support cheques stopped she filed suit for half of everything Mr. Marvin had earned during their years together. Her share would have been $1.8-million. Her cause was taken up by one of Hollywood's most colourful divorce lawyers, Marvin Mitchelson, who launched what was a campaign to change the law.

The case of Marvin v. Marvin focused a spotlight on the then-unusual arrangement of cohabiting unmarried couples and the plight of women after such relationships ended. At first, the suit was rejected by the courts as having no basis in law. But Mr. Mitchelson took her case to the California Supreme Court, where in 1976 she won the right to have her claim heard.

He would later say that the day she won the right to walk into court and file suit was the day American marriage and family law changed forever. Mr. Mitchelson, known for his pursuit of multimillion-dollar divorce cases, sought to win the same rights for Ms. Marvin as she would have under alimony laws if the couple had married. He coined the term “palimony” and it stuck. By the time Marvin v. Marvin came to court in 1979, palimony suits were springing up across the country.

In a time when live-in relationships without marriage had no place in the law, the case broke new legal ground. But Michelle Marvin never received any of Mr. Marvin's fortune.

A judge rejected Ms. Marvin's community-property request but granted her $104,000 for “rehabilitation.” The award was later overturned on appeal.

Afterward, she went to work as an agent's secretary at the William Morris talent agency, Mr. Palmer said.

“She had a lot of friends in the [entertainment] business,” he said.

Although Ms. Marvin came away with no money, the sensational case spurred similar trials and established in California law the right of unmarried partners to sue for joint property on grounds that their partners had violated a relationship contract.

Ms. Marvin had contended she gave up her career to become the actor's “cook, companion and confidante” and he had promised to support her for life. He denied that contention.

Mr. Palmer said Ms. Marvin didn't dwell on the case and wasn't bitter, even though she was forever associated with it. Many said she came up with the concept of palimony, but it was really Mr. Mitchelson, he said.

“She just shrugged it off,” Mr. Palmer said. “If Lee Marvin's name came up, she said he was a great guy.”

Her relationship with Mr. Van Dyke began in the late 1970s and they moved to Malibu in 1986. Lee Marvin died in 1987.

Michelle Triola Marvin

Michelle Triola Marvin was born on November 12, 1933, in Los Angeles. She died in Malibu, Calif., on Oct. 30, 2009, from lung cancer. She was 75. She leaves her partner Dick Van Dyke; her sister, Diane Triola Johnson of Los Angeles; a niece and a nephew.

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