Michelle Triola Marvin was an actress and singer and the longtime partner of Dick Van Dyke. They lived together for more than 30 years before Triola died of lung cancer in 2009 at age 76. She and Van Dyke never got married.
Triola was best remembered for a lawsuit that created the concept of “palimony.” Her lawsuit against her former live-in boyfriend, actor Lee Marvin, set a precedent that allowed unmarried partners to sue for financial support.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Michelle Triola Lived With Actor Lee Marvin for 6 Years & Adopted His Name
Triola began a romantic relationship with actor Lee Marvin in 1964. They met on the set of the movie Ship of Fools. According to IMDB, Triola had a small role as a “stand-in.”
Marvin and Triola lived together at her apartment in Hollywood before moving to Malibu in 1965. Marvin’s divorce was finalized in 1967, according to his profile on IMDB.
Triola and Marvin never got married. But she adopted his last name in 1970. However, according to the Los Angeles Times, Marvin ended the relationship just one month later and kicked her out of their Malibu home. Marvin married his second wife, Pamela Feeley, in October 1970.
2. Triola Accused Marvin of Asking Her to Give Up Her Own Career in Exchange for Acting as a Housewife
Triola had been pursuing her own career as an actress and singer when she met Marvin. But she claimed she agreed to give that up in order to be a housewife to Marvin, even though they were not married.
According to The New York Times, Triola insisted she and Marvin had an unwritten agreement. Her attorney argued Triola had agreed to be Marvin’s “companion, homemaker, housekeeper and cook” and that in exchange, Marvin would support Triola financially “for the rest of her life.”
After the couple broke up in 1970, Marvin continued to assist Triola financially. The Los Angeles Times reported Marvin sent Triola a monthly $833 allowance until November 1971. She filed a lawsuit after the payments ended.
3. Triola’s Lawsuit Against Marvin Birthed the Concept of Palimony
Triola’s case centered around the idea that she was owed the same amount of money any wife would be owed in a divorce. She hired lawyer Marvin Mitchelson to represent her in 1972.
Triola argued she was entitled to $1.8 million from Marvin because, by her calculation, he had earned about $3.6 million while they were living together.
The Los Angeles Times described the trial as a “tabloid dream” because Triola and Marvin shared intimate details from the stand. According to the newspaper, Triola claimed Marvin paid for her to have an abortion and has asked her to marry him twice. Marvin negated this and claimed he had never loved Triola.
The judge sided with Marvin but did grant Triola a one-time payment of $104,000 for “rehabilitative alimony,” or “palimony.” However, as the New York Times reported, an appeals court overturned that decision in 1981.
The Associated Press discussed the case in Triola’s obituary. The AP noted that although Triola never received any money from Marvin, “the sensational case spurred similar trials and, through a state Supreme Court ruling, established in California law the right of unmarried partners to sue for joint property on grounds that their partners had violated a relationship contract.”
The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes palimony as “a court-ordered allowance paid by one member of a couple formerly living together out of wedlock to the other.”
4. Triola Met Van Dyke While Working for His Agent & They Embarked on a Nearly 35-Year Relationship
After breaking up with Marvin, Triola found a job at the William Morris talent agency, according to her obituary. She worked as a secretary for the agent who was representing Dick Van Dyke.
By 1975, Van Dyke was having problems in his marriage with his first wife Margie Willett. As he discussed in his memoir “My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business,” both he and Willett struggled with addiction. Willett also preferred to live at their ranch in Arizona because she wasn’t a big fan of Hollywood.
In an excerpt published by The Daily Mail, Van Dyke said he started to confide in Triola. Those conversations grew into a romantic affair:
By 1975 I found myself talking about my ups and downs to my agent’s secretary, Michelle Triola. She was easy to talk to, she understood me. At the time, Michelle was suing actor Lee Marvin, with whom she had a six-year relationship. I was drawn into a relationship. I was involved with a woman other than my wife. It was unbelievable. I was writhing in guilt. By 1976 I had to do something. I needed to be honest.
Van Dyke and Willett separated after that, although their divorce was not finalized until 1984. Van Dyke told The Guardian in 2016 that he and Triola talked about getting married. But he said he “could never get her to put a date in the diary.” But Van Dyke and Triola did have a written financial agreement, she told the Los Angeles Times in 1983.
5. Triola Attended UCLA & Performed on the Sunset Strip
Triola was a southern California native. She was born in November 1933 and was raised in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times reported she attended UCLA and studied theater arts.
Triola pursued a singing career. The newspaper reported at the time of her death that Triola had “gained notice as a singer in the 1950s when she performed at a club on the Sunset Strip owned by Jerry Lewis.” She also performed as a dancer in “Flower Drum Song” on Broadway in 1958.