There was a rumor Lee Meriwether was going to marry Joe DiMaggio
They were just friends. She tied the knot instead with this Sixties TV star.
Lee Meriwether is an actor known to classic TV fans for exciting early roles like her portrayal of Catwoman in the 1966 Batman movie.
In the Seventies, she impressed while acting alongside some of classic TV’s favorite leading men, cast on shows like Barnaby Jones and The New Andy Griffith Show.
But before all that, in the 1950s, Meriwether felt that she had no acting skills at all, despite appearing on TV as early as 1954. She said she was going purely on gut instinct when acting onscreen in these early appearances.
"As far as acting was concerned, I didn’t know the teacup from my fingernail," Meriwether told the Pacific Daily News in 1974.
So, after winning the Miss America crown in 1955, young Lee Ann Meriwether, as she was known then, took her scholarship money straight to the Actors Studio. There, she planned to finally study acting and extend her skills to pursue more work onscreen.
The very next year, rumors started flying, when the nationally known columnist Walter Winchell reported in mid-1956 that Meriwether would wed ex-Yankee slugger Joe DiMaggio, who at that time was not long divorced from Marilyn Monroe.
According to Winchell, he accompanied Meriwether and DiMaggio on a tour of Atlantic City nightspots on a Saturday night and, "At the 500 Club, when their starry-eyed presence was noted and greeted with a public announcement that they would soon marry, Lee Ann gave a gasp and Joe looked down at the tablecloth – but they wouldn’t say a word in denial."
Although DiMaggio’s relationship with Monroe was famously tumultuous, the baseball player never remarried after her death. On his own deathbed, his last words stand as a record to his devotion to Monroe. "I’ll finally get to see Marilyn," he said.
Meriwether denied the rumors that she was engaged to DiMaggio, insisting they were only friends.
"I am not getting married to DiMaggio and we are not engaged," Meriwether told the The Alternative Press in 1956. "I hope this story doesn’t spoil our friendship."
Instead, Meriwether got engaged a few years later to the actor Frank Aletter, whom she met in her acting classes.
The story goes that Aletter won Meriwether’s heart because of "many things" like being "kind and considerate and very gentle," Meriwether told the The Alternative Press in 1958.
She also joked that she liked him because "he can talk like Donald Duck."
The couple met in 1957 and they got engaged when Aletter slid a one-carat diamond ring on Meriwether’s finger on New Year’s Eve 1958.
They wed in Meriwether’s hometown San Francisco, inviting friends and family to a church for an afternoon wedding where Meriwether walked down the aisle in a lace and satin gown.
They were deeply in love by then, and Aletter’s wedding band was inscribed to say "For Ever..." and Meriwether’s "...and Ever."
Aletter and Meriwether remained married as both of their careers took off.
For him, that meant starring in the short-lived Sixties sitcom Bringing Up Buddy after a brilliant Broadway career.
When that series was cancelled, Aletter continued appearing all over TV in series like The Twilight Zone and Perry Mason. Then he was cast again as a series lead in The Cara Williams Show.
Again, the series failed and Aletter developed an unfortunate reputation as an actor who couldn’t carry his own TV show.
Meanwhile, Meriwether’s acting classes paid off, as she too appeared in iconic roles in Sixties series Star Trek, Batman, and Perry Mason. She impressed so much, she even joined the cast of The Time Tunnel, her first major series role.
That series, too, was fated to be as short-lived as Aletter’s, but both continued acting as their family grew to include two daughters.
Through the Seventies, both actors remained busy, appearing on hit shows and movies, and Meriwether said by 1974 when she was cast in Barnaby Jones, their marriage had become strained.
"If you become too emotional, you carry your anxiety over to your family," Meriwether told the Pacific Daily News in 1974. "The important thing is not to bring outside anxieties into your home."
That year, they separated amicably, and then divorced.
"We separated because we thought it was better for the children," Meriwether said. "We’re both mature adults, so there was no trauma involved in the separation."
Meriwether remarried in 1986 to actor Marshall Borden, but like DiMaggio, Aletter never remarried.
When she was newly divorced, Meriwether threw herself into Barnaby Jones, enjoying her time working with a top-notch TV star like Buddy Ebsen.
"Buddy is a dream of the first order," Meriwether said.
Andy Griffith, who twice acted as Meriwether’s husband, said she was just as dreamy to work with.
"She’s a professional," Griffith told the The Washington Post in 1974. "Besides, she is pretty and just about anyone who sees her just knows that she is a nice person."