Arranged Marriages


You’ve heard it, opposites attract.  My parents were just about the most opposite you could find.  And, I never even thought about that until just now, while sitting down to write about their relationship.  Your parents are the only parents you have, so you don’t stop to think, “What did they see in each other?”

My mother was quiet, elegant and intelligent.  My father was loud, lovable and crass.   Taste was not exactly his strong suit except, of course, his great taste in women.

They met at a party.  He saw this stunning, very young, exotic looking woman modern-dancing.  Alone.  Seductively.   Twenty years older, he was intrigued.

Cliff Notes to get you up to speed:  They dated.  He knocked her up.  He said he didn’t want kids.  She was set to have an abortion.  Her family strong-armed him or he had a change of heart.  Or both.  She had their first child, my brother Alan but first they had a quickie wedding.  In Vegas, where else?  First meal in their home together, my mother cooked.  My father complained about the way she made the eggs.  She threw the whole pan of eggs at him.  Two years after the first child, she was pregnant with me.  I was a teeny tiny thing.  Still am.  She had taken the drug DES which would later be known to cause cervical cancer in the daughters of women who took it to prevent miscarriage.

Maurice and Evelyn Duke, clearly if she had a pan of eggs, watch out!!!

Maurice and Evelyn Duke, clearly if she had a pan of eggs, watch out!!!

Things were already not that happy in the Duke home.  The family tried living on the beach in Malibu.  My mother’s beloved cat Jezebel got hit by a car on PCH and died.  She decided this would not be the place to raise her kids.  It would be Beverly Hills, known to have a great public school system.  The house on South Roxbury Drive cost $25,000 and came with a cat named Hangover.  My father set up his wife, who happened to have very good taste, to go into business with some dude who was an interior decorator.  They were doing some interior decorating all right — on beds.  You get the idea.  Things were getting shady.  But, shit happens.  My mother had convinced herself that my father, who was Mickey Rooney’s manager, and hung out with him a lot, must have been scoring a lot of broads with the Mick.  I wasn’t there, I wouldn’t know.  My father was physically handicapped.  It never stopped him from scoring great looking women, herself included, but he wasn’t the player my mother assumed, and which she used to justify having an affair with my father’s so-called “friend.”  I would not find out any of these sordid details until I was in my twenties.

Mickey loved Duke, the only guy he was taller than!

Mickey loved Duke, the only guy he was taller than!

From the moment of the divorce (made legal in Tijuana, where else?), our parents became the best of friends and even better parents.  We were a family unit.  As a family, though we lived in two different homes, we did everything together.  During the week, my father worked at various studios as a producer of B, if not C, movies, and we went to school.  On Friday night, we went out to a restaurant.  All four of us.  Saturday morning, a deli for breakfast.  Sunday morning, my mother would often cook a brunch.  In the afternoon, just us kids would head off to see my father’s mother, at least on his custodial weekend.  For a few years my mother dated a lawyer who would end up not marrying her, though she seemed to be auditioning hard for that job.  My father had a BFF named June Wilkinson, a va-va-voom B-movie actress and Playboy model and sometimes the fifth wheel at our family meals.  A romantic involvement between those two was never revealed, though I have my suspicions.   On and off for several years, my father dated a woman named Rachel.  No one in either parent’s love life ever became more important than us, the children.

For many years, we all joked that after 25 years of divorce, we should have a silver divorce anniversary party.  So we did.  It became a very large production of a party.  My brother and I put on our producer hats, my brother much more so than me.   The Lehr family made the engraved invitations.  The venue would be The Friars Club and there would be a roast with top comedians who were friendly with my father to “roast” him.  Much of the material was written by a one-time “Honeymooners” writer, Bob Hilliard.  It was one of the greatest parties I had ever been to and my brother and I were throwing the event.  My father had just survived colon cancer a year before.  My mother was there for my father during his illness.  They were both always there for each other.    At the 25th divorce anniversary party, my father made a speech.  He stood on the dais, looked at his ex-wife, my mother, in the audience, and said: “It was so much fun divorcing you Evelyn, lets get divorced again.”  She laughed.  In fact, by this time in life, my father was my mother’s only and best friend in the world.

Invitation to Duke and Evie's 25th Divorce Anniversary Party

Invitation to Duke and Evie’s 25th Divorce Anniversary Party

Which brings us to ten years after the 25th divorce party.  Now, my parents were divorced 35 years.  My brother the lawyer did some calculating.  First he realized they were married just shy of my mother being eligible for dad’s Social Security.  She was getting near that age.  He was getting way up there.  My brother thought, our father will die and our mother will not be able to live on his Social Security.  They had only been married nine years.  My father and brother concocted the plan.  My parents would get married.  Again.  My parents were already more married and loyal to each other than most legally married couples.  Her house in the desert was equipped with handlebars for the disabled in what was my dad’s bedroom.  The guest bathroom had my father’s favorite hair products, brush, comb, etc.  (And he barely had hair.)  My mother was his haircutter, and also groomed his toenails and nails on an as-needed basis.  My father spent every Thanksgiving at his ex-wife’s house as well as a few weeks at Christmas.  He often invited all his friends to her house for a weekend getaway.  His ex-wife’s home became his vacation home.

My father made an honest woman out of my mother, not once but twice, when he went with her to renew their vows in a courthouse in Santa Monica.  I had never known the old fashioned corny side of my mother until I saw the glow in her smile the moment she remarried the love of her life.  Our plan was that our father’s much younger bride would take really good care of our father when he got very weak and old.  That plan went out the window when after only a few years of my mother collecting $1200 a month in social security, she became very ill.  She was diagnosed with lung cancer, which had spread to her bones.  She would die within three months.  My 85-year-old father went to his 66-year old wife’s funeral in shock.  He would die in my arms a year later with me yelling at him in the hospital, “Don’t die dad, everyone will think you were in love with Evelyn!”   My parents might not have been a conventional couple but they had a love for each other that was deep and, in their own way, loyal.  They were my romantic role models.

After the disastrous first meal my mother cooked, she learned to make a favorite dish for my father.  Matzo brei.  She perfected the dish so as not to have to throw it on him.

 click the arrow above to watch the short clip of my dad proposing divorce to my mom

Recipe Matzo Brei


  • 4-6 sheets of matzah
  • 4 eggs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • oil or margarine


1. In a large bowl, break matzah into bite-size pieces.
2. Sprinkle with a little (less than 1/4 cup) boiling water to soften matzah.
3. In a separate bowl, beat eggs.
4. Add eggs, salt and pepper to softened matzah. Mix well.
5. Heat oil in a frying pan. Cook matzah-egg mixture over medium heat, stirring as if cooking scrambled eggs.

Read about my parents second marriage here:

The Duke family!!!

The Duke family!!!


Story about my parents 25th Divorce Anniversary Party made it into the Los Angeles Times

Story about my parents 25th Divorce Anniversary Party made it into the Los Angeles Times

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26 Responses to “Arranged Marriages”

  1. Valentina says:

    This is the most amazing and touching story of all, Fredde… I love how you wrote it.

  2. Mitch says:

    When I was little, my dad told me there was no such thing as a “normal” family. Yours looks pretty normal. Great story.

  3. Erin says:

    True love for sure. <3

  4. Augie Duke says:

    This is such a twisted love story but so honest and so, i fucking love it.. Thank you well done…..

  5. Laura Plotkin says:

    What a great love story–your telling of it really brings them to life!

  6. simon says:

    just gorgeous, fredde, just bloody gorgeous


  7. Alan says:

    “Nothing funnier than the truth”, he would say. Fredde, this one is VERY TRUE. And very well written. Duke would be proud.

  8. robin says:

    wow. even though i knew most of the details, i hung on every word.
    enviable to feel you were always more important than anything or anyone else in their lives. and i actually know that to be true. look up ‘daddy’s girl’. there must be a picture of you. or there should be….xxxx
    p.s. i remember the divorce party well!!!!

  9. renee sherman says:

    Love, love, love this post. What a great Valentine’s Day story. xoxo

  10. Joel says:

    Best one yet, Fredde. When are you going to put all these together into a book?

  11. Joyce Hyser Robinson says:

    Truly wonderful and a great tribute to true love!

  12. Jonah Wilson says:

    Fredde, this is by far your most touching blog so far, at least to me. Thank you for sharing your life with us you are truly gifted!

  13. Kris Duke says:

    What a well written story! I love the fact that we now have a historical document that our children can pass down to their children…..I can only imagine what future generations are going to think!!!! xox

  14. Janet Petkin says:

    Best yet.

  15. gabri ferrer says:

    you made me cry, dammit.

  16. Jennifer Dudley arbaugh says:

    No wonder you have such an intense capacity to love and give openly. You were educated by the best professors. Great stuff. Xxx

  17. Jennifer Dudley arbaugh says:

    No wonder you have such an intense capacity to love and give openly. You were educated by the best professors. Xxxx

  18. tracy says:

    Made me cry …I was there for so much of this …And to think that your Mom was 66 ! You come by your love and loyalty of friendship honestly and i am proud to be apart of your history… Fredde YOU are an A story teller and film maker and I just wish your parents were here to enjoy your powerful and touching writing.

  19. Karen says:

    Loved this one! You are a wonderful writer!

  20. Pauli says:

    Obviously you struck a nerve here Fredde!

    Never under estimate the power you wield with words.

    Now start thinking of how to sell this one:
    i.e.: The Notebook for real people.

    Great story, beautifully told.

  21. Alice Stambler Seidman says:

    Fredde – That was so, so, so beautiful and touching!!!

  22. Gari says:

    Fredde what a wonderful love story !! Your parents were very special and unique people that not only loved each other but really liked each other!! Thank you so much for sharing this very touching and wonderful love story!! Your writing just gets better and better!!

  23. Donna Freberg says:

    Funny. Touching. Brill.
    Pierced my heart xo

  24. Lori chapnick Babbitt says:

    This was great and touching I wa at the party and brought back so many memories thanks I’d like to see u sometime it’s been 10 years since I had that bday party. Thanks for the memories

  25. Dustin says:

    Beautiful. True love takes many forms. Great story.

  26. Quincy says:

    Fredde, I love your writing style… And all around panache! Now you have my info… Let’s communicate…


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