Evie and the Duke


This is not a story likely to melt a lover’s heart or to be repeated by candlelight on Valentine’s Day.

The prospective groom was in L.A. and the prospective bride was in Palm Springs. Marriage was proposed by telephone.

He said, “I think it’s about time.”

She said, “Well, OK.”

So they met in the chambers of Superior Court Judge Richard Harris in Santa Monica last Friday, where the groom adamantly refused to remove his visored Batman cap.


“I’m Jewish,” he roared, “I can’t!”

They let him keep it on, but then it was learned that he didn’t have a ring.

“No problem,” he said, slipping a band from a cigar in his pocket and on to the ring finger of his bride.

Well, actually, he tried to slip it on her middle finger.

When someone pointed out his error, the groom said, “No problem,” and put the cigar band on the proper finger.

The judge shook his head and pronounced them man and wife. It was their second marriage, both to each other.

The first one took place 40 years ago, followed by a divorce eight years later because the groom loved his cronies more than he loved his wife.

This time, is it forever? At the postnuptial wedding party “Duke & Evie, Together Again” was inscribed on the napkins and matchbook covers.

The inscription was followed by a question mark.


This is Maurice Duke, 79, self-acclaimed Last of the Great Showmen, iconoclast, boulevardier and producer of the worst movie ever made.

And this is the lovely Evelyn, a 60ish former model who has tolerated this wasp-witted man, both in an out of marriage, with the forebearance of a saint.

I met with the Duke in his 6th-floor condo overlooking Wilshire Boulevard’s Mormon Temple, a juxtaposition that borders on moral caprice, if not outright blasphemy.

Puffing on a Cuban cigar and filling the air with expletives that have yet to be accepted in common usage among sailors and serial killers, Duke held forth in a manner not unfamiliar to those who know him.

He was loud, coarse, insistent, self-promoting and irresistible.

There is a compelling quality to the man in the Batman hat beyond the kinetic elements of the persona he offers to those who gather around him, from press agents to network executives.

Crippled by childhood polio (“I had it before it was popular”), Duke walks with leg braces and a cane, yet manages to produce films and dominate conversations with the vitality of a man half his age.

It is a compensatory style that is legend in a town that eats legends. Even his laughter flashes and burns with the energy of a lightning storm.

Duke boasts loudly that he has made 103 movies, all bad, but the worst of them, produced in 1958, was “Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla.”

“It was so bad,” he says, finding redemption in failure, “it was camp. I got a plaque for it.”

He looks around at his cronies and leads them in laughter. Silence offends the man.


The cronies are important to him. They have gathered at Nate ‘n’ Al’s deli in Beverly Hills every morning for the last 25 years at a table that sizzles and spits with a thousand years of wit.

Woody Allen could not have invented that group.

It was probably Duke’s allegiance to “the boys” that caused his split with Evelyn in the first place.

“I’d just spend too much time out,” he says, “or maybe bring six guys home for dinner unannounced. She was never happy about that.”

He was with his best pal, Tony Roberts, leaving their house one night when Evelyn yelled after him, “You better get a lawyer and he’d better be a good one!”

She’d had it up to here with the Duke and his buddies.

They were divorced shortly thereafter in proceedings that bogged down over ownership of a red Cadillac (it was ultimately sold and the proceeds split), but have remained close friends ever since.

In 1983, in fact, they celebrated the 25th anniversary of their divorce in a party arranged by their children, Alan and Fredde.

Then came the proposal and remarriage.

Social Security had something to do with it, but there has always remained between them a feeling of warmth often concealed by Duke’s blustery behavior.

When I asked Evelyn if she thought he had changed, she smiled and said, “Oh, some.”

I didn’t ask the Duke, because I am certain he has not.

“If it doesn’t work out,” he says with characteristic trumpery, “we may get divorced again!”

Then he leads his cronies in window-rattling laughter and is still laughing when everyone else is staring silently, and wondering.