Joan Irvine Smith Son Chooses Love Over Family Ties : Relationships: Marriage to a woman of whom his mother disapproves may cost Morton Smith an inheritance of up to $100 million. But in his heart, he says, he did the right thing.
Forced to choose between his millionaire mother and his college sweetheart, the youngest son of Orange County heiress Joan Irvine Smith picked love over money earlier this month, marrying a woman his family disapproved of despite threats that he would be disowned.
It was a choice that could cost him an inheritance of as much as $100 million--but spared him his dignity, Morton Smith said. It also has pitted him against one of Orange County’s wealthiest and most visible philanthropists.
And this week, the delicate details of the Huntington Beach wedding--which Smith’s parents and two brothers missed--were spread across a full page of the National Enquirer.
“I don’t think anybody should have to be forced to choose between individuals and their family,” the younger Smith said in an interview earlier this week, recounting his mother’s warnings that if he married Marianne Campbell--an independent-minded nurse with working-class roots--he would be “out of the family.”
“I always felt that people who didn’t take a chance on something they believed in were losers,” added the 29-year-old securities broker, who settled in Huntington Beach with his bride after returning from a honeymoon in western Canada. “I did the right thing as far as my heart told me.”
The elder Smith, 61, granddaughter of the man who once owned much of Orange County, refused interviews because she was ill. Through her attorney, Russ Allen, she declined comment on whether Morton had been removed from her will.
“I could not encourage this marriage,” said the renowned art maven and horsewoman in a statement provided by her attorney. “And I fear that it may provide a continuing cause of estrangement of Morton from the rest of our family.”
In her statement, Smith condemned the Enquirer story as “sensationalistic, overdrawn and distorted,” and bitterly compared its veracity to “the periodic rumors that ‘Elvis lives.’ ”
Joan Irvine Smith has given millions to UC Irvine, and recently opened her own museum displaying California Impressionist paintings. Each spring, she plays host to the Oaks Classic, a horse-jumping competition and charity fund-raiser at her San Juan Capistrano ranch. Several years ago, she successfully sued the Irvine Co. for about $250 million, landing her family among the richest in the nation, according to a 1993 Forbes magazine survey.
Morton Smith and others have estimated his mother’s fortune at about $500 million. Allen would not comment Monday on the provisions of his client’s will or how she might divide her wealth among her three children and charity.
Campbell, 30, a pediatric oncology nurse at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, said she is most saddened by the broken relationships.
“It’s a shame because they have a wonderful family, an incredible legacy,” she said. “Mrs. Smith is brilliant. I just wish she could be more of a mom to him. I think sometimes she tries to control people. She can’t control me because I can’t be bought. I won’t be.
“I do not want any bit of their inheritance; I have my own life,” she added. “To deny your son--I can’t think of anything more tragic than that.”
The newlyweds both said they hope the rift can be bridged. Still hoping to celebrate Christmas with his family, Morton Smith said: “I don’t even care if I don’t get a present, I’d just like a slice of turkey and I’d like to sit at the table.”
After a 10-year courtship that began in college, Morton and Marianne were wed at the altar at St. Mary’s Church in Huntington Beach on Sept. 16. A sunset reception on the beach at Irvine Cove was attended by about 100 guests.
Joan Irvine Smith was absent (she said she never got an invitation, though the couple said they sent one). Also skipping the nuptials were Morton’s father, Morton Cappy Smith, and two half-brothers, James Swinden and Russell Penniman. Marianne’s parents, Antoinette and James Campbell, did attend, along with Morton’s half-sister, Alletta Cooper, and reporters and photographers from the Enquirer.
“Marianne’s a fine girl, she’s well educated and she conducts herself very well,” said James Campbell, a retired salesman. “I don’t know what social class is, to tell you the truth. She has good morals and she’s a very good girl.”
Morton and Marianne met when both were undergraduates at the University of Rhode Island. She had admired him, a handsome lacrosse player, from across crowded rooms many times; finally, friends set them up. It was much later that she learned of his pedigree.
The seventh of nine children in an Italian-American Catholic clan, Campbell grew up in Wilmington, a working-class suburb of Boston. She moved to California in 1987, a year after graduation from URI, to attend Pepperdine University, where she earned a master’s degree in clinical psychology. Smith spent time abroad, graduated from URI in 1988, and then settled here to be closer to Campbell and to his family.
Campbell recalled that her relationship with her mother-in-law was rocky from the start.
The day after the two women met about seven years ago, Campbell said, Joan Irvine Smith took her on a shopping spree she likened to the great makeover in the movie “Pretty Woman,” complete with a chauffeur to Rodeo Drive.
“She didn’t like the way I dressed. She was determined to get me a whole new wardrobe,” Campbell said. “We went in the back entrance to Hermes and they were serving champagne just for us and all the dressmakers were all swirling around me and giving me so much attention, ‘Try this on, try that on,’ and I was saying, ‘OK, OK, OK,’ not knowing that she was buying all this for me.”
For years, there were beautiful gifts. Campbell was welcomed at Smith’s ranch in San Juan Capistrano and the family’s bucolic farm in Middleburg, Va.
But there were also periodic arguments, and constant messages from family members that Marianne would not do, Morton Smith said.
“Not everything goes with (Joan Irvine Smith); you have to maintain a certain amount of decorum around her,” said Jeff Fink, who was best man at the wedding and works in the sports book of a Las Vegas casino. “Marianne just didn’t maintain that decorum. She was kind of herself. . . . She’s very outspoken. She’s a nice girl and everything, but she’s not what Mrs. Smith was looking for for her son.”
When Morton proposed marriage on Super Bowl Sunday, 1993, the couple said, word came that Morton was not welcome in Smith’s Emerald Bay house--and the locks were changed. His possessions from the farm in Middleburg were packed up and shipped to California. And then, finally, mom offered the ultimatum: “She said, ‘If you pick her, you’re out of the family,’ ” Morton Smith recalled.
“It was kind of like Kadafi drawing the line of death. Then I’d cross the line and (she’d) draw a new one in the sand,” he said. “It’s pretty scary to have Joan mad at you. Everyone was scared but me.
“I’m an Irvine, I can take it,” he said. “I don’t have anything (financial) to show for it, but breeding goes a long way.”
Times staff writer Leslie Berkman contributed to this article.