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A Love Story That Repeats Itself

Patt Morrison's e-mail is patt.morrison@latimes.com.

They were really just kids when they met and became each other’s first serious sweethearts. Circumstance carried them apart and away, but neither forgot the other.

Spouses and children came and went, and then at length, his wife died, and they found the fires of that first enchantment had never died out, and now they are happily together -- again. How much do they love each other? He wants her to stop smoking, and she’s really, really trying to oblige him. What, you think I mean Charles and Camilla? Oh yes, them too.

I mean George and Sonia. George Segal, the Oscar-nominated actor, and Sonia Schultz Segal: fell in love in school, Pennsylvania, 1948; married in Los Angeles, 1996. Charles Philip Arthur George, Prince of Wales, and Camilla Rosemary Shand Parker Bowles: fell in love in England, sometime after 1970, married in Windsor, 2005, one day later than the date on the souvenir mugs, but what’s one day more after three decades?

“Oh God,” said George Segal when I’d recounted some of the royal couple’s particulars. “We really are Charles and Camilla!”

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With one enormous difference. Strike the Union Jack and run up the Stars and Stripes. The story of Camilla and Charles has an American ending, a California ending. In a nation of religious zealots and ardent atheists, the one faith all Americans share is the credo of the second chance -- not just for the pursuit of happiness but for happiness itself, however many “takes” it takes.

Someone observed that Americans admire success and Britons admire heroic failures, like the men who die gallantly en route to some barren pole or frigid mountaintop. Not to be too snarky, but in a life of not-quites, the Prince of Wales’ perseverance in marrying Camilla is an American-style success. Camilla and Charles are marrying in a country where opinion polls on the question of their getting married still fluctuate like Dick Cheney’s EKG charts, and where devoted fans of Charles’ first wife, Diana, evidently share Queen Victoria’s view that one marriage is enough -- at least when it comes to Charles.

George Segal and Sonia Schultz met in boarding school -- he saw the pretty blond “from afar, and thought, ‘I’m going to marry that girl.’ ” But they went their separate ways after school -- she was waiting tables in Cape May, N.J., and he was crossing the country in a ’47 Chrysler on Aug. 5, 1951, when he sent her a postcard from Great Crater Lake in Oregon with the message: “Nice place to spend a honeymoon -- Love, George.”

Fast forward: Sonia’s marriage, divorce and three children; George’s marriage, two children, divorce, remarriage and the death of his second wife. And then the call from the class secretary about the reunion of the class of 1951 began their own reunion.

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They too spent hours and hours on the phone, again like you-know-who, but without someone taping their chats. And sometime later, they married.

Listening to George Segal, I imagined Charles speaking: “I just couldn’t get a relationship right, and she’d felt so right.” And I can hear Camilla in Sonia’s words: “I realized that George had been my boyfriend, but he was also a friend I trusted and felt comfortable with.”

I said that this is an American story, a California story, but curiously, it is not entirely a Hollywood story. There is a remixed Disney theme song: “Some Day My Prince Will Come ... Back.” But Hollywood tends to marry down, age-wise; trophy wives are expected to be as gilded and flawless as a new-cast Oscar statuette. Camilla is invariably thrown up against the glamorously lovely Diana -- who, like Marilyn Monroe, will endure in memory as she was when she died -- a 36-year-old cover girl.

Charles and Camilla are AARP-eligible and don’t much care that they look it. “Two old people getting hitched,” is what Camilla is quoted as joking to friends. You could bet St. Edward’s crown that Camilla’s face has never been near a Botox needle, and more power to her. At this, George laughs. “Sonia has not had a needle or anything

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I asked George and Sonia what congratulatory message they’d send to their Windsor counterparts: “The message is evident: Love conquers all, and what people say -- the press, his mother -- it doesn’t matter. They are meant to be together, and that trumps everything.”

As they say at Windsor Castle, “honi soit qui mal y pense.” It’s the motto of the Order of the Garter, and it means, “Shame on him who thinks ill of it.”

As we say in Hollywood, “Cut -- print it.”


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