Her appetite — for everything — was legendary. Whether she was diving into juicy roles on the big screen, following what she jokingly called her “eight-day ice cream diet,” or indulging in steamy affairs with Hollywood’s most sought-after leading men, Shelley Winters had no trouble sating all of her many desires.
Except for one. Throughout her life, Shelley searched for true love — and finally found it on her deathbed when, at 85, she wed her companion of 20 years, Gerry DeFord, in a ceremony officiated by her dear friend, actress Sally Kirkland. While Gerry was gay and their relationship was chaste, Shelley regarded him as her soulmate.
And when Sally — an ordained minister in the Church of the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness — legally married the two of them at the Rehabilitation Centre of Beverly Hills, it was a truly joyous moment. “Shelley was crying for joy,” Sally exclusively tells Closer in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “I can’t remember if there were rings or not. All I know is that she was so happy.”
As a young up-and-comer, though, Shelley had different priorities — and she shared them with her then-roommate, Marilyn Monroe. Shelley “told me
stories about how [she and Marilyn] would make up lists of all the men they wanted to date,” Sally recalls of the two starlets, who lived in what she says was a “tiny apartment” in Hollywood, that they would “take turns” bringing men home too. “Marilyn said she wanted to date Albert Schweitzer. [She loved] all the intellectuals. Shelley wanted to date all the Italian hunks.”
While her film career spanned seven decades and included acclaimed turns in such classics as The Poseidon Adventure, A Place in the Sun, A Patch of Blue and The Diary of Anne Frank (she won Oscars for the latter two), Shelley’s love life was nearly as impressive. Before Gerry, she married three times — to Mack Mayer, Vittorio Gassman (with whom she had a daughter, Vittoria) and her A Hatful of Rain costar, Anthony Franciosa, and had, by her own estimation, hundreds of affairs.
In Shelley’s two memoirs, Shelley: Also Known as Shirley and Shelley II: the Middle of My Century, the movie icon detailed liaisons with a slew of heartthrobs — including William Holden, Burt Lancaster (who was married with two toddlers at the time), Marlon Brando, John Ireland and Sean Connery, whom she once described as “one of the tallest and most charming and masculine Scotsmen” she’d ever seen.
“He was her favorite lover,” says Sally of Sean, who called her in 2006, after Shelley’s memorial service, to let her know that the feeling was mutual. “He said, ‘Sally, it’s Sean. Am I too late? I love Shelley so much. We had an incredible love affair.’” But it was Gerry who ultimately won Shelley’s heart. “She loved Gerry because he made her laugh and he would do anything for her,” Sally says. “They might not have been having sex every night, but he was the love of her life.”