BLYTHE, Calif. -- The world's most married man is now the world's least mourned.
Glynn "Scotty" Wolfe did one thing in life and did it often. He married. In 89 years, he married 29 times. He married teen-agers and grandmothers, farm girls and drug addicts, virgins and prostitutes, preachers and thieves, taking and shedding partners casually as a square dancer.
He married some women for years, others for months, a few for days, and he loved, honored and cherished each one in his own odd way.
Marriage was his life's work, his mission, his lasting monument. But when he died penniless in June at a California nursing home, the body with the symbolic forearm tattoo of a tied knot went unclaimed.
The man whose family tree sent branches and sub-branches in every direction, the man who married more often than Zsa Zsa Gabor, Elizabeth Taylor and Henry VIII combined, was singularly alone at the end.
One of his reported 40 children, a son, wanted to bury him. But 33-year-old John Wolfe couldn't claim the body because he wasn't next of kin. That complicated designation fell to Linda Essex Wolfe of Indiana, a total stranger Scotty met after she was listed beside him in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's most married woman.
At the time, it seemed a logical -- if farcical -- match.
But when Scotty died, his distant widow said she was indigent and couldn't afford a funeral, then delayed signing papers to release his corpse.
"I just wish they'd hurry up and bury the man," she said two weeks after Scotty's death, speaking from a pay phone somewhere outside Indianapolis.
She got her wish in early July when they finally buried Scotty here in his hometown. She skipped the service, however, as did all the other wives and all but one of the children. Delivering a brief, carefully worded eulogy, a local minister seemed acutely aware of his delicate task.
"We gather here today," said Steven Clark Goad of Blythe Church of Christ, "to remember the life of Scotty Wolfe. Father husband." He looked up quickly, offering the few people assembled an apologetic smile.
Scotty was more than a small-town eccentric. He was a mass "marrier," with real victims left in his wake.
"It's haunting," says Constance Ahrons, director of the University of Southern California marriage and family therapy program, who views the Scotty Wolfe saga as a squalid little crime story, even if no laws were broken. "Clearly, this was a pathological man." This was Early Man, redux, an evolutionary throwback unable to quell his primitive craving for endless variety in partners.
The marrying marathon started in June 1931, when Scotty was 22. According to his most coherent autobiographical account, published in 1960 by the now-defunct Confidential magazine, he met a girl named Helen at a high school mixer near his native
Knox County, Ind., and practically proposed on the spot:
"Everything was lovely. I realized right then and there that being married was the greatest thing in the world."
Indeed, marriage worked on Scotty like a potent drug. Months after marrying Helen, he divorced her and married Marjorie, whom he divorced months later. Next came Margie, followed by her girlfriend Mildred. When Scotty asked an Indiana court to switch Margie for Mildred, the judge scolded him.
"He told me if that was the way I wanted to act," Scotty said, "I should go to Hollywood."
Fine idea, Scotty thought, moving his bride to Los Angeles. Before long, Mildred was out, replaced by a dancer named Adele, who one year later left him. His sixth wife was Mary. Guileless, lonely, easily deluded, she was just like all the rest, helpless against the sales pitch Scotty was perfecting. He needed all the charm he could muster to make women forget his past. His technique was crude but effective. It worked with all manner of women, though he favored the strikingly beautiful ones. He made them laugh. He gave them money.
When he tired of a wife, or vice versa, the parting was often amicable, the payoff nominal. Most marriages ended in Mexico; many were simply annulled.
"My guess is, he used women and perhaps even abused them," Ahrons says, sifting through a sheaf of clippings about Scotty. "They thought he was going to save them in some way, whether get them out of their families and homes or -- in earlier years, when he had money -- give them the future they didn't have otherwise. They latched onto him. He was Big Daddy."
But when Big Daddy yawned and checked his watch, it was time to grab your purse and go. And Scotty hated long goodbyes.
"When he divorced them," John says, "that was it -- they were gone."
Exactly how many siblings John has, nobody knows. Scotty claimed 40 children, 19 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren. The true number of descendants may never be known, because all except John remained with their mothers, who tended to vanish. Many children presumably don't know, or don't want to acknowledge, their connection to so notorious a patriarch.
They were spared, therefore, the humiliation that John endured every day, growing up in Blythe, population 10,835, where folks knew him as the boy with the stepmother assembly line.
Then, the final indignity. Because of an argument just before his death, Scotty cut John out of his will, leaving his few remaining dollars to the owner of a local print shop where he liked to photocopy his marriage certificates and divorce decrees.
For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, John was the only one who stood by his father. But the law recognizes one stranger as Scotty's heir.
More than just famous, Scotty Wolfe wanted to be genetically immortal, says Helen Fisher, a Rutgers University anthropologist: you were to dig up this man and interview him and say, 'Why did you marry all these women,' he'd never tell you, 'I wanted variety in my genetic lineage.' He'd never say that. He'd say, 'I loved women, and they bored me after so many months, and I felt a tremendous drive to find another.' "
He often said just that.
"I married to find out the real ways of life, the whys and the hows," he wrote in a rambling 1984 poem, which he inexplicably had notarized. "I found out. I married them all to find out all and I found out."
If fame and marriage were heaven, bachelorhood was hell. Nothing tormented him like being alone. In later years, when he was alone virtually all the time, he suffered panic attacks in the middle of the night. It was a cruelly ironic fate for a man who had discarded so many companions.
At the end, his mind began to spin out of control. He hatched wild plans, telling the nursing home workers he would wed Princess Diana. He would fly to Washington and chat about women with President Clinton. He would -- finally -- meet Miss Right.
To the last, he kept a wedding dress hanging in his closet. Just in case.
Pub Date: 8/16/97