“INNOCENT SPOUSE, A Memoir” By Carol Ross Joynt (Crown. 280 pp. $25)
One can easily imagine the ladies of “The View” grilling Washington journalist Carol Ross Joynt about the financial and emotional soap opera chronicled in “Innocent Spouse,” her memoir of love, death, betrayal, survival, re-invention and major name-dropping.
“Girlfriend, your ‘knight in shining armor’ slapped you around, blackened your eye and even dumped you out of the car in a rainstorm, and you never called the cops? Or a divorce lawyer?” Whoopi Goldberg might demand.
“Wait,” pipes up Elizabeth Hasselbeck, “not only does he have no life insurance to take care of you and your son, but after he dies, you discover he owes the IRS, like $3 million, and now it’s your debt?”
“So Keith Hernandez, the ex-Met, stood you up on your first ‘widow date,’ ” interjects Joy Behar, “you refused Walter Cronkite’s marriage proposal, and you really never slept with the married New York mystery chef? Details. We want details.”
It’s uncertain whether Joynt, who worked for Time and UPI, Cronkite, Charlie Rose and Larry King, among others, will ever appear on the ABC-TV yak-fest to explore these questions or the larger issues raised in this domestic cautionary tale: Why do allegedly smart women who competently manage their money when single blithely cede financial control to the men they marry? How well do any of us really know our mates?
Joynt offers familiar, albeit cringe-inducing, rationales. “He made me feel safe and secure and adored,” she writes. “I was serenely happy to be his wife. I believed that without him I could not exist.” (Mercifully the abuse he inflicted and she concealed during the first half of their 20-year union ceased after his depression diagnosis and Prozac prescriptions.)
But theirs remained a “Faustian pact.“ “I’d sold myself for what I thought would be a better life. In terms of possessions and the roof over my head, it was better. I was a good wife, homemaker, and mother. I stuck with our marriage when it was rough and savored the pleasures when it was good. I didn’t realize I was living in a fairy castle built on sand.”
Well, actually some of that grit hit the fan when, shortly after they met, she learned he’d lied about having already started divorce proceedings, but she stuck around anyway. “None of my business,” she claims. “I was madly in love, and as everybody knows, love is blind — and sometimes a little dumb.”
Alas, J. Howard Joynt III, her “irresistible rogue” of a lying saloon-keep who died of pneumonia in 1997, had many other secrets. Carol turned out to be wife No. 4, not No. 3. Howard’s trust fund payouts were a fraction of what he claimed. But the lasting damage came from his flagrant use of Nathan’s — his storied Georgetown bar and eatery — as a personal piggybank to support the family’s lavish lifestyle: expensive cars and boats, bespoke clothing, splendid vacations, live-in help, two Georgetown apartments and a house on the Chesapeake.
Joynt gets the irony that her journalism career — including encounters with presidents Gerald Ford through George W. Bush, as well as Elvis Presley, Princess Diana, Paul Newman, John F. Kennedy Jr., Liz Taylor and murderer Charles Manson — was “built on curiosity, instinct, and asking questions, and yet I never once questioned our life of quiet luxury.” That ignorance ended with Howard’s death, when she found her only hope of avoiding, or greatly reducing, that whopping $3 million tax debt was to convince the IRS that she was a clueless “innocent spouse.”
Since her husband’s lawyers felt she’d never win that designation, she hired a new team headed by the former IRS commissioner who had written the innocent spouse provision. (Ain’t Washington grand?) After a year of tough negotiations, Joynt prevailed. But her problems were hardly over.
She lost the battle to keep her part-time job as a “Larry King Live” producer while struggling to do right by her son, once refusing to work on Princess Di’s funeral from London because she’d miss his first day of kindergarten. She frantically tried learning how to run Nathan’s, from taming the mutinous staff to dealing with landlords, rodents, bureaucrats and even exploding manhole covers. (Anyone dreaming of owning a bar or restaurant should read this part several times.)
Despite sound advice from her lawyer to unload Nathan’s after her IRS victory, Joynt held on, hoping to sell it later for pots of money. That never happened, and in 2009, mired in bankruptcy and eviction proceedings and with her son in high school, she closed the doors, leaving with two gratifying if low-paying media gigs: the “Q & A Cafe” newsmaker interviews she started after 9/11, and a New York Social Diary blog that gives her entree to swank parties, restaurants and resorts.
Joynt was luckier than the average innocent spouse. Caring and influential friends, top lawyers and reclaimed assets helped her pay for a Georgetown home, ongoing therapy and her son’s private schools. We’ll see if this survivor’s tale also lands her a spot on “The View.”
By Carol Ross Joynt
Crown. 280 pp. $25