Nobody's Perfect--The Story of Bill's First Marriage
Updated: May 22, 2020
This is not a typical update for us.
If you have a copy of the book Quizmaster, better dig it out and get ready to put some notes in the margins on pages 23-24.
When researching Bill's life in Pittsburgh, I (Adam) turned to the book Screamer: The Forgotten Voice of The Pittsburgh Steelers by Murray Tucker. The book is a biography of his father Joe Tucker, who was a co-worker of Bill's in Pittsburgh. Joe recalled that Bill was cajoled by his mother into reluctantly marrying a cousin, and going through a bad depression because of it. After the marriage ended, she remarried to another Cullen.
I ran the story by Bill's widow, Ann, who readily corroborated the story--yes, it was true, she said. Bill had married a cousin when he lived in Pittsburgh, he didn't want to, he had been pressured into it. And so with a book and a family member backing me up, that was the story as it got printed in Quizmaster.
On October 31, 2019, Ruth Harrington Cullen died at the age of 97. She was Bill's first wife.
Last week, we heard from a member of her family who had found our site and was surprised that we referred to her as a cousin. We e-mailed back and forth, and we've learned that the story of Bill's first marriage was quite a bit different from what we thought we knew about it.
Bill and his first wife, Ruth, were not blood-related in any way. They had actually dated in high school. There was a three-year age difference, so by the time she was out of high school and they were able to get married, Bill's radio career was already on an upward trajectory. After only a few years of marriage, he ventured to New York without her to get his career going. Bill's mother actually brought Ruth to New York for a visit, annoyed that her son and daughter-in-law weren't in the same city, but Bill was so career-driven at that point in his life that he didn't consider his marriage a priority. The marriage was fundamentally over by the end of 1944, although on paper they remained married until 1948. Bill went through the formality of getting the divorce apparently so he'd be free to marry his second wife, Carol Ames.
In the meantime, Bill's father had died, and Ruth began working at the garage where Bill had once worked. It was there that she met Bill's cousin, George T. Cullen. They were soon married.
So how did that story become "Bill reluctantly married his cousin"?
Two theories here, and we may not ever know exactly which one is correct...
A simple mistranslation or a game of telephone ensued over the years. You can see how easy it would be with the passage of time and the fuzzing of memories for "My ex-wife married my cousin" to accidentally turn into "My ex-wife IS my cousin."
We have a quote from Bill discussing his life in Pittsburgh, and looking at it now, it's a bit telling: "I guess I didn't grow up until I was thirty-one.” Without really offering any details at all, Bill seemed a bit embarassed about his time in Pittsburgh. In a time when divorce still carried a terrible stigma, Bill might not have liked the thought of fans knowing that there was a time in his life where he chose career over marriage and conducted himself like a bachelor even though he still had a wife. It seems that Bill preferred to keep his first marriage a secret altogether, and for anyone who truly wanted to know, the story of how the marriage was forced on him was a bit more convenient.
But then that takes us back to Bill's old co-worker, Joe Tucker. This isn't "heard from a friend, who heard from somebody..." Joe was Bill's co-worker. He was there! So where does his memory of Bill come from? His whole tale of Bill being depressed because his wedding to his cousin was imminent and he really didn't want to go through with it?
Well, Joe goes on to tell the story of going to dinner with Bill before an episode of I've Got a Secret years later, when Joe was visiting in New York and they got caught up on old times. It would suggest that he and Bill always remained somewhat close and retained a friendship. Our guess is that Joe, knowing how Bill felt about his failed first marriage, was just being a really good friend when he passed the story along.
Thank you to the family in Pittsburgh for reaching out to us. I can understand how odd it must be to discover that strangers on the internet have shared incorrect information about family, but it's been wonderful discovering this new side of the story.