Saturday, March 31, 2012

Los Angeles Times - July 15, 1988 - Breakup by the Bay: Bellis' Messy Divorce

Breakup by the Bay: Bellis' Messy Divorce

July 15, 1988| MARK A. STEIN | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — "Extraordinary" does not begin to describe the scene:
Flanked by a publicist and a private eye, one of San Francisco's wealthiest women rents a suite in the city's toniest hotel for a fancy tea-party-cum-news conference that attracts nearly two dozen journalists and is broadcast live by one local television station.

As cameras roll and pens jot, she spins a tale of brutality and infidelity, bares her scar as well as her soul, talks of a mysterious gunman and a custody fight--and produces a teen-age friend of her daughter for corroboration.

Then--and here's the capper--the attractive, well-dressed woman introduces domestic employees, including one young man barely able to speak English and a gay male secretary, and asks them one by one to deny having had sex with her.

What's going on here? Is this a rehearsal for some cheesy TV miniseries?
Not quite. Not yet, anyway.

The unusual press conference--which took place Monday--is but one episode in the too-wild-for-fiction marital breakup of two of San Francisco's most publicity-conscious socialites, famed 81-year-old lawyer Melvin Belli and his 39-year-old wife, Lia.

A Murder Attempt?

The curtain rose on the final act in their stormy 16-year marriage shortly after an intruder allegedly tried to gun down Lia Belli in the couple's big Pacific Heights mansion two weeks ago, while her husband vacationed in Moscow.

She filed for legal separation July 1, then summoned local reporters and in interviews accused her husband of verbally and physically abusing both her and their 15-year-old daughter, Melia. She also told the San Francisco Examiner that her husband falsely accused her of a number of extramarital affairs with, among others, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and actress Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Belli promptly responded with his own media broadside, saying at a press conference that he plans to file for divorce and accusing his wife of spending upwards of $1 million on jewelry and other extravagances while romancing a 25-year-old Australian-born viscount, a man who, according to Australian newspapers, has a criminal record as well as a title.

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