Royal Family Feature: A Love Story

Royal has always honored our residents as individuals who raised families, held jobs and were vital members of their communities before coming to us for extra care. Meet Royal Falmouth resident Joy Talbot, whose journey has taken her from the Burlesque stage to Elizabeth Taylor’s yacht.

This is a love story.

Alex Proctor met Joy Talbot seven years ago on the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico. Was it love at first sight? Maybe it was.

Joy has been living at Royal Falmouth Nursing and Rehabilitation Center for the past five years. Despite dedicated care from a staff who adores her, Alzheimer’s has taken its toll. She has lost the ability to speak, and most of her ability to swallow, but the gleam in her eyes tells her visitor that Joy Talbot has lived a very glamorous life.

There are other clues around her room: a photo of Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts (she dated him “for fun,” according to her niece); a framed 8×10 glossy of a Las Vegas burlesque dancer – feathers and all – who looks remarkably like Joy; a portrait of world famous British jockey Lester Piggott, with whom she is said to have had an affair.

Alex filled me in on the other details…San Francisco born, and yes, she was an exotic dancer early in her career, and later, a fashion model for the renowned Powers Modeling Agency, a job that took her all over the world – New York, Parish, London. As a young beauty frequenting the MGM Studios lot, she became acquainted with many of the stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age: Clark Gable, Lana Turner, and Elizabeth Taylor.  “Joy once tried on the 12 million-dollar diamond ring that Richard Burton had given Liz,” says Alex, remembering past conversations with Joy.

She was married to a Mexican playboy when she was very young, and according to Alex was later briefly married to the co-star of the long-running TV series “Fantasy Island,” Herve Villechaize. At least that was his understanding. But here is where fact and fiction collide – sort of.  A little research revealed she hadn’t in fact been married to Villechaize, but to another dwarf actor named Michael Dunn, who will be remembered among other roles as the evil Miguelito Loveless on the popular 60’s TV series “The Wild, Wild West.” All this was confirmed by an internet photo showing Joy cutting the wedding cake with Dunn, who stood on a chair to pull even with his new bride.

Alex Proctor of Mashpee, retired after selling his business on the Cape, was 80 years old when he met Joy Talbot. Married for 50 years, Alex was now a widower on vacation when he first caught sight of the former model, then in her seventies and living alone on Vieques.

“I saw her every day walking past my cottage to the local market, and I thought, “I have to meet that gal.”

He did, and a devoted friendship was struck that day that gradually turned into something more. Even then, Alex noticed that Joy was having cognitive issues.

“I found that she needed help with the checkbook – that she had made some mistakes. And there were other signs as well. In the spring of 2005, I brought her back with me with the idea of having her see a doctor, and Alzheimer’s was the diagnosis right away.”

Alex contacted Joy’s only living relatives, but her sister was in a nursing home, and a niece was unable to help. So Alex brought Joy home to live with him, becoming her legal guardian. When it became physically impossible to care for her himself, Alex turned to Royal Falmouth.

“The admissions people were so helpful in straightening out prescription problems that other homes viewed as a red flag. We came here in 2008. It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do, but Royal Falmouth was a wonderful choice.”

Alex is now 87 years old, and has his own caregiver at home. Cathy Feroli has become part of Joy’s care team as well.

“Everyone knows Joy there,” says Cathy.  “They adore her, and Joy loves them all back. Even though she can’t say ‘thank you,’ they go above and beyond, always. Jamie Brocato (a nurse’s assistant) is a real gem – Joy lights up whenever she comes in, and Betty (Bettino Maxwell, the head nurse) has called me at home. This is what keeps families happy – giving a sense of comfort to the people with a loved one there.”

Alex and Cathy visit Joy every day, and the ever-stylish Joy greets them in makeup and fashionable clothes. And in Joy’s eyes, Alex sees the beautiful model who once travelled the world in the company of famous musicians, jockeys and movie stars, who found the love of a widower from Mashpee, maybe just in time.

“I think it’s a wonderful love story – love at first sight.”

“That’s my girl,” says Alex, gently stroking Joy’s forehead.