Tinseltown's love affair with juicy divorce stories
Awash with money, beautiful people and lawyers, the film industry makes it easy for stars to break their wedding vows. But not everyone does.
It was clear from the start that things would not work out between Hollywood and marriage. In 1919, Rudolph Valentino, the first real star of the silent era, wed actress Jean Acker. It lasted six hours. A standard was set that the movie business has been trying to live up to ever since.
"Get married in the morning," the old studio hands used to say. "Then, if it all goes wrong, you haven't wasted the whole day."
Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were wed at sunset in a renaissance castle above an Italian lake, but it did not do them much good. Last week, it was confirmed that the pair are divorcing and Hollywood has another all-star falling-out to feast on.
In many cases, the feasting will be of a literal nature, for few things put as much food on Tinseltown's tables as a good divorce.
The Cruise split will provide work not only for the top teams of lawyers, publicists and agents, but for the hovering sub-host of briefers, greasers and cuff-shooting spivs who happily attach themselves to such human misfortune.
"A big divorce is always helpful in my line of business," admits John Nelson, the legendary Los Angeles real estate broker.
"First, the wife gets a new house from the settlement, then the husband has to sell the old house because his new girlfriend doesn't want to live in a place she associates with the former wife, and the wife's attorney makes so much money from the case that he might buy a new house, too. If you're lucky, you can get four or five sales out of it."
Not that the lawyers do not earn their money. Being seen to have come out best from the settlement is a crucial Hollywood ego-issue and couples will spend months arguing not simply that if he gets the Picasso, she should get the Modigliani, but that if she gets the cat, he should have the tortoise.
Celebrity lawyer Lynn Soodik, who represented Meg Ryan in her divorce from Dennis Quaid, recalls: "I was involved in a case in which the couple spent something like $200000 (R1.6-million) contesting the issue of 'What is the value of the use of the private jet?' The wife said, 'I need to be able to use it' and the judge thought he was being very smart and said, 'OK, any time you want to travel, your husband will have to buy out all of first class so that you feel you're in a private jet.' She looked at him and said, 'But, your honour, it's not the same. Commercial airlines don't leave when I want to leave'."
There's a sound reason for this strategic squabbling. Every Hollywood divorce features a third party known as public opinion.
You are not simply fighting your case in court but on Oprah Winfrey's show, on Piers Morgan Tonight and in the pages of Vanity Fair. Your wife might persuade a judge that you are a no-good, womanising drunk, but if your PR team can sell you on the airwaves as a living saint you've a lot less to worry about.
Harvey Levin, managing editor of the TMZ celebrity gossip website, says: "It used to be that couples would put up the wall of silence. But, now that the stuff gets out there anyway, they are jumping into the fray early on and spinning it in a way that serves the client's image. If the client doesn't look good at the end of the divorce, regardless of how good the financial settlement is, they've failed."
In Cruise's two previous divorces - from actresses Mimi Rogers and Nicole Kidman - the settlements were agreed out of court and few details emerged of the couples' incompatibilities. This time - with the custody of the Cruises' six-year-old daughter, Suri, at stake and the air rank with accusations of obsession, jealousy and brainwashing - the chances of keeping things quiet are rather slimmer.
Which makes them a lot juicier for the men in the alligator-skin loafers and Day-Glo braces whose job it is to get the best deal for the client.