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, 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.
The battle of the Cruises is unlikely to be pretty. Or cheap. Or quick – Katie has begun by hiring a new publicist, a sure sign in Hollywood divorce logistics that things are going to get dirty.
It was clear from the start that things wouldn’t 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 didn’t 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 the hovering sub-host of briefers, greasers and cuff-shooting spivs who happily attach themselves to such human misfortunes.
“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.”