The set-up will be eerily familiar to anyone who watched Dynasty, Charlie’s Angels, Melrose Place, or any of the other trashy-yet-addictive TV shows that represent Aaron Spelling’s glittering legacy: a wealthy widow, her estranged daughter, a disputed $500m will, and a very, very bitter family row.
The protagonists also tick several boxes. One is a self-confessed former “trophy bride”, who married a pipe-smoking Texan billionaire 20 years her senior; the other is a spoilt little rich girl, of dubious talent, who used Daddy’s influence to become a moderately successful actress and Hollywood socialite.
Then there’s the twist. (All really good soap operas must have a twist.) The players in this colourful public dispute turn out to also be two of the nearest and dearest of the late Spelling, who was America’s most prolific television producer. They are his beloved wife of 37 years, Candy, and their eldest child, Tori.
You may have heard of Candy and Tori, or at least seen them plastered across the US supermarket glossies. Candy is the châtelaine of Spelling Manor, the biggest and most valuable home in Los Angeles (and possibly America). Tori achieved fame as Donna in Beverly Hills 90210, the 1990s TV show, which her father just happened to make.
Both bottle-blondes live in the grandest LA style. They are fabulously high-maintenance, and enjoy buying expensive designer goods, combined with a shared passion for plastic surgery. On both an intellectual and social level, they exist on a similar plain to the Osbornes, Hiltons, Ritchies and other reality TV stars from the Hollywood aristocracy.
Most importantly of all – for their PR profile, if nothing else – both women have spent most of the past three years fighting a ferocious and, at times, downright nasty, personal feud through the medium of the celebrity media.
They first fell out 2006 when Tori, then 32, scandalised Hollywood society, and upset both her parents, by deciding to walk out on her first husband, Charlie Shanian, to elope with Dean McDermott, a Canadian actor she’d met on the set of a TV show called Mind Over Murder. The adulterous couple married two months later.
Things became properly dysfunctional later that year, when Aaron suddenly died. Shortly after his death, which Tori learned of via text message from a friend (her mother refused to call), she and her brother, Randy, were told they would inherit just $800,000 each. Aaron’s estate had been worth around $500m.
Tori, who had a daily shopping habit to support, was devastated. She swiftly informed the world that she was now suddenly penniless, signed a reality TV deal to make a show about her new life in poverty, and told the world that she blamed her mother. For everything.
Since then, their feud has been one of Hollywood’s favourite blood sports. Both women have traded insults through websites, Twitter feeds, daytime chatshows, and countless magazine covers. They have, on an almost daily basis, accused each other of rudeness, child neglect, and good old-fashioned greed. And last week, their conflict entered one of its periodic “nuclear” phases.
Candy Spelling got hostilities under way, when she released Stories from Candyland, a memoir that, among other things, is heavily critical of her daughter. To help drum up publicity for the book’s launch, she simultaneously announced plans to sell the 100-room family home in Holmby Hills, for $150m.
Guiding the media round the property, which has six acres of floor-space, two electronic bowling alleys, its own barbershop and parking spaces for more than 100 cars, Candy explained, archly, that she’d been rattling around there since Aaron’s death, observing that Tori won’t allow her two children, Liam and Stella, to visit.
Finally, with an exquisite lack of self-awareness, Candy published an open letter to Tori, on her blog. “You haven’t responded to my emails, phone calls and text messages,” it read. “You say you look at my website, so I’m trying to reach you that way. I want to see you and your family, in private, like the ‘normal family’ you say you always wanted.”
Being friends with Candy, though, is the last thing on Tori Spelling’s mind. The 35-year old star has her own muck-raking memoir to market. It’s called Mommywood, is billed as an exploration of her life as “an everyday surburban Mom,” and comes out this week. If form is anything to go by, it'll be a cracker.
In a previous autobiography, Tori has claimed that Candy started dressing her up, Little Miss Sunshine-style in prom dresses and adult costumes, when she was five years old. Many of the outfits had fake breasts and hip enhancements sewn into their fabric.
That book, s-TORI Telling (get it?) also included a passage where she recalled asking Candy: “Am I pretty?” Her mother replied: “You will be when we get your nose fixed.” She was 12 years old at the time. Her first nose-job followed four years later.
On Wednesday, from the sofa of The View, America’s most popular daytime chatshow, Tori formally declined her mother’s public request for reconciliation. Candy Spelling will appear on the same programme this week.
And so it continues anew. The great irony, of course, is that Aaron Spelling loved the sort of feuds that Candy and Tori are now fighting. They helped build his vast reputation and even vaster fortune. Somehow, though, their current spat represents one collision between life and art that he would rather have done without.