The wives and times of cuddly Dudley

Dudley Moore, organ scholar and Sixties comedy icon, rode to Hollywood on a wave of popularity, but now his love life occasions more comment than his screen career. Perhaps it's time the Essex boy came home. By Daniel Jeffreys

When Dudley Moore filed last week for his fourth divorce from the latest long-legged lovely to tower over his 62-and-a-half inches of suspect charm, it was only the latest episode in a long-running saga of personal and professional decline.

As "Pete 'n' Dud" in the Sixties, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore reinvented British humour. Their shows made stars of both men. Their theatrical review Beyond the Fringe was a big success in the UK and then in the US. At one time both men seemed to have a dazzling future.

Cook was remembered at his death a year ago with great affection, although most of his obituaries mentioned a talent that was admired but wasted. But Dudley Moore was supposed to escape that kind of verdict. When he left England for Hollywood in 1976 he was riding a wave of American popularity. By 1980 he had won an Oscar nomination for his role as an alcoholic millionaire in Arthur. We didn't know it then, but that was to be the peak of Dudley's success as an actor. Since then his love life has given rise to more comment than his acting career. He has become one of LA's most famous casualties.

Two years ago Dudley and the Oscars were again in the news together, when he and his girlfriend Nicole Rothschild had a terrible row while watching the Academy Awards on TV. She apparently compared Cuddly Dud unfavourably with Paul Newman, America's favourite actor. A fight ensued, which landed Moore in jail charged with spousal abuse.

One week later Moore had proposed to the same Nicole Rothschild, a woman able to claim eight more inches than her husband and 30 fewer years. They divorced last week due to "irreconcilable differences". Nobody seems surprised by the split - except Dudley, who said just six months ago that he "couldn't imagine life without Nicole," even though he kept two houses so that he could have solitude when necessary. Maybe it's time for Dudley Moore to come home, before his reputation develops as Hollywood's smallest has-been. Los Angeles has swallowed him whole - he should leave before it finally spits him out.

The allure of Hollywood is its power and wealth. In Beverly Hills, the centre of the movie business, all the streets are clean and even the sidewalks seem to abide by a dress code. Here, it's not enough to be beautiful or tanned or well-dressed. Only all three will do. And in the restaurants brimming with people from film agencies such as William Morris, ICM or CAA, the talk is who should do what in which movies. It's a safe bet that these days Dudley Moore's name is hardly ever mentioned.

Just down the road from Beverly Hills are the beaches of Santa Monica, where the sun always seems to shine. The beach promenades are full of people on rollerblades. All of them are tall and nobody adorns their well-toned muscles with much in the way of clothes. Everywhere you turn there are examples of physical perfection. It's not much like Dagenham, where Dudley Moore was born. It's a place that could turn an Essex boy's head, especially when that head is always turned upwards, craning for approval.

Moore was born with two club feet. His mother was a shorthand typist who despised her son's deformities and the series of operations required to put them right. (Moore says his first kiss came from a hospital nurse when he was seven years old.) Later, as if to disprove the disadvantages of his height, Moore gravitated towards tall women, mostly blondes. They seemed to adore him. One of Moore's early flames, the model Celia Hammond, still remembers him fondly. "He is the easiest person in the world to be with," she says. "He couldn't have been more accommodating or pleasant. He's a man who loves women, which always makes a woman feel special. But he is also very insecure and I think he never quite got rid of that. He always needs to be bolstered."

Moore says he came to LA because of a woman - his second wife, Tuesday Weld. In all his relationships Moore could say the same thing: his big life decisions have been made to please a woman. Homes have been bought or sold, scripts rejected, friendships broken, all to please the woman of the moment, always a beautiful status symbol with the capacity tomake Moore feel successful even in his darkest times; somebody who could allow him to laugh back at anybody who ever sneered at his size or class.

Moore married Tuesday Weld in 1975, three years after he split from British actress Suzy Kendall. Eight years younger than Moore, Weld wanted to revive her career in the movies. She had suffered a nervous breakdown, become an alcoholic and attempted suicide before the age of 18. Like many of Moore's women, Weld's beauty was just part of a more complex picture in which a desperate need for love was often overwhelming.

Citing "irreconcilable differences", Weld and Moore split in 1980. But not before Dudley had signed on for the first of 20 years in psychoanalysis, a process that some suggest may have killed off his comic creativity. In California anxiety is not a subject sanctioned for comedy. Angst is for confession - it must be dragged out into the open, preferably in group therapy, and then domesticated.

"I don't feel I have to be funny anymore," Moore, the self-proclaimed "sex thimble", confessed in 1992, talking about the benefits of his extensive therapy, and perhaps alluding to the way his adopted environment seemed to cater to his insecurities - in LA, insecurity is the one thing more common than portable phones.

Moore's big break came in the film 10, in a part he won after meeting director Blake Edwards at a group therapy session. 10 was a fantasy movie for wimps and Moore was typecast. His progression of wives since sometimes seems like unfilmed sequels of 10. Throughout the Eighties Moore was seen in more good restaurants than movies, always with a beautiful woman. He bought the trappings of success even though he was still only on the B-list of bankable actors.

In 1988 Moore married again. This time he chose an aspiring model/actress called Brogan Lane who was working as a waitress when the couple met. The only thing surprising about Lane was her hair - it was brown. Otherwise she fits the pattern. Tall and beautiful, she towered six inches above Moore, who happened to be dating the tall, blonde actress Susan Anton when the two met.

Lane was with Moore after his glory years. She was desperate for a career as an actress or singer. She may have seen Moore as her ticket and he surely saw her as further evidence of his prowess. In LA, relationships are usually just another form of commerce. The couple married in Las Vegas after Lane had stashed teddy bears dressed as brides all over Moore's house. After their wedding Moore described Lane as "the most delicious thing I've ever seen." By 1990 they were divorced, citing "irreconcilable differences". Moore had begun to date Nicole Rothschild while Lane and he were still newlyweds.

Moore's marriage to Rothschild was complicated by the continual presence of her ex-husband, Charles Cleveland. In classic LA style, Moore had bought Rothschild a house that would enable her to spend time alone with her two children from the previous marriage. Cleveland frequently visited Nicole and it was at this house that Dudley and Nicole had their final confrontation, a fight that finished with the sex-thimble's face scored by deep scratch marks.

Not only is his love life in bad shape, Moore's acting career is in terminal decline too, after a string of bad movies. This year he was supposed to appear in Barbara Streisand's The Mirror has Two Faces, but she kicked him off the project with the briefest of explanations. Worse still, Moore tried to build a career as a sitcom star with CBS but his two series in 1992 and 1994 were cancelled before the end of their first seasons. His publicist at Rogers and Cowan refused to comment on any subject other than Moore's musical career, which may mean there is nothing left for him in movies or TV. Moore is supposed to tour with Liza Minelli later this year, reviving their partnership in Arthur, but his publicist could not confirm any dates.

Music has been Moore's saviour, professionally and psychologically. He has made good money as a concert jazz pianist and his recordings have sold well. He says he retreats to one of his three pianos when times get tough. It seems a fitting irony that the brilliant Oxford organ scholar who abandoned music for the stage and screen seeks refuge in Tinseltown in Grieg and Mozart, his favourite composers.

Still, he retains his longing eye. Friends said this week that Dudley is still attractive at 61 and he has plenty of lady friends who are ready to cheer him up when the Hollywood doldrums get him down. "The movie business is so transitory," he said last year. "Most actors, if they are lucky, last five years. I was tops for around two years, then one morning you wake up and find you are on the B-list and falling. I tell you, Hollywood is a great place in which to get cynical about human behaviour."

After the memorial service for Peter Cook, Moore said he was surprised by how much love there was for his former partner. If he sounded wistful it is because that is what he's been hunting for ever since his mother turned her back on him. It may be that, in Los Angeles and glamorous women, he was looking in all the wrong places.

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