The Hollywood watchers who comprise most of the First World's population were yesterday alerted to the announcement of a split in Tinseltown. Another one. The news that Bruce Willis and Demi Moore are to go their separate ways after ten years will be met with mixed emotions.
On the one hand there will be same fairly ill-suppressed hilarity. On the other hand there will be much heavy-duty gloating. There will not, however, be a lot at sympathy for a couple who have marketed an image of matrimonial harmony that reeked at self-satisfaction.
Paul Bloch, a spokesman for Willis, issued a statement saying: "Bruce Willis and Demi Moore have announced they are ending their marriage after 11 years. They were married on November 21 1987."
Friends told the New York papers that the couple had been living apart for months due to their conflicting film schedules. There was also said to be marital strain due to Moore's relentless career climb and Willis' "wandering eye".
Supermarket tabloids in recent weeks suggested the marriage was on its deathbed and hinted at a reported romance between Moore and Brad Pitt. In March, the Australian celebrity magazine New Idea apologised for a 1997 article suggesting the marriage was not in good shape.
Rumours of an impending rift at first met with flat denial. The problem with flat denials is that ordinary punters are disinclined to believe them. The medicine doesn't work. When Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford took out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times to reaffirm the strength of their devotion to each other, the world simply refused to believe them and they were separated soon afterwards. Miss Crawford recently remarried on a beach in the Bahamas.
The Bruce-Demi split is much bigger than the Gere-Crawford divorce. At least in America it will have as much significance as Charles and Di; it will knock the separation at Woody and Mia into a cocked hat. And the reason is simple. It's rare, in a separation between two A-list celebrities, that no one feels inclined to take sides. In separating from each other, Willis and Moore are uniting everyone else.
For all of the 1990s the Willises seem to have dedicated themselves to the task of brandishing their unity even as they nurtured their individuality - he in the Die Hard trilogy in which he emerges triumphant even as his body is beaten comically to a pulp; she in films in which she has tended to use her body as a commodity. In many ways they were made for each other: they both endured deprivation in their childhood.
His was a blue-collar upbringing, hers was an itinerant one. It was perfectly understandable that they should wish to flout their success as a family in the world's face. His father was a welder who divorced when Willis was 16. Her father was a man who later turned out not to be. A travelling adman, he committed suicide when Demi (nee Demitria) was 17, two years after he was separated from Demi's alcoholic mother.
Moore already had one failed marriage on her CV, to a British musician, from which she got her surname. It was announced a couple of years ago that technically she shouldn't be allowed to use the name on documents, because her first husband turned out to be already married.
Together they made babies, and gave them names like Rumer, Scout and - almost normal, this one - Tallulah. The children were co-opted into the pictorials, most startlingly in 1991, when Moore showed off a child when it was still in vitro.
The set of pictures by Annie Leibowitz, the chief iconographer at Vanity Fair, frankly depicted a woman's naked body at full term. There was a huge media stink about it, but it was a thoroughly affirmative move which did a great deal to break dawn medieval taboos about pregnancy. But all the same, it set people wondering.
Moore later admitted that she and the magazine used each other in equal portions. It was a publicity stunt. A year later she was back on the cover of Vanity Fair as the human canvas for a body painting. She was wearing the image of a pinstripe suit on her naked (as yet unsiliconed) form. It was doubtless a clever statement about sexual politics, but there was also a potent whiff of here goes Demi again.
Willis and Moore called each other mommio and daddio and talked in interviews about the joys at parenting. Last year they did a fashion shoot for Donna Karan which presented a smooth sheen at marital success. But they also crammed their family home with a retinue at staff.
Not just personal assistants and an army at nannies, but also a body trainer, bodyguards, busybodies galore who attended to their every demand. The only thing Demi didn't have was a body double. She practised stripping for three months to make Striptease. She did all her own stunts in GI Jane. (And still they stiffed.)
In the putting people's backs up department it was Willis, to be fair, who had a head start. He came into the marriage on the back of television fame achieved by playing a private detective in Moonlighting who was perhaps the smuggest character in entertainment history. Moore, by contrast, was the good guy, the star of the weepy blockbuster Ghost and a couple of blameless Brat Pack movies.
The backlash really got underway once More thought she had disproved the Hollywood dictum that actresses aren't box office. After the success at Indecent Proposal and Disclosure, she wrested for herself a deal that got her financial parity with the action heroes.
The irony was that she was handsomely paid for precisely the films that reconfirmed the dictum: The Scarlet Letter bombed, Striptease, in which Rumer played her daughter, was so bad it had to be remarketed as a comedy, and G I Jane was only just pipped by Kevin Costner's The Postman at the antidote Oscar ceremony for this year's Golden Raspberry award. The last two were roles about empowerment, about a woman's ability to slug it out in a man's world.
While not going quite so spectacularly belly up, Willis' film career could do with a fillip. When he came to Britain to make the sci-fi movie The Fifth Element, he was said to be demoralised by the wearying prospect at playing yet another action hero, and told one co-star of his desire to get back to the theatre.
History will conclude that the Willis's extraordinary success put intolerable pressure on the very marriage that made them so marketable. One person could see it coming more than any other. When Moore was required by a director to get herself off the bottle, she went through detox in a jiffy. Years later she tried to get her mother onto the same programme, but she discharged herself halfway through.
Moore reportedly broke off contact, and in recent years her mother has taken to making Cassandra-like statements in the press. One damnation at her daughter went thus: "She's forgotten the world she grew up in and the people she grew up with. I see all the signs of a marriage in trouble."
Moore's publicist Pat Kingsley did not say whether the couple would be seeking a divorce, or who would retain custody of their three daughters. One source said the couple might file for divorce in Idaho, where they own a 40 acre property and a movie theatre, which Willis restored. Idaho divorce laws are said to be more equitable than California.
Aside from rumors of a split, the couple have been fighting fires on other fronts. In February they were sued by a former nanny, Kim Tannahill, who claimed they exploited her. She alleges "They showed inattention to the children" and that she was "shamelessly exploited and abused by them". Moore and Willis fired the nanny last summer, claiming she misspent their money and defamed them. They have also counter-sued Tannahill for violating a confidentiality agreement.
Willis and Moore were more than a marriage, they were an industry. They were partners in the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain, along with Arnold Schwazenegger, Whoopi Goldberg and Sylvester Stallone. Referring to her itinerant childhood, in which she changed schools with unsettling frequency, Moore once said that "Everything has got to be disposable. Don't get too attached, because you've got to be able to walk away from it."
That lesson will never be more useful.
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