But I Just Saw Them At the Store!
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Though it is murder on the soul, celebrity gossip does keep us young, if only in the sense that it renders us childish and reliably gullible, the way some children can still be completely sideswiped by this particular bit of news: Honey, your father and I are getting a divorce.
Rare is the child who doesn't see a split coming in advance. Same with us, and Us. While magazines and gossip shows have prided themselves -- like savvy kids -- at turning a whiff of a rumor into a fait accompli, the celebs have gotten better at pretending everything's just A-OK, even better than they faked happiness in the studio-system days. It's not Hollywood, it's Iowa! Hush and eat your dinner. We just don't speak of it -- until we speak of it, or our publicists do:
"Kate Hudson and Chris Robinson have confirmed that they are separated," Brad Cafarelli, Hudson's publicist, confirmed Monday to the Associated Press.
Well, there you go. Another not-nice little moment of surprise about the dissolution of an actress and a rock star, brought to you by the steady waves of the infotainment surf. But they seemed happy. They had been married since 2000, which is forever in celebrity years. She had just been telling a round of reporters, in the course of promoting her last movie, some of what's she's learned about staying married: "I don't like this idea of the perfect marriage," Hudson explained to Elle. "People can be in love madly and deeply and go through so much and still end up together. That's what you hope for. . . . No one should get married if they think it's going to be a fairytale."
In Hollywoodspeak, that's the sort of quote that should have sent the gossip machine into at least a state of suspicious anticipation. We would then have been alerted in pink and yellow typography at the checkout line -- not big on the magazine covers, perhaps a few lines in a lower corner -- Trouble for Kate and Chris? -- another seemingly fine marriage bites it. This is how we like our gossip now: An alarm is sounded, and denials are issued, for weeks and weeks, until it comes true, as if enough bad press could will it to be. The last thing Kate Hudson did, besides "You, Me and Dupree," was settle a libel suit with the British edition of National Enquirer, which had written that she was dangerously thin. (Imagine being called dangerously thin when you weren't. Most of us would send thank-you notes.)
Hudson and Robinson lived in a marriage that could be admired by those with nothing better to do: She was young (20 when they met), the daughter and eerie update of Goldie Hawn. He was in his thirties, with that creepy, beady-eyed, rock-star look that only a starlet can love. Everyone said it couldn't work, which is why you root for it. Celebrities under pressure always forget this about celebrityhood: People who love gossip are, at heart, optimists. A middling movie star is still a skyscraper in our minds; we are there for the groundbreaking ceremony and the implosion.
Her career ascended (an Oscar nomination in 2001, for playing a rock groupie) while his became more and more niche. She is 27 and at a point where she can play the cute lovelorn chick for five more years; he is at the point where his back catalogue of hits cannot sustain a front catalogue of hits; it's all nostalgia now, rock at 39 is hell; consequently he has come to resemble a Civil War reenactor. Together they always looked as if they were headed to different worlds. They have a 2-year-old son. They got along for the lens, appearing odd enough together to convey a sense of the usual. She said she learned a lot about relationships from watching her mother's unwedded bliss for 23 years-and-counting with actor Kurt Russell.
Twenty-three years! That verges toward the gold standard of Hollywood pairing: Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, who have been married 48 years. Whenever anyone says Hollywood marriages don't last, people look toward Connecticut and a salad dressing empire, and superstitiously genuflect, and say yes, they can -- setting aside the 11 years Newman spent married to his first wife.
But they can't: Nick and Jessica. Charlie and Denise. Shanna and Travis. Carmen and Dave. (Want to lose your love? Simply profess your love to a magazine or talk show, or on a weekly reality show.)
What else do we know about Kate and Chris? Nothing.
What did we ever know about Kate and Chris? Nothing.
What does it amount to, what can we take away? Nothing.
The beast of gossip loves this moment best: Befuddlement. News it didn't already know. That is the very freshest meat. That is like marrying Kenny Chesney over a weekend, and then unmarrying him just as sneakily five months later. Whanh? Hunh? Gosh! Those are the reactions you want in the express checkout line. (Unless of course you live in the world where the first question is Who, followed by a very disdainful Why? That world exists. That world has Hezbollah, the end of oil reserves and the trade deficit. That world has a special loathing for celebrities and anyone who would familiarize himself with their divorces.)
Setting aside an amazing film or an incredible song, the greatest gift a celebrity can bestow upon the public is this gift of utter surprise. Tragic death is the finest example of such a sacrifice, but it is extreme. Tragic divorce will do. To qualify, tragic splits cannot come in the slow, customary build-up; tragic splits must land with a thud.