For years, maybe decades, I used to see a romantic ad in the magazines that pictured a man, a woman and a perfume bottle. The ad always had the same tag line: "Promise her anything, but give her Arpege."
I never could figure out how this ad sold perfume. It sounded to me like Arpege was the booby prize of broken promises. Promise her a Rolls Royce and give her a lousy bottle of perfume? Promise her the moon and give her an ounce of smelly stuff? What were they doing, promoting duplicity?
I suppose I was just a skeptical child. Certainly more skeptical than Vicki Morgan or Lee Perry. These two women in the courts, and in the news, are portrayed as champion believers. But when their romances fell apart, they decided that they wanted a lot more compensation for broken promises than a bottle of perfume.
Each of them has followed Michelle Marvin's well-worn path to the law courts.
In July, Vicki Morgan, that self-proclaimed "other woman" in the life of the late Reagan pal, Alfred Bloomingdale, filed suit against Bloomingdale for $5 million. She claimed that he had gone back on his promise of lifetime support in return for her attentions, her alleged business help, and what she described as "therapy" for his Marquis de Sade complex.
That not being enough, mistress Vicki went on to sue wife Betsy for another $5 million because she alleges that Betsy had the gall to put an end to the payments. Then last Wednesday, a scant month after the death of Bloomingdale, Vicki Morgan filed a 20-page declaration in court of promises, promises, broken promises.
Lee Perry's story is more complicated. She isn't a "model"; she's an assistant professor at Harvard. She alleges that Richard Atkinson, the head of the University of California at San Diego and a married man, impregnated her in 1977, and then persuaded her to have an abortion. Lee Perry maintains that she only agreed to the abortion because he promised that they would conceive a child again.
Last week Atkinson denied that he had impregnated her or ever tried to convince her to have an abortion. But Perry is suing him for "fraud and deceit," seeking $1 million in damages for broken promises. So much for free love.
What is going on here in the brave new world of chutzpah law is as simple as it is seamy. Vicki Morgan, we are told by her original lawyer, Marvin "Palimony" Mitchelson, is out to establish the principle of "mistress' rights." "We believe," said Mitchelson, "this is the first suit where the other woman has sued the wife." Hip, hip, hooray.
Lee Perry, who went to the same lawyer, is said to be out to establish the right of motherhood. "Not every lover's promise is binding," says Mitchelson, "but this woman has a right to have a child, and he misrepresented his intentions."
I always find Mitchelson's role in creating this area of the law intriguing. His women are invariably posed as hapless victims of male duplicity: women who have been loved and abandoned; women who are more to be pitied then censured. He then overlays this most ancient of honorables onto some fairly updated turf: housemates, mistresses, other women. He treats them as if they were buyers not able to beware.
But unless Vicki Morgan's brain was addled by 12 years of Marquis de Sade therapy, I don't see her as dumb enough to have believed that Bloomingdale's unwritten contract was more binding than society's unwritten contract. At least she was mentally up to firing Mitchelson, because of "continued and fundamental disagreements." Her new lawyer would have us believe that it was her business acumen that led Bloomingdale to make her a partner in the Showbiz Pizza chain.
Nor do I see Lee Perry as a proper victim. A woman with a curriculum vitae that runs four pages, a family therapist for five years, a doctor in counseling psychology, a teacher of human relationships -- along the way she should have learned something about taking responsibility for decisions.
Whether or not it was Atkinson who impregnated her, she had, and made, the choice of abortion. According to Mitchelson last week, she is still willing to drop the suit if he agrees to impregnate her -- naturally or artificially. Should a man be required to fulfill this sort of "contract" by doing it again? Can any one of us be sued for breach of seduction? Can those who swore "I'll love you forever" be sued for deception and fraud?
No, these are not issues of rights. Both women were into the murky area of promises, promises, broken promises. They were in high-risk affairs, totally uninsurable. The attempt to recoup their losses in court is outrageous.
There is a strange odor about these two law cases, but it isn't Arpege.