When the media capital of the world meets a celebrity divorce, it’s a breakup made in tabloid heaven. So the city that has hosted the spectacular splits of Woody Allen, Liza Minnelli and Rudolph Giuliani now is feasting on the salacious details of model Christie Brinkley’s fourth marital breakup.
“It’s a freak show,” celebrity divorce lawyer Raoul Felder said Friday of the latest chapter in divorce — New York-style — under the media’s microscope.
The collapse of the 10-year union of the former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model and architect Peter Cook is being recounted in slow motion in a Central Islip courtroom on Long Island, not far from the Hamptons home where the couple had lived together.
The first day of a trial settling several million dollars in assets and custody of their children, ages 10 and 13, featured the 49-year-old Cook tearfully recounting a pornography obsession and his affair with an 18-year-old mistress. The mistress also testified.
A day later, Brinkley took the witness stand to recall being told of the affair by the teenager’s stepfather just after she had delivered a high school commencement speech in Southampton in June 2006.
“That husband of yours won’t knock it off. He’s having an affair with my teenage daughter,” she recalled being told by the man, a Southampton Village police officer.
Brinkley, 54, said she looked at Cook, shaking his head even though he had not yet heard the allegation, and thought: “My God, it’s true. He did do that.”
Newsday called it “Beauty & the Beast.” The Daily News dubbed it “Lady And The Louse.” In the New York Post, it was “XXX files.”
For the public, it’s familiar territory, the latest in a series of breakups exposing the dark side of the not-always glamorous life of the rich and famous.
In the late ‘90s, observers for several years witnessed the petty squabbles between Democratic fundraiser and Revlon Inc. Chairman Ron Perelman and Patricia Duff as they split after only 20 months of marriage.
The couple, with five failed marriages between them, still clawed one another so much over such things as whether their daughter could receive riding lessons or attend summer camp that a judge complained they were “too focused on attacking, torturing and slandering each other.”
The public also had a front-row seat to the marital breakups of Donald Trump, first from Ivana in 1988 and then again nearly a decade later after a 3 1/2-year marriage to actress Marla Maples, — who, the New York Post said, had bragged to a friend that the Donald was “the best sex I ever had.” Maples later called the report “an absolute, total lie.”
Singer Liza Minnelli and David Gest saw their 2002 marriage explode into the headlines in 2003 with Gest claiming Judy Garland’s daughter had beaten him during alcoholic rages, damaging his nerves, while she struck back by saying he stole at least $2 million from her.
Filmmaker Woody Allen created drama off screen in 1992 with the revelation that he had fallen in love with Soon-Yi Farrow Previn, an adopted daughter of his longtime love Mia Farrow. Allen and Farrow had never wed.
“Regarding my love for Soon-Yi — it’s real and happily all true,” Allen gushed at the time through a spokesman.
The ultimate public announcement of a breakup in a city bulging with journalists came when then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani announced at a televised news conference that he was filing for divorce — before telling his wife at the time, Donna Hanover. He was already dating his next wife, Judith Nathan.
At the time, Giuliani was represented by Felder. The lawyer said Friday those with wealth and fame sometimes make it hard for attorneys to minimize publicity, especially in a city where the gossip pages are often looked at first.
Felder said the divorce of Brinkley and Cook carries two lessons: “Don’t marry a celebrity and listen to your lawyer.”
He called the divorce trial “a case about nothing” because relatively few assets are at stake, considering the size of Brinkley’s fortune, and the sexual exploits being revealed were unlikely to affect the outcome.
“The thing started as a tragedy and turned into a farce,” he said. “Why would anybody want this public when they have children?”
He added: “They don’t seem to realize that the only audience that counts is the guy in the black robe.”
Even before Brinkley vs. Cook winds down, it finds itself shrinking on tabloid front pages, pushed out by reports of the newest happily ever-after celebrity marriages sliding down the chute.
This time, baseball star Alex Rodriguez and Madonna get starring
roles, with reports that a relationship between them has spoiled their marriages, though Rodriguez has stayed mum and Madonna’s publicist has denied a romance. Stay tuned.