Love Makes the World, and Gossip, Go Round

I had just about gotten over the pain and grief associated with the breakup of Tom and Nicole, and now this. Julia and Ben have called it quits.

It was right there on the cover of People magazine, where anything useless eventually finds its way, and where I get a lot of my news about Hollywood.

Julia Roberts and Benjamin (please wait while I look up his last name) Bratt are pictured cheek to cheek, obviously in love, during what caption writers often refer to as "happier times." I stopped using the phrase when I saw it under the picture of a man who had died. Anything other than dead, I figured, would be happier.

People tearfully reports the news of the Julia-Ben breakup with references to them as a "golden couple." A friend is quoted as saying, "They were into each other's heads and souls," among other places, I guess. Another observed that they were seen recently playfully spitting watermelon seeds to see who could propel them the greatest distance.

Crazy kids. If that isn't love, I don't know what is.

They had been together four years, People reports, which is like forever and a day in Hollywood, but Julia is no newcomer to split-ups. There was Dylan McDermott, Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric, Lyle Lovett, Matthew Perry and Pat Manocchia, to name the ones we know about. One she married (Lovett), the rest were, well, pals.

And now Ben has come and gone.

The dissolution of their union, or whatever you call it, comes on the heels of the split between Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. They, too, once laughed and loved and spit watermelon seeds until something happened, we don't know what, and their love evaporated like puddles in the sun.

They actually had been married, which makes it a little unusual, and their children had a real father and a real mother, which is similarly rare. Even the critics liked them.

Sometime during all this (I'm a little fuzzy on dates), we drooled over the scandalous romance between The Girl Next Door and The Stud From Australia. That would be cute, pert Meg Ryan, an admirable successor to Doris Day, and Russell Crowe, described once as "the thunder from Down Under." He was actually born in New Zealand, but under the covers, who cares?

Meg was married to Dennis Quaid when she began spitting seeds with Crowe on the set of "Proof of Life," a movie that, like her love life, went into the toilet, as filmmakers like to say. Quaid sent her on her way after nine years of marriage, and Crowe left her when the novelty wore off.

But all wasn't lost. The week before Julia and Ben, there she was on the cover of People magazine, as pert and cute as a new puppy, getting it all together.

I have been suffering through celebrity breakups since Liz stole Eddie from Debbie. That was in 1958. Beaming Eddie Fisher and perky Debbie Reynolds were also the golden seed-spitters of that era. Then Liz Taylor, who could spit further than anyone, entered their lives, and it was no more Eddie and Debbie.

Eventually Liz dumped Eddie and went on to spit seeds with seven others, including Richard Burton twice, a senator, a carpenter and others of lesser notoriety.

There have been too many other major breakups to discuss in a limited amount of space. Desi loved Lucy until she kicked him out, for instance, and Marilyn Monroe's love life extended to a sports hero, a playwright and two politicians, and maybe others who claim to have been there but probably weren't.

America's fascination with the breakup of what are now called "relationships" embraces rock stars too, although I don't think even the term relationship would apply to them. They sort of mate or breed during the rutting seasons and return to their pounding and yelling and jumping, like wildebeests turned free to romp.

Our interest in the love life of famous people predates all of the aforementioned. Whether real or mythological, we can still get lumpy in the throat when we think of Cleopatra leaving Julius Caesar for Antony, which ended poorly, and King Arthur losing Guinevere to Lancelot, which caused the downfall of Camelot.

My favorite has always been King Henry VIII, who ruled England in the 16th century. He lived life aloud, to paraphrase Emile Zola, making love and war in grand fashion, eating whole spit-turned boars and instituting head chopping as a new means of divorce.

Both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard went to the block, both because Henry said they were adulterous, but mostly because he simply wanted to move on. To other women, that is.

Adultery is a nonexistent word in today's Hollywood, and head chopping has never caught on. So the Golden Couples will continue swearing their love to one another and spitting watermelon seeds from Malibu to Manhattan, until the watermelon is all gone and they're out of each other's heads and souls and whatever.

Nothing has really changed in the world of lust and gossip. It's just that People magazine wasn't around in Henry's day to drool over the finite details. How primitive can you be?


(Al Martinez's column appears Mondays and Thursdays. He's at

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