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Brinkley’s divorce turns an idyll into a spectacle

Times Staff Writer

It began with a secret tryst in the Hamptons and is ending in front of television cameras outside a Long Island courthouse.

Model Christie Brinkley, her soon-to-be ex-husband, Peter Cook, and his former teen paramour, Diana Bianchi, are the stars of this season’s Hamptons morality play, currently onstage at a Central Islip courthouse, a few miles from the exclusive enclave of Bridgehampton.

Brinkley and Cook are fighting over custody of their children, Jack, 13, and Sailor, 10, as well as ownership of three boats and several properties.

“Reduced to its simplest terms, this is what this trial is about: integrity, trust and judgment,” said Robert Stephan Cohen, Brinkley’s high-profile lawyer, in his opening statement last week.

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But as the stars and the extras took the stand, it quickly became clear that the trial was about more fundamental things: sex and betrayal.

Brinkley, whom Billy Joel immortalized in song as the “Uptown Girl” before the two divorced in 1994, is a beloved fixture on the Hamptons circuit. At 54, her blond tresses fall on her shoulders just so and she still musters her charm in front of the cameras.

Bianchi, meanwhile, is a walking reminder that even supermodels have to look over their shoulders because there’s always someone younger. Bianchi is now 21, her brown eyes shielded by large Jackie Onassis-like sunglasses at all times.

Brinkley’s fourth divorce has captivated the New York tabloids. Paparazzi have fanned out across Long Island to stake out the courtroom and the family home, a $30-million Bridgehampton mansion. The Daily News called the saga “Lady and the Louse.”

Brinkley married Cook, now 49, in 1996. “He seemed to be a knight in shining armor,” Cohen said. In reality, he was a “master of deception” and a “sex addict” who spent $3,000 a month on online pornography, Cohen said.

Cook’s e-mail handle was “wannaseeall,” but on occasion he logged on to porn sites using son Jack’s user name, Cohen said. That revelation prompted headshakes and a murmur of dismay from observers.

Cook lawyer Norman Sheresky countered by suggesting Brinkley was a shrew. “A beautiful woman requires a lot of attention, a lot of care,” Sheresky said. She treated her husband as a personal assistant, he said, sleeping late while he took care of the children.

When she discovered his affair, she became vindictive, and Cook “begged for forgiveness” to no avail, Sheresky said. “She is in payback mode.” When Cook took the stand last week, dapper in a dark suit and periwinkle tie, he was terse at first, bristling as Cohen interrogated him.

But by the end of the day, Cook broke down and sobbed as he recounted his betrayal.

“You wish it hadn’t happened,” his lawyer said.

“I do,” said Cook, as Brinkley looked away. “I loved my wife and my kids. I was in a painful place.” He recalled that Brinkley suggested he seek treatment for sexual addiction at the Meadows.

Bianchi’s stepfather, Brian Platt, a Long Island police officer, recalled when he first met Cook. “I told him to stay away from her,” he said, “that his day was coming, and that it was coming pretty soon.”

Cook’s reply was, Platt said, “that I had no class.”

Bianchi followed her stepfather, answering Cohen’s questions in a girlish pitch. There was a lot she couldn’t recall, but she remembered the initial courtship, when she sang to Cook over the phone and he left money for her under a rock in front of his office.

“He just encouraged the creative side of things. He said that I had a great voice and that it was something I should pursue,” Bianchi said.

Cook met Bianchi in 2004 at a local toy store while buying presents for his children. A recent high school graduate, she was a clerk but dreamed of being a singer.

Later he hired her as an assistant at his Bridgehampton architectural firm. According to Bianchi, the months-long affair began when Cook made a pass at her. She was then 18.

Brinkley tearfully testified of learning about her husband’s infidelity in June 2006 when Bianchi’s stepfather confronted her after she had given a high school commencement speech in Southampton.

“My world was completely shattered,” she said. “My life as I knew it had vanished.”

She also discovered that Cook visited websites to “connect with people” in their neighborhood. “It was not a voyeur site. It was a meeting site,” she said. “It was more than I could bear.”

Since Brinkley and Cook’s split, tabloids have linked him to at least two other women who are also expected to testify in the case.

On Monday, Newsday reported, acting state Supreme Court Justice Mark D. Cohen began hearing testimony in the custody portion of the trial. Brinkley told the court, “The role of the family is the most important in the world for me,” and she again broke into tears.

The trial has riveted Bridgehampton. Dozens of locals attended the opening statements last week.

Residents expressed sympathy for Brinkley.

Cassandra Ellis, 32, a caterer, chatted about the case as she sat on a town bench in the sun. “A lot of women out here who think that every guy is a cheater watch the case and go, ‘Look, even the guy who’s married to Brinkley cheats.’ ”

Vintage store co-owner Ruth von Witenberg Cherniak, 69, said, “Everybody’s talking about it.”

She said a friend of hers had declared, “I don’t care to hear the story; I side with the bride.”

Cherniak added, “I think a lot of women feel like that.”

Brinkley’s is an “age-old story,” Cherniak said -- but with a happy ending.

“At one time in history, women couldn’t afford to get divorced,” she said. “Christie has a way out.”

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louise.roug@latimes.com


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