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Tinseltown Divorce: Survival of the Fittest

In Hollywood, breaking up may be easy to do. But the consequences for the ex-spouse with less clout can be devastating. Friends no longer return calls, party invitations cease, project meetings evaporate.

June 01, 2000|AMY WALLACE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The gold-embossed invitation to super-agent Ed Limato's exclusive Oscar party arrived, as it had for years, at producer Donna Dubrow's Brentwood home sometime in February. The name on the envelope was John McTiernan, the A-list film director whom Dubrow was in the process of divorcing, but that didn't strike Dubrow as unusual. Dubrow had attended Limato's party on several occasions--even a few times without her husband--so she assumed the invitation was for her.

So Dubrow RSVP'd yes. Minutes later, Limato's office called back. Was Dubrow attending with McTiernan, the agent's assistant wanted to know? No, Dubrow's assistant replied, she would come solo. A few minutes later, Limato's office rang again.

"The kid says, 'Well, I guess we sent out two invitations and John is going to be coming and we don't want anyone to feel uncomfortable,' " recalled Dubrow's assistant. "He kept alluding that he didn't want Donna to come, so much so that I finally said, 'So you want me to ask her not to come to the party? Is that it?' He said, yes."

Dubrow, a former feature film executive and industry veteran who isn't surprised by much, was stung. "I've known Ed for more than 20 years, since long before I knew John. The few times I'd gone to the party alone, Ed never cared that John wasn't there. I got the big kiss hello and that sort of stuff," she said. "Now, I'm on the 'Don't Come' list."

Divorce is never easy, but for Hollywood couples--especially two-career couples--it is especially brutal. In the entertainment industry, the personal and professional are more than tangled, they're conjoined. Here, where near-strangers seal movie deals with an air kiss, feigned intimacy is as commonplace as the real thing is rare. Getting invited to the right party isn't just a social coup, it is clout. Friendships rise and fall upon financial interests and everyone in town accepts it as the price of doing business.

But when a marriage ends, Hollywood's bottom-line thinking has both emotional and fiscal fallout. More often than not, one member of the divorcing couple feels the town doing a cold calculation: Which spouse matters more?

"It's truly Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War.' You do not side with the losing army," said Deborah M. Pratt, an actress turned writer-producer who split from television producer Donald P. Bellisario in 1991. Pratt and Bellisario had worked together on "Magnum P.I." and "Airwolf" (when Pratt was an actress) and then on "Quantum Leap," for which she received co-executive producer credit. But post-divorce, when she tried to produce on her own, she said she hit roadblocks.

"I believed that people I had worked for during my eight years of marriage who knew my contributions would support me in the transition. Most of them didn't," said Pratt, who also had written several "Quantum Leap" episodes. "He was the bigger player. [Most] people went with what Hollywood calls the cash cow. They knew where their bread was buttered. It took about five years to get people to stop saying, 'That's the ex-Mrs. So-and-So.' "

Sometimes, what motivates the town's response isn't cruelty, but a desire to preserve decorum. For his part, Limato said he sincerely regrets that the invitation for McTiernan went to the wrong address. He never had intended to invite Dubrow, he said, precisely because he had heard the split was acrimonious.

"I'm very fond of John and I'm very fond of Donna. But John is someone I talk to all the time. Every time he starts a film I'm talking to him about various clients," he said. "I don't really talk to Donna anymore, frankly, since they split because they were part of a team."

Choosing Sides Based on Status

Such thinking is no surprise to J.C. Larson, who is in the midst of a divorce from the prolific film and TV writer-producer Glen A. Larson. Despite having received producing credit on TV movies and series including the syndicated "Night Man," she has had some trouble being taken seriously on her own.

"One good friend--someone I had introduced to Glen--called me up and left a voice mail saying, 'Because Glen can give me work, I'm not going to be able to talk to you anymore,' " said the former actress, who became a producer during her 16-year marriage. While some talent agencies have been responsive to her attempts to set up meetings as a solo producer and writer, "I've also had a smaller agency say, 'Well, we don't want to tick him off because he uses our writers and directors.' "

Glen Larson was surprised by that anecdote, though he said, "I was once disinvited from a party because she was invited to go. I don't know what they were afraid of--a fistfight, or what? That was unlikely. We've been to several events without anyone having to call the police or fire departments."

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