I’ve taken a tumble recently, and unearthed a beautiful blog called Old Loves, collating images of celebrities and their (former) lovers. You can watch the romantic entanglements of actors, musicians and models unfold before your eyes.
Think Peter Sellers and Liza Minnelli (engaged three days after meeting, in spite of having their own respective partners, and then separated a month later). Think Cher in her various, increasingly silicon, reincarnations. Think the impossible love pentacle of Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, Nora Hayes, Errol Flynn and Dick Haymes.
It’s a conflagration of every possible permutation and combination of the glossy magazines’ darlings. And it serves as a reminder that, to outsiders, Hollywood relationships are a special kind of intricate; complex and impenetrable.
What I find most unnerving is looking at the early days of relationships that seemed functional, trying to find signs of the chaos to come. But there is no malicious glint in Lenny Henry’s eye to hint at his emotional abuse of Dawn French in their wedding photo. Kurt Cobain cracks a toothy grin next to Courtney Love as he holds his daughter Frances Bean, only months before his overdose. Angelina Jolie seems content to be in the clutches of Billy Bob Thornton. You almost want to reach through the screen and pull May Pang away from John Lennon, step between Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn (with a blissfully ignorant Mia Farrow to one side), firmly shake Joan Crawford by her angular shoulders as “Mommy Dearest” tries to play happy families with Phillip Terry and gently coax Whitney Houston from Bobby Brown. I know how these couplings end. But it doesn’t make the fleeting moments of sheer joy and passion shared between two immaculate specimens less enjoyable to behold.
It makes me wonder whether the children of Tinseltown are really all that different to us. They are no more than confused, flighty, vulnerable, risk-taking adolescents, riddled with insecurity and anxiety. They’re looking for someone with whom they can share their unique burden of celebrity. They’re looking for another person to diffuse or distract the spotlight for a moment.
(Or, in the case of George Clooney, they’re looking for a shiny, reflective, blonde surface to channel and strengthen his radiant glow.)
The often litigious, sometimes violent and invariably bitter breakups continue to provide us mere mortals with alternating operatic tragedy and farce. Old Loves is a perfect cross-section of the twentieth century’s bright young things. And it puts the tumult of love, lust, jealousy and agony into perspective – this, too, shall pass.