Flash for love. Flash for life. It works or it breaks.
—Flash, sung by Princess Stephanie
Patrons of Hollywood’s trendy restaurant the Ivy watched agog as Monaco’s Princess Stephanie and Hollywood’s Brat Pack prince Rob Lowe played out the latest scene in their romance. Presumably drunk with love, the two spent much of their time at the small dinner party (given in their honor by a former schoolmate of his) locked in long, passionate, tongue-baring kisses. “They were really going at it,” reports another diner. Heavy smooching failed to turn the Princess starry-eyed, however: When she wasn’t in Lowe gear, Stephanie was hurling blue epithets at dining companion and actor Judd Nelson: “—— off, you dirtbag!” for example. At the end of the evening the two lovebirds had to grope around under the table to locate Lowe’s glasses before they staggered into the night, leaving lesser mortals to settle the bill.
A week later, at the Princess Grace Foundation junior gala in Dallas attended by her family, Stephanie and Rob arrived 90 minutes late (they’d been dining with friends) and refused to mingle with the folks who had paid $125 a head for a little royal treatment—and who were thus royally ticked off.
But if the season’s hottest couple flunked etiquette, they lead the class in star appeal. Not since Mick and Bianca first took a plane has romantic fortune, jet-set division, coughed up such a news-making intercontinental pair as the handsome Princess and the pretty Hollywood kid. They seem just about perfectly matched—in age (she’s 21, he’s 22), in public appeal and even in looks. Lowe has proven that a good face and talent can outlast any number of mediocre films, such as About Last Night and Oxford Blues. At the same time, Stephanie has shown a gritty ability to rise phoenix-like from scorching notices, although hers have focused on extravagant real-life misbehaviors. In the last two years she has launched three successful careers—as model, swimsuit designer and now pop singer. At each career switch she claimed to have found herself. And every time, after more public tearing around, the world seemed to forgive her as young, fetchingly wild and troubled, the victim of wealth and a mother’s untimely death.
And now this.
It seems the quintessential romance of the ’80s—part travelogue, part photo op, part soap opera, all played at fast forward before café society on two continents. These days one must follow such goings-on very closely: In the age of zoom lenses and satellite transmission, when the most innocent peck or slightest tiff can beam around the world in seconds, a rumor will sometimes cross the dateline ahead of you and come back around as fact. During one 48-hour period last month, the New York Daily News announced that Stephanie and Rob, who exchanged Cartier rings in September, planned a June wedding (she loves him); a press agent in Paris declared that “It’s been over five days” (she loves him not); Lowe’s onetime girlfriend and still confidante Melissa Gilbert, who surely ought to know, insisted, “They’re dating” (she loves him); and Stephanie’s record-marketing director, Eric Ghenassia, announced, “Stephanie has seen the light and it’s over, finished. Yesterday she had enough” (she loves him not). What is a love-starved world to think?
This much is known. Before their mini-tour of the U.S. last month, Stephanie and Rob spent 10 days together in Paris in September and were seemingly inseparable; Lowe even tagged along to her taping for a Japanese TV show and sat in the audience. That week Yves Roze, Stephanie’s record producer, confidently told paparazzi, “C ‘est I ‘amour.”
They had met—how could it be otherwise?—via the media. Last year Lowe blurted to Joan Rivers on the Tonight Show that the Princess was his fantasy date. In response Stephanie told the French magazine Globe she thought Rob was cute too. Finally a press representative with Warner-Columbia in Paris—not an obliging film festival limo driver, as one strangely resilient story has it—set up a meeting in the flesh and the rest is history, sort of. Lowe was scarcely back in Malibu in early October when Stephanie in Paris was reported to be lovingly hanging on the arm of a tall man described only as a “volleyball type,” the championship games being then in the city.
It is obviously tough to keep up with Stephanie’s amours; even the public list is long. Her first love, apparently, and the longest, was Paul Belmondo, the earnest, teetotaling son of actor Jean-Paul; it began when she was 17. Two years later Stephanie took up with professional bad boy and leather designer Anthony Delon, sultry son of actor Alain; Anthony was just out of prison for car theft. Male model Stéphane Labelle was next seen carrying a big, optimistic supply of shirts into Stephanie’s apartment. He lasted less than a week.
Next she was pictured with race car driver Alain Prost, 31, although he’s married and has a child. She was also linked to driver François Hesnault, who has since married Alix de la Comble, Stephanie’s partner in the swimsuit business. That year the royal birthday (her 20th), which Monégasques scrutinize with the same attention a Kremlinologist pays to the reviewing stand in Red Square, turned up Christian De Beauvais, who had the virtue of being a count and a working architect. Monaco was pleased, for a change; Stephanie quickly cut him off. Within weeks she was hospitalized, suffering from exhaustion, an intestinal bug or the fast life, depending on your source.
Leave it to Stephanie to find love, even during a posthospital period: Returning from a rest cure she sailed into the arms of Didier Phitoussi, the son of a cardiologist, who lasted through the spring. She rounded out the year with Swedish driver Stefan Johansson, who finally declared, “She’s too fast for me.” Eventually there came another year, another birthday. This time, American-born actor Christopher Lambert (Greystoke) stole the show at the party by arriving late, staying even later and being seen the next day hand in hand with the Princess. Last summer featured still another driver, Nelson Piquet, in a season otherwise noteworthy for its amorous calm, until Rob.
Dizzy as all this seems, Stephanie’s subjects remain largely loyal. “She is as rambunctious as any kid of her age and we’re proud of both her success and her spirit,” protests one governmental higher-up. Adds Vernon R. Farnsworth, vice president of Chase Manhattan in the principality: “We regard her exploits as youthful exuberance.”
Lowe’s exuberance is also youthful but less documented. He was romantically linked for four years with Melissa Gilbert and while he was shooting The Hotel New Hampshire in 1983, dallied with co-star Nastassia Kinski. “He’s a horny young man,” jokes Tony Richardson, who directed the film. Rob also loves female attention. While shooting St. Elmo’s Fire, Lowe was standing naked in his dressing wagon with Emilio Estevez while outside squealing girls clamored for him. “Watch this,” Lowe told Estevez, throwing open the door, leaning out and calling to his wardrobe man: “Jimmy? Do you know where my clothes are?” He barely got the door locked on the ensuing stampede. Recalls director Joel Schumacher: “We had to get the cops to drag them out of there.”
Lowe is not without more mature admirers. Richardson, the 58-year old director of such classics as Tom Jones, says flatly, “I think he’s the most talented young actor around. He has the sexuality, the charm, the romance to become the next Cary Grant.” Melissa Gilbert remains one of Lowe’s staunchest allies. “We have a very close bond,” she says. “We talk every couple of days, good news or bad news.”
As Lowe has found out by now, Stephanie poses problems that going out with your run-of-the-mill star doesn’t entail. To begin with, there is the bodyguard demanded by her father, who has given in to her on a number of other issues. Then there is her permanent court—the hairdresser, press aide, personal secretary and others whom Stephanie keeps around to ward off interlopers; they travel in a pack, jetting wherever she is. “She wants people to take care of her,” explains one of them. In addition, there is Stephanie’s deep if understandable fear of being exploited. “When you give a lot and you’re deceived, it’s like a rape,” she said once.
These days she seems to be feeling “more comfortable in her skin,” as the French say, bolstered by sales of her swimwear and the success of her first album, Besoin (Need). It hit the top of the charts in France and West Germany and will be out in the U.S. next spring. Still, Stephanie, who says, “I’ve been very hurt,” needs constant reassurance. Concedes record producer Roze: “She schemes to get love.”
How long Lowe will last is anyone’s guess, but he does seem, in one way at least, a kindred spirit. “I did a lot of growing up between ages 14 and 16,” he said recently. “Now I seem to be in remission.” Should he succeed where so many have failed, he may well heed the cautionary words of Paul Belmondo, to whom the wistful ballad Fleurs du mal on Stephanie’s album is dedicated. “When I was involved with Stephanie,” he says, “it happened naturally. I never looked at it as if I’d been used. But now, with some distance, I see how you can lose your private life. I would never repeat it.” It’s enough to make you pity the poor Princess, almost.
—Written by Lee Aitken, from reports by the Los Angeles and Paris bureaus