THE NEW MAN HAS GROWN OLD. IRON JOHN IS A JOKE. EVEN THE Man of Steel has gone temporarily to rust. Not to worry. Surfacing now is a male icon that offers a tantalizing brew of tenderness and testosterone: the bodyguard. As in, of course, The Bodyguard, the sleeper hit starring Whitney Houston as pop superstar Rachel Marron and Kevin Costner as Frank Farmer, the former Secret Service agent hired to look after her following death threats. Though scorned by critics who carped about a lack of chemistry between the stars, absurd plot twists and Costner’s oddly cropped hair, the film earned more than $100 million in its first six weeks.
Why? The sound track, with its No. 1 single, “I Will Always Love You,” and a swirlingly romantic video doubtless have something to do with the film’s success, as does its status as one of the season’s few old-fashioned “date” movies. Beyond that, The Bodyguard‘s premise—hired hunk falls for vulnerable heroine—has obviously struck a nerve, especially with women, who comprise the majority of the film’s audience. “We all have a need to be protected—in fact, the idea of protection can become an aphrodisiac,” says Kevin Grold, a San Diego psychologist who specializes in relationship therapy. “For many women who have never [had] one, a bodyguard is an irresistible fantasy.”
But female celebrities who actually have enjoyed such protection seem no less attracted to the men who provide it. Indeed, women who have little in common other than gender have yielded to the seductiveness of being looked after. Both Eleanor Roosevelt and Madonna, for example, reportedly had affairs with men hired to protect them. Princesses Diana and Anne have, at different times, been linked to members of the Royalty and Diplomatic Protection Group. Not that these necessarily close relationships can’t be misinterpreted: Though supermarket labs have reported a romance between Dolly Parton and a security staffer who’s often photographed with her, the singer’s publicist, Lee Sellers, claims, “She’s never even had a real bodyguard, and I’ve been with her since she was flat-chested.”
But some bodyguard-client relationships do evolve into on-the-record romance. Just two months after her release from federal prison in 1979, heiress turned convicted bank robber Patricia Hearst married Bernard Shaw, who had safeguarded her when she was out on bail. Today the couple and their two daughters live in Connecticut; he, 47, manages security for the Hearst Corporation and she, 38, is a homemaker. Somewhat less settled are 27-year-old Princess Stephanie of Monaco and her lover—and former bodyguard—Daniel Ducruet, 28. The pair were first caught smooching in Lisbon by paparazzi in August 1991. “The Bodyguard Who Did His Job Too Well,” proclaimed one French newspaper, expressing a sentiment with which Stephanie’s father, Prince Rainier, was said to agree. Though still unmarried, Stephanie and Daniel have a 2-month-old son, Louis Robert Paul. (Ducruet also has some vexing legal troubles, owing to two recent assault convictions, for beating up motorists.)
“We all do make foolish mistakes,” says presidential daughter Susan Ford, who wed Charles Vance, a Secret Service man assigned to her father, in 1979. The couple, who have two daughters, divorced nine years later, and in 1989 Ford married Vaden Bales, a Tulsa attorney and father of two. “The relationship [with Vance] started off as a friendship, and it had a lot to do with my age at the time,” says Ford, who was 20 when she met husband No. 1, then 36. “Now that I look back on it, you’re always looking for someone to protect you. It’s ‘lake care of me! Take care of me!’ I never read The Cinderella Complex—I’m too afraid that my name might be in it.”
But if a Bodyguard sequel were to be made—one a bit less sentimental than the original—Hollywood would need to look no further than Whitney Houston’s real-life bodyguard, David Roberts, 40, a former Scotland Yard detective. The London Sunday Mirror ran a lengthy interview two weeks ago with his ex-wife, Marilyn, in which Mrs. Roberts claimed that her former husband developed an obsession for Houston that strained their marriage and contributed to its collapse in 1990. Roberts, who remains Houston’s bodyguard, denies the charges as “abject nonsense.” Their marriage, he says, “was experiencing problem-well before” he became Houston’s bodyguard in 1988. “I am a professional. To be a personal protection officer, one must become a member of the family without becoming subservient to it. One is not a bag carrier.”
It’s a tough business. Roberts likes to refer to himself as Houston’s “bullet catcher”—a term that is at once romantic and realistic. And what better fantasy for the women of the ’90s! After years of being told that they love too much, here finally are men willing literally to die for them. “Without hesitation, they would throw themselves in front of a gun,” says Britain’s Brian Hoey, a biographer of the royal family. Sgt. James Beaton, then 31, did just that in 1974, when an armed assailant tried to kidnap Princess Anne near Buckingham Palace. He took five bullets in all and was awarded the prestigious George Cross medal by the Queen. Another of Anne’s bodyguards left her service under less heroic circumstances: Peter Cross was dismissed from the Royal Protect ion Department in 1981, allegedly on grounds that he had gotten too familiar with the Princess.
Most celebrity bodyguards agree that as soon as the relationship gets personal, it’s all but over. “We will immediately transfer someone who is becoming anything but distant and professional,” says Gavin de Becker, who is known in Hollywood as the security man to the stars (clients have included Cher, Jane Fonda and Tina Turner) and whose 42-person firm has charged more than $50.000 for year-round protection and other security services. Moshe Alon, the 38-year-old former Israeli Navy officer who has been Liz Taylor’s security shield since 1985, agrees. “I have the kind of relationship with Miss Taylor that when she blinks, I know what she wants,” says Alon, who charges $1,000 a day, plus expenses. “But you can’t protect someone when you’re emotionally involved because then you’re looking at the person and not around them.”
Still, as Doug Collins, who has guarded Barbra Streisand and Tom Cruise, concedes, “We’re all human.” If the bodyguard is male and the client female, the enforced intimacy almost always creates an atmosphere of sexual tension. Unless, of course, you’ve already taken the fantasy to its logical conclusion. “I can’t recommend or not recommend the experience of falling in love with a bodyguard,” says Susan Ford. “But I may never see [The Bodyguard]. My daughter plays a tape of that song 100 times a day. When you wake up to ‘I Will Always Love You’ and go to sleep to it, you just want to forget the whole thing.”
VICKI SHEFF-CAHAN and JULIE KLEIN in Los Angeles, with bureau reports from London and Paris