What Money Can't Buy


Julia Roberts was in fine form. Walking the red carpet for the L.A. premiere of America’s Sweethearts last month, she was radiant in a sheer gold top, strappy sandals, a flirtatious toe ring—and the kind of wide-screen grin only the woman TIME declared America’s Best Movie Star can muster. She gave hello hugs to costars John Cusack, Billy Crystal and, finally, Catherine Zeta-Jones, who locked her in a tight embrace as they rocked back and forth. While cameras flashed, Mrs. Michael Douglas leaned in for a second’s girl talk. “How are you?” she whispered. Roberts pulled back, grinned, and quietly responded, “I’m great.” But Zeta-Jones wasn’t having it. “No—how are you?” she persisted. Roberts looked at her again, apparently just getting the question behind the question: How are you now that your it-all-seemed-so-perfect four-year romance with Benjamin Bratt just collapsed in smoke and ashes?

Photographers closed in before Roberts, 33, could respond. But the $20 million-per-film, Oscar-winning addition to the dating game had effectively given her answer two weeks earlier on the Late Show with David Letterman, revealing to the host the never-complain-never-explain line she has been practicing in front of her mirror lately: “Hi. I’m Julia. I’m single. Doesn’t make me a bad person.”

The next Mr. Lucky probably won’t need that assurance before jotting her phone number down on a cocktail napkin. And, yes, it’s unlikely that Roberts—as well as recently single stars Meg Ryan and Nicole Kidman—would have to do more to get a date than approve applications. But while power, fame, money and sex appeal are a powerful quartet, they don’t always lead to romantic harmony. And though it might be hard, in a world full of lonely hearts, to feel sympathy for a few superstars who just made life more difficult for everyone else, things are tough all over. “Being a star brings its own set of problems and baggage,” a close friend says of Ryan, 39. “Men don’t seek her out. Friends of mine will say, ‘So-and-so would like to go out with her, but he doesn’t have the [glandular fortitude].’ These girls are not stupid—you have to have a really secure guy. They don’t just fall off trees.”

No kidding. But here’s a possible surprise: “Celebrities are just like us,” maintains L.A.-based shrink Noelle Nelson, “except that all the world is a stage for their dating lives. They can’t get whiny and depressed like we do. They can’t get chubby and sloppy. Everything they do, everything they say, every decision they make is scrutinized and discussed.”

And the general public can be tougher than an overbearing mom—especially, it seems, for a woman. Male stars like George Clooney or Bruce Willis don’t seem compelled to defend their dating habits. But for Roberts, after a broken engagement (to Kiefer Sutherland), a string of high-profile romances (with Dylan McDermott, Jason Patric and Matthew Perry), a failed 21-month marriage (to singer Lyle Lovett) and now the end of nearly four seemingly blissful years with Bratt, 37, the scrutiny and discussion often end with the same conclusion: Poor thing; she just can’t get her love life together. “There’s a tinge of the pathetic that’s always projected onto movie stars who are without a man,” says Marcelle Clements, author of 1998’s The Improvised Woman: Single Women Reinventing Single Life. “An unmarried male celebrity becomes a glamorous bachelor. A woman becomes a stereotype—either a wallflower or a tart or a neurotic or bitchy broad who can’t get along with men.”

The truth, of course, is more complicated. In Las Vegas in June, for example, Roberts was not looking for another chance with the 43-year-old Lovett (dating his former personal assistant April Kimble for three years) but a heart-to-heart chat with a man who has remained a close friend. Shortly after her split from Bratt became headline news, she checked into the swank Bellagio Hotel and headed for a nearby park to take in one of the country star’s concerts. The two also strolled the grounds of the Regent Los Vegas hotel deep in conversation and had breakfast at a coffee shop. Even Ryan—who ended her nine-year marriage to Dennis Quaid, 47, last summer, only to jump into (and out of) a nine-month romance with her Proof of Life costar Russell Crowe, 37—breaks bread with her exes. She bought an $8.9 million dollar home in Bel Air—a few miles from Quaid—to be near their 9-year-old son Jack. (They have joint custody.) In July she took photos of Jack as he played piano alongside Quaid’s band, the Sharks, at the Chico Hot Springs nightclub in Paradise Valley, Mont. And in June she was nibbling sushi at Man Ray in Manhattan with Crowe. Eating with an old boyfriend, it seems, is the safest thing on the menu these days.

On one occasion recently, “she went for dinner [with a man] and found out that he thought he was on a date,” says her friend. “She’ll have to get back on the horse soon, but she doesn’t want to date really. You have to stop for a minute and examine how you next make a move.”

And when she’s ready, her pal says, chances are good she’ll end up—for better or worse—with a familiar face. “There are not a lot of ways you can meet people, unless you meet them on movies,” the friend says. “Hopefully, next time we’re going to skip the bad-boy actor with a rock band.”

Whatever her romantic future, Ryan’s time now is for herself. For spiritual support, she heads to Upstate New York and the counsel of Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, the leader of the Siddha Yoga movement and the ashram Ryan has attended for years. And then it’s back to Manhattan for lunch at a restaurant like Serendipity 3—best known as an ice-cream parlor—where she met up with pals Carrie Fisher, Fisher’s daughter Billie and Meryl Streep last week. Ryan, says a friend, is less likely to talk romance (or lack of it) than whether she should commit, say, to the pricey handbag she eyed in Barneys’ Madison Avenue shop (the answer: yes). Recently, Ryan also reordered her New York City life, selling her three-bedroom Upper East Side apartment and buying two adjacent 3000-sq.-ft. downtown lofts she plans to turn into a single sprawling unit—for a total of $9 million.

Money, however, can’t buy love—as Ryan and the nation’s estimated 44 million other unattached women know too well. According to Clements, financially independent, well-educated women are statistically the most likely to find themselves alone watching Xena: Warrior Princess on a Saturday night. Given so many choices, “they don’t have to settle” and are willing to give up the “old-fashioned romantic fantasy of being with a man in favor of the fantasy of independence.” Of course, as Nicole Kidman can attest, it’s best to read the fine print on any fantasy package. The 34-year-old Australian actress scoured the divorce papers Tom Cruise served her in February—just six weeks after celebrating their 10th anniversary—and still, she told close friends, she couldn’t come up with a reason for their split. His cryptic explanation—”Nic knows why”—provided fodder for speculation that she cheated on him. But she denies any extramarital romance-and her friends insist Cruise fathered the child she miscarried in March. As one said, “No shadow of a doubt.”

Nor can there be any doubt that Cruise, 39, has moved on: He arrived arm-in-arm with Penélope Cruz at the L.A. premiere of her new film, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, on Aug. 13, and the pair spent the screening hand-in-hand (see photo, page 8). After meeting the 27-year-old Spanish beauty on the set of the upcoming romantic thriller Vanilla Sky, which filmed from last November through March, Cruise and Cruz have spent the last month appearing together around L.A. As the romance went public—a display Kidman found “shocking,” says a pal—she was across the ocean, having her own fun with kids Isabella, 8, and Connor, 6, in Sydney in late July. At Darcy’s restaurant in Paddington, she downed a half-dozen oysters, Western Australian scampi and wine, chatted with a staffer about her high heels and had such fun with fellow diners Russell Crowe (“like a big brother to her,” says one friend) and members of his band, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, that they left a hole in the ceiling. Says owner Attilio Marinangeli: “We want to keep it as proof of the lovely evening we had with them.”

Potentially less lovely was Kidman’s return to L.A. for the premiere of The Others just a day before her divorce took effect on Aug. 8. An encounter with producer Cruise never took place, but just in case he came with Cruz, Kidman’s hand was firmly clenched by girlfriend Naomi Watts. Says Dr. Nelson, who has treated entertainment clients for more than 14 years: “We all feel if our ex has someone on his arm, we want someone on ours.”

Now that her work duties are through, Kidman intends to take the rest of the year off to “take care of my self and my children,” she told Canada’s National Post in May. “I want to have two kids who grow up and say, ‘We are happy and healthy, and we love you, Mom.’ I want to know them, and I am willing to give up everything for that.”

For now, her own happiness does not include looking for romance. “I’m sure one day in the long-distant future she hopes to find love,” says one friend. But as her publicist Catherine Olim explains, “Right now she’s focusing on her kids.” As Kidman has said of finding a soulmate, “Oooh, that’s a long way off.” Still, as long as she’s thinking about things to give up, beaus in the biz might be good candidates. Ditto for Mariah Carey, whose recent meltdown has been attributed in part to trouble in her three-year romance with Latin singer Luis Miguel. And friends blame that split—like Ryan’s and Quaid’s—on too much time apart. Says Carey’s friend Jasmine Dotiwala, 31, an MTV producer and presenter in London: “Once I showed her pictures my boyfriend and I took with a timer camera, and she said, ‘Luis and I could never do that. It would never happen that we would ever be alone to do that.’ How easy can romance be when you are surrounded by your entourage all the time?”

Not very. Says Nelson of showbiz couples: “The nature of the industry means you are intensely involved in your work for long periods of time. You don’t have the routine that regular couples have to bond—long leisurely Sundays or dinner together. You may have two deliciously romantic weeks in Italy together and then be gone from each other for months.” And then, perhaps, for good. “There you are, far away from home with a glamorous someone, and he’s paying an awful lot of attention to you. If you’re having a hard time in your relationship, it’s so easy to walk away, because there is always someone else who thinks you’re a goddess.”

Not every star, however, seems willing to give up. Kim Basinger, who split from Alec Baldwin in January after seven years of marriage, has been spotted all over Wilmington, N.C., this summer with her siblings, her parents, her daughter Ireland—and her estranged 43-year-old husband. “Nobody knows what’s going to happen,” says a source close to Basinger, 47, whose father cited Baldwin’s temper as part of the cause for their split. “Give them a chance.”

Yeah—and spread those chances around. As far as Roberts is concerned, both she and Bratt are “two kids trying to find our way in the world.” The advice from the couch: Don’t hurry love. Even when she’s ready to date, Ryan, for one, won’t be waiting around for the phone to ring. As one close friend explains, there just aren’t that many desirable bachelors who would be calling: “You find guys that are cocky. But they’re not secure.” Recently Ryan was one of 350 celeb guests, including Paul McCartney, Tom Hanks and Mick Jagger, invited on an Aug. 17 luxury cruise from Helsinki to St. Petersburg, Russia, arranged by billionaire Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen. Even if it turns out to be no love boat, no problem. “She’s really enjoying her life this way,” says her friend. “She’s never been alone before. She’s having a fantastic time.”

Karen S. Schneider

Joseph V. Tirella and Elizabeth McNeil in New York City, Julie Jordan, Maureen Harrington, Rachel Biermann and Marisa Laudadio in Los Angeles, Kate Maddox in Las Vegas, Michaele Ballard in Wilmington, Kimberly Roecker and Pete Norman in London and Dennis Passa in Sydney

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