October 25, 1982 12:00 PM

Ryan O’Neal and that fetching legal secretary from Pasadena, cavorting on the beach in Malibu…Diane Keaton seen fleeing Elaine’s again on the arm of that dapper shelving salesman from Parsippany, N.J…. Waving to photogs at a stellar Broadway opening, that bounteous beautician from Buffalo and a breezy Burt Reynolds.

If these dispatches from the social front don’t quite ring true, the fault may lie less in ourselves than in our stars. It’s a much observed fact that celebrities, for the most part, date other celebrities. From Warren Beatty’s bedroom bounderism (see page 121) to Woody Allen’s predilection for his leading ladies, the famous often resemble bumblebees, flitting about in an undeniably lush—but small—garden. Are the honeys really sweeter there?

Celebrities seem to think so. Their cross-pollination, of course, sometimes produces lasting relationships, like the 24-year marriage of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. More often, however, their romantic flowerings are seasonal rather than perennial unless the partners can see beyond each other’s press releases, and that’s not so easily done. “Sometimes celebrities don’t really fall in love with the other person,” maintains clinical psychologist Tom Cottle, who often quizzes the famous on his syndicated TV series Up Close. “They get off on the headiness of celebrity life, the public adulation that goes with being a glamorous couple in a glamorous world.”

“Unfortunately, even celebs get star-struck by images,” agrees John Derek, who was married to Ursula Andress and Linda Evans before he became Bo’s tactician. “Whoever is No. 1 is the person everyone feels they should go with.” He points to hunky Tom Selleck as a notable exception. “Selleck is too smart to get sucked into this,” Derek says. “But when he walks into a room, some of the guests are probably having orgasms over him because they’ve been brainwashed by the star system.”

One Beverly Hills psychiatrist sees a “synergism” at work in couplings of the famous. “Celebrities are protected by an aura of power,” he explains. “When there are two of them they are doubly protected in this cocoon called celebrityhood.” That isn’t always a bad thing. Observes Patrick Terrail, proprietor of L.A.’s Ma Maison restaurant, whose Friday luncheon attracts more famous faces than Madame Tussaud’s, “Celebrities are often not allowed to let their hair down. With their peers they feel more comfortable.” Income is another factor. “If you make a similar amount of money,” notes Kirstie (Star Trek II) Alley, who dates Parker Stevenson, late of TV’s The Hardy Boys, “you can afford to do a similar amount of playing.”

Though the bonds of celebrityhood may unite some lovers across vocational lines—pairing Rolling Stone Keith Richard with model Patti Hansen or actress Jacqueline Bisset with ballet dancer Alexander Godunov—necessity is more often the mother of amorous invention. Love Boat’s Bernie Kopell quips, “Asking why celebs date celebs is like asking why monkeys date monkeys—they’re thrown together.” Or as producer Robert Evans puts it, “It’s really true that the only people one tends to meet are people in the business.” He should know; Evans numbers among his four glamorous ex-wives AM McGraw, who later married Steve McQueen, and Phyllis George, now the wife of the governor of Kentucky, John Y. Brown.

For lack of other opportunities, people in every business often wind up dating each other, and nowhere is that more true than in the entertainment world. One reason Cottle cites “is the already high level of intimacy. After you’ve kissed a colleague on camera, it’s a lot easier to establish intimacy outside the work area.” Clint Eastwood and Sondra Locke were smitten shooting The Gauntlet. Ringo Starr and Barbara Bach met on Caveman. Though Cupid has not messed with her personally on location, Conan the Barbarian’s Sandahl Bergman understands the phenomenon. “The cast and crew become your family,” she says. “Things happen.” Bergman adds that the demanding and odd hours performers work cut down their amorous options, too, not to mention the energy they have left at day’s end for explaining the abstruse ways of their business to outsiders. As muscleman Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bergman’s Conan co-star and steady of JFK’s TV journalist niece Maria Shriver, remarks, “It’s nice sometimes to be able to talk in shorthand.”

Then there are performers’ myriad insecurities. “Let’s face it,” says Cottle, “people in show business are treated like meat. They’re valuable one day, useless the next. The camaraderie between two people facing this kind of victimization can make a relationship very strong.” Or tear it apart. “We all have egos and are trying to get ahead,” says Sandahl Bergman, who dates a stuntman. “If one person’s career is flying and you’re still trying to get a job, it is going to cause friction.”

Smoke rises, too, if the relationship is exploited—with or without the partners’ consent—for its publicity value. Influential publicist Lee Solters, whose clients include Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Dolly Parton and Tony Bennett, admits that when two celebrities date, “you’re going to have a better chance of getting a photo in print.” Concurs New York superflack Bobby Zarem, “Unless you’re looking for press, you wouldn’t go with another celeb.”

In some cases, the press embroiders valentines out of friendships, as with 20th Century-Fox production head Sherry Lansing and Wayne Rogers or Donna (Bosom Buddies) Dixon and David Cassidy. Some touted twosomes—like John Travolta and Brooke Shields—are pure publicity fabrications. Yet Solters and others argue, with justification, that Hollywood doesn’t try (and lacks the power) to grind out the bedroom baloney it did in the 1930s and 1940s heyday of the studios, when Cary Grant was paired with Mae West, and Ronald Reagan’s budding romance with Jane Wyman was encouraged by gossip columnists.

Still, celebrities themselves understand the business value of the celebrity date. No one names names, but before and since the days of Montgomery Clift, bisexual or homosexual male stars have had themselves paired conspicuously with comely starlets.

For both male and female showbiz newcomers, of course, a romance with a star can be a shortcut to fame. Contacts are nearly everything in Hollywood, and one of the fastest ways to make them is at parties on a famous arm. Thus, young Matt Lattanzi landed a role in Grease 2 after he began living with the star of the original Grease, Olivia Newton-John. Jon Peters’ career turned from hairdressing to producing after Barbra Streisand opened doors. Screenwriter Melissa Mathison started dating Harrison Ford, who was a crony of director Steven Spielberg, to whom she later sold the script for something called E.T. In a status-conscious town, the Hollywood dating game is a time-honored means of social mobility—and a yardstick to measure who is on the way up, down or out. Because of their power over careers, producers and directors are considered good catches. The worst? Well, an old Hollywood joke asks, “Did you hear about the starlet who was so dumb she slept with a writer?”

Such are the pitfalls of celebrity romance that observers like psychologist Irene Kassorla, author of the bestseller Nice Girls Do and herself upwardly mobile, considers the only “safe” kind of relationship to be between stars of similar magnitude. That way, she says, “when you tell me you love me I know you have nothing to gain and I can really believe in your sincerity.” Some young actresses now take the defensive position of T.J. Hooker’s Heather Locklear, 21. “I wouldn’t want to go out with anyone more famous than myself,” she asserts, “because I wouldn’t want anyone to say I didn’t make it on my own.”

Not to be overlooked, either, is the value of the well-announced celebrity breakup. “It can help a career,” one insider relates. “And most people are happy with the publicity.” Whatever the emotional cost, in terms of publicity their fractures haven’t hurt Andy Gibb and Victoria Principal, Woody and Diane or Liz and Dick. With all the potential dangers, it’s no wonder Sally Struthers, whose Archie Bunker spinoff, Gloria, now airs on CBS, recently sighed, “What I really want is to meet one of those great lumberjacks from Oregon.”

Even if she did, things might not be easier. Noncelebrity dates often feel wowed, or cowed. Even if they aren’t, the outside world often treats them shabbily. “The person begins to feel he doesn’t exist,” relates Morgan Fair-child, who says she and the camera operator she’s been seeing “tend to stay home a lot.”

Weighing everything, many stars decide it’s still most prudent, as gossip columnist Liz Smith delicately puts it, to “sleep on their own level.” After a 1980 divorce from a Beverly Hills socialite, CHiPpie Erik Estrada is head over handlebars in love with Beverly Sassoon, Vidal’s ex. “It’s easier to date celebrities,” he enthuses. “They understand the pressures of the limelight and know how to handle it.” Whether they can share it is another matter. But as George Schlatter, executive producer of Real People, points out, when the going gets tough, “They can always ask for each other’s autograph.”

This story was written by Senior Writer Eric Levin and was reported by Lee Wohlfert-Wihlborg in New York, National Correspondent Lois Armstrong and PEOPLE’s Los Angeles Bureau.

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