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(Matt Sayles/AP)
(Matt Sayles/AP)

Fractured fairy tale: Why the TomKat story has us in a powerful grip Add to ...

Maybe if Osama bin Laden came back to life and was spotted on a yacht in the Mediterranean waving madly, or if Barack Obama proclaimed that he was really and truly the first gay president, or if Justin Trudeau tossed his locks and announced that he was definitely seeking the Liberal leadership, they would be pushed out of the headlines.

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You know whom I’m talking about. Even if you’re proudly and resolutely impervious to celebrity gossip, you know.

He’s 50, a movie megastar wound tighter than a drum and a prominent member of a religion many people find disturbing. She’s 33, an ordinary mortal movie star, but one who this past month achieved white-hot wattage not because of her talent but because of her breathtaking Escape from their five-year marriage.

It was a flight so precisely executed – with surreptitiously acquired cellphones and a secretly rented new apartment before a surprise sayonara phone call to her husband – that it reputedly lacked only the Navy SEALs landing on her Manhattan rooftop and spiriting her away. Take that, Ethan Hunt.

Oh and don’t forget You Know Who. She’s only 6, but has been woefully overexposed since day one, a tiny perfect fashionista mugging for countless unseen cameras, to the point that any attempt by her parents to protect her “privacy” will be seen as risible.

TomKat. TomKatSuri. Sounds like a delicious exotic dish, and it is, one that millions have been feasting away on, even those of us who loftily pretend we couldn’t care less. I will not lie: I have clicked.

People magazine hits the stands Friday chronicling How Katie Took Control: “She knew she had to have everything locked down before she pulled the trigger.” And how her “unflinching” lawyer father Martin helped to organize her timed-to-the-minute surprise departure, leaving her controlling husband apparently scratching his head and saying, “What’s happening?”

The fact that within two weeks the warring couple, perhaps horrified by the online quizzes – Suri, Better off with Tom or Katie?” – (or maybe they did the quiz themselves) speedily signed a divorce settlement, with an alleged confidentiality clause, is, I admit, a bit of a dampener.

But the grip of this story is powerful because we’ve been here before – it’s a narrative that never fails to interest, a reverse fairy tale, the princess fleeing the prince, leaving behind the palace and all its supposed splendours. Run, princess, run. The prince turned out to be a frog, or at least a weirdo.

That is why the tale of Diana, Princess of Wales, was so haunting for those of us who remember the early years of her escape, the ghastly errors in judgment – alas, no smart lawyer father advising her as she went on national television looking like a wreck to softly say of her soon-to-be-ex husband, Prince Charles (and his now hearty middle-aged wife Camilla), “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”

There will soon be a movie about the last two years of the princess’s life, starring Naomi Watts, made up to look uncannily like her, with the perfect title, Caught in Flight, before marketers blandly changed it to Diana.

Caught in flight. That’s precisely what we are drawn to. Not just the fairy tale but the shattering of it. The day the princess wakes up and decides that she is outta there.

In both these cases, relatively unformed and “nice” young women – no college education, a reputation for being “good” girls – snag the big fish, an older famous powerful man, seen as one of the most eligible bachelors in the world, but only if you squint your eyes and ignore their blaring eccentricities.

In both cases, the young women take a gigantic leap in public stature that comes with its own set of invisible shackles. In both cases, the young women grow thinner, more beautiful, and definitely sadder. Their huge limpid eyes beam SOS’s as they cling to their gorgeous children – the heirs! – and walk often sombrely alongside their famous husbands.

By their early 30s, they know they can’t live like this any more, and they know they will pay a huge price for running away from it. Not from society, though – maybe their kids will suffer, and who knows what private punishments their titan husbands and their teams of lawyers dole out – but society stands squarely with them. And besides, they have their own team of lawyers.

Yes, society says, it was intolerable. That family! (Diana). That religion! (Katie)

Society forgives them and wishes them well. They are stand-ins for the millions of young women who still buy into the Cinderella syndrome, who still believe, despite decades of feminism, that the prince, older, handsome and wealthy, is going to raise them up and keep them safe and happy.

They walk away with millions, of course, so that many not so cynical young women would say it’s “worth it.” Do the time, get the dime.

Diana’s flight got messy and she died from it. Katie Holmes will suffer no such fate, surrounded by loving family, her Midwestern mettle standing her in good stead as she rebuilds her life.

As for those princes? One married his mistress and is living happily ever after. And we all know this: There will be young women lining up to be the next Mrs. Cruise.

 

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