As Michael Douglas prepares for both the aggressive treatment of his throat cancer and the release of the sequel to Wall Street, I wonder if he's watching footage from Eddie Murphy's blistering stand-up in Raw.
In the 1987 film, Murphy raves about California alimony law - which, barring a prenuptial agreement, promises half of the wealthier spouse's wealth to the other. "Half!" Murphy screams in a spun-out fury.
This week, Douglas's ex-wife Diandra Douglas has taken her cancer-stricken ex to court to demand half of his income from Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, because the terms of their split dictate that she receive half of his royalties for any project he undertook in the 23 years they were together. So far, she has collected $6-million (U.S.) worth, in addition to a $45-million settlement.
Using the logic of a mad scientist (Seize the Wall Street Genome!) and acting approximately as grossly as the viral, repugnant Mary Bales, who recently played with then tossed a tiny cat into a garbage bin for kicks, Diandra's decision to squeeze Douglas right now casts serious aspersion on the very idea or validity of alimony itself.
I understand the Amy Irving-like wrath of Diandra: Both women married legends (in Irving's case, it was Steven Spielberg), and expected to spend the rest of their lives to the right of the throne.
Instead, the moment Diandra, more than a decade Douglas's junior, began looking a little wan and thin-lipped, he made a raging play for Catherine Zeta-Jones, the lovely Welsh actress the British press enjoys insisting is decades older than her stated age of 40.
"I want to father your children," the actor is said to have panted at Zeta-Jones, and promptly sired two. Douglas has a son with Diandra, Cameron, 21, who is currently serving a five-year prison sentence for heroin possession and coke and meth dealing. Douglas called himself a "bad father" when Cameron was jailed, but his glam children, Dylan and Carys, seem to be doing very well, with their blissfully happy parents.
Is this what Alanis Morissette was screaming about when she sang of a lover jilting her, of "the mess you left when you went away"?
Are the ruins of Douglas's first family, pictorially, like the image of the sun-cured Ivana Trump? (Who was just now convinced by Harper's Bazaar to lose the "pineapple" hair, or bubble-pouf, Vogue magazine made her over with after Donald dumped her for Marla Maples in 1990.)
Or is Diandra more about heartless greed, more of a Gordon Gekko than his disillusioned protégé Bud Fox? Fox was played by Charlie Sheen, who now stars on a sitcom partly preoccupied with a ruthless, castrating ex-wife and her rapacious alimony demands.
This is not merely a Los Angeles phenomenon: I know women who have taken their husbands to the cleaners, purely for revenge, while piously asserting what they "deserve" and are "legally owed."
In The Other Woman, novelist Joy Fielding creates a complex male character who fights persuasively for jilted women's fiscal rights in court, while being tormented by his vindictive, greedy ex - the narrative, ultimately, rests on the side of women who triumph on their own, whose resources are inner and immeasurable.
One is surprised alimony exists, even if feminism is taking a long nap. Of course, there is the example (virtually, the canard) of the woman who slaved to put her husband through Medix or an online legal secretary course only to be deprived of his subsequent wealth.
Yet, did the wildly rich Diandra work her talons to the quick paying for her husband's method acting classes, head shots and important collection of combs and vanity mirrors?
No. She is a onetime trophy wife scorned, and if she prevails in court, she will have established a disquieting precedent.
If Henry Winkler, currently and dreadfully appearing on Fox insurance advertisements, were to leave his wife of 32 years, could she take him back to court every time he used certain words or intensifiers? (The plaintiff declares that Winkler recklessly and with forethought yelled "Nice shot-a-mundo" and "Ayyyy" to a fellow golfer.)
Pause and consider: Michael Douglas, the disarmingly charismatic, increasingly great modern actor and the cheerful star of such sexploitation or sexy sexual politics films as Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction is fighting for his life.
His doctors are positive, but the man has throat cancer. He is already being shamed for his heavy smoking (at a half-pack a day, this seems unfair); he is already looking solemnly back at his life - in interviews, the suddenly white-haired Douglas is contemplative, somewhat regretful of having worked so hard for his father's (the legendary Kirk) approval.
The racy Douglas films are thrilling high-art trash; his later work, in Wonder Boys and Solitary Man, is unaffected, piercing and indicative of an expansive sense of male aging, of male power and beauty.
His illness is terrible news! Can't we focus on this without being distracted by the woman who still refers to herself as "Mrs. Douglas" and her nightmarish gluttony?
"Move on!" Michael Douglas's lawyer berated her the other day.
It is not that simple: Her kind of hurt is a whole other kind of cancer.