THE TABLOIDS have had an absolute field day with Hugh Grant's arrest last week in Los Angeles. Here are just a few of the headlines: "How could Hugh?" "Caught with his pants down." Even my newspaper had its fun: "Would Hugh pay for sex?"
It is one of those incredible stories that capture the imagination in a perverse sort of way and keep people talking.
Why would someone who seems to have it all, risk it all, in what many people have termed a sleazy act?
zTC Obviously, because he never expected to be caught. But that still doesn't explain why the 34-year-old British actor, who consistently is described as a hunk, a heart throb and Hollywood's hottest new leading man, would pick up a hooker and pay for a sexual act performed in a car.
Oh, I did leave out the most important thing about him; Hugh Grant has for the last eight years been living with his lover, model Elizabeth Hurley, Estee Lauder cosmetics' multimillion dollar face.
The rest of Ms. Hurley, in case you've missed a peek at her in a cut-out Gianni Versace dress, is equally gorgeous. The New York Post, which contrasted a photo of Ms. Hurley and Mr. Grant with the police mug shot of the 23-year-old woman he was arrested with, used this caption: "CHEAP DATE: Far from his supermodel squeeze, Hugh Grant fell for the shop-soiled charmsof $50 hooker Divine Marie Brown (above)."
The Post also provided its readers with a woman on the street poll: "Should Liz take Hugh back?" The responses were, unanimously, no.
I gather Estee Lauder agrees, at least after reading the Daily News' account. It reports that the company told Ms. Hurley not to appear with him in public; of course, that's not quite the same thing as demanding that she drop him, but it's close enough.
Cosmetic companies sell fantasies: Use these products and you, too, could look like this, the ads imply. The models are not only beautiful, they are flawless; not a wrinkle, line or blemish is allowed to distract from their beauty.
It won't surprise anyone if Estee Lauder does all it can to distance itself and its products from this scandal. In a way, I think that would be a great mistake. In the past, I would have been hard pressed to come up with the name of even one woman who would have felt some connection with Lauder's supermodel. Today, I could write a long list.
It is not that Elizabeth Hurley suddenly is less beautiful; it is simply that she is more real. Men embarrass and humiliate
real-life women all the time. There is nothing novel about a man having an affair or a one-night stand, even if it jeopardizes his marriage. Therefore, I am sure some women would find a certain sense of comfort in knowing that what could happen to them could also happen to her.
Men might see it all differently. In fact, I've already heard a few rush to his defense with all sorts of psychological explanations and excuses -- "it's a disease," "he couldn't help himself," etc.
The incident also raises again the question of whether prostitution should be a crime. If the participants are both willing adults, and they do not engage in sex in public view, what's the problem?
I confess, I have mixed feelings about it. There is nothing pleasant about seeing prostitutes pick up "Johns" on street corners. It certainly is not an activity that improves a neighborhood. Many of us now associate such behavior with crime, drug use and AIDS. When an undercover L.A. police officer busted Joey Buttafuoco about a month ago, along the very same strip, for soliciting her favors, it appeared to be yet more proof of his guilt and sleaziness.
But compare that with the case of Heidi Fleiss, the Hollywood madam. She is staring at three years in prison for operating a high-class call girl enterprise. The men who paid dearly for her services are not being prosecuted. Where is the fairness in that?
I'm willing to take Mr. Grant at his word; he said, through his publicist, that what he did was "insane." Still, it doesn't mean that, were it up to me, I would forgive and forget. But that's for
Elizabeth Hurley to decide, anyway.
Deirdre S. Chaning is editorial page editor of the Stamford Advocate.