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Jewish World Review Nov. 30, 2001 / 15 Kislev, 5762

Diana West

Diana West
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Beyond morality -- IT'S not quite right to call the following a morality tale. Not only would extracting a moral at this point in the story be a dicey enterprise, it's unclear the players would know exactly what to do with one. And while this story of the very rich and somewhat famous may stand as a cautionary tale for the rest of us, its circumstances are so far removed from real life as to be almost freakish. Still, it does contain recognizable elements of the most common plots from the book of life (certainly from the Victorian novel), providing an unusual test for the bounds of modern convention.

This story, still a-hatching, could go one of two ways: Either an unmarried girl is "in trouble" and her man is a cad, or a wily female has "entrapped" an unwitting male worm who, much to her consternation, has turned away. Either way, the New York Post's headline humanitarians got the gist of the matter across this month with "Pregnant Hurley's ex-lover: Prove it." That indelicate command is reportedly the very challenge American billionaire Stephen Bing put to Elizabeth Hurley after the British model-actress announced she was expecting a child in April -- fathered by her ex-boyfriend, Mr. Bing. (It's worth mentioning is that Bing owns a home in California where the law apportions as much as 28 percent of a father's gross income in child support.)

At this point in the 21st century, the unwed status of either the mother-to-be or father-to-be (ex-"partners" in the current parlance) is not at issue. Still, despite prevailing attitudes of enlightenment on the state of matrimony, there are implications to the case that are not likely to be explained by the clinical outcome of the all-but-inevitable paternity test.

The tabloids are calling Bing's reported skepticism as a gross humiliation for the woman in question -- a "sudden slap," says the New York Post, a "shattering insult," says London's News of the World, which broke the story. Such Victorian-style reactions, common enough from within a historic framework, would seem to defy all the postmodern conventions of ... well, unconventionality. While the tabs may not exactly be arbiters of behavior a la mode, they have managed to express the reflexive response that social engineering has not entirely eliminated in the rest of us. It is, after all, the barely implicit accusation of female promiscuity -- not male philandering -- that lies behind the headlines. Hurley, a lovely woman who has made a vocation out of being sparingly draped, may symbolize sexual liberation as well as anyone, but even at this late date, her adventures in sexual equality come across as misadventures.

Another curious element of the story is the plushly padded insularity of the pair involved. As the grandson of a real estate magnate, Bing's life is built upon a reality-defying fortune; as a very lucrative Beautiful Person, Hurley's livelihood depends on exposure-fueled celebrity. (Reuters notes Hurley "sprang to fame" after attending a movie premiere with actor and ex-boyfriend Hugh Grant "in a scanty Versace dress.") Such people don't have to follow the same rules as regular people -- or do they?

Enter Grant, Miss Hurley's former squeeze and no stranger to embarrassing publicity himself. The British leading man has now ridden onto the scene to play Galahad. According to "a friend of Liz" quoted in the London tabloid, Grant has pledged "his unconditional support" during the pregnancy. And more. "Basically," the friend added, "Hugh would marry her at the drop of a hat if she wanted."

Ah, the classic triangle. Hurley, it seems, could do worse than "unconditional support" during a pregnancy. Then again, maybe she could do better than marriage "at the drop of a hat." As for Bing, it's probably just as well that he and Hurley now communicate through lawyers. (Too bad they didn't choose that method sooner.) Just one problem: It looks as if the moral of this story will have to wait until the lady makes up her mind.

JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


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11/07/01: Facing up to the FBI's past mistakes
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10/11/01: Post-stress disorder
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04/06/01: For heaven's sake, a little decency!
03/30/01: The sweet sound of slamming doors and clucking feminists
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02/23/01: 'Ecumenical niceness' and other latter-day American gifts to the world
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02/12/01: If only ...

© 2001, Diana West