Divorce Used To Be So Softcore

December 1, 2010Article
Law Law Land Entertainment Blog

Congress is set to vote on middle-class tax cuts.  President Obama is pushing to extend a nuclear arms treaty with Russia.  And yet, stories about a wave of recent celebrity divorces continue to take a lion’s share of the headlines.  After all, who can think about nuclear arms treaties when it’s over for Eva and Tony?  Yes, you heard it here last: Desperate (Ex-)Housewife Eva Longoria Parker and her Spurs star husband Tony Parker are getting divorced.  They join the ranks of Christina Aguilera and Jordan Bratman, Mel Gibson and Oksana Grigorieva, and Kate Winslet and Sam Mendes, in what can only be considered a dark time for Hollywood and a boon for Hollywood divorce lawyers.  Personally, I don’t really care.  Although divorce is generally sad (or happy depending on how bad the marriage is), I don’t know these people.  I seem to be in the minority, though, as many spectators seem to get as emotionally involved as the divorcing couple itself.  Newspapers and websites everywhere are filled with stories of how Longoria filed for divorce amidst rumors of Tony’s infidelity. 

Longoria’s divorce papers cited “irreconcilable differences.”  This is a common ground for divorce nowadays, serving as a generalized “this just aint working” reason for ending a marriage.  It wasn’t always so easy to call it quits.  In the old days, you had to resort to beheadings or breaking away with your own new religion in order to part ways.  Even in the United States, it was fairly difficult to get a divorce for many decades.  The modern concept of “no-fault” divorce — the notion that there doesn’t need to be a “wrong” by either the husband or the wife in order for the marriage to dissolve — took some time to develop. 

Most states historically required one of a few grounds for divorce, usually including neglect, extreme cruelty, adultery and desertion — re-watch Husbands and Wives for multiple examples of each.  Often times, though, none of these grounds could be proven (extreme cruelty is in the eye of the beholder), and so divorces were denied, leaving unhappy couples even unhappier as they were locked in marriages that neither of them wanted. 

Some states hoped to attract visitors by greatly liberalizing their divorce laws (they’ve since moved on to offering tax credits for film productions to drum up business).  While it used to be fashionable to get married by Elvis in Vegas, it used to be just as fashionable to drive to Reno for a divorce (just think of Nevada as your one-stop shop for all your marital needs).  Soon, public outrage caused these divorce-friendly states (so called “divorce mills”) to tighten up lax divorce laws, forcing to resort to “collusive divorce.” 

In collusive divorce, the husband and the wife would together orchestrate grounds for divorce, often by telling matching fabricated stories of the wife neglecting her “conjugal duties” or, more often, adultery by the husband (strange that these roles were seldom reversed).  While it was usually clear to everyone (including the judge) that it was all made up, divorces were often granted.  At least the couple could do one last productive thing together, right?

As collusive divorce caught on, New York experienced a flood of what one author called “softcore divorce” in the 1930s.  New York saw hundreds of divorce cases that seemed to make one think that all men in New York were adulterers….and that they only liked blondes.  Comically, divorce courts were faced with the same evidence over and over.  It all boiled down to a classic formula: one husband, one blonde bombshell, and a photographer with great timing.

The scheme was this:  Husband gets a hotel room.  Husband answers a knock on the door only to find Blonde Bombshell standing there.  Blonde Bombshell makes her way into the room and removes her outerwear to reveal little to nothing underneath.  Husband’s clothes begin making their way off when, suddenly and invariably, the maid or room service comes knocking on the door.  Of course, without hesitation, partially-nude Husband accompanied by naked Blonde Bombshell answers the door only to find, SURPRISE, Photographer who snaps a couple of shots and runs off.  Next thing you know, the photos are submitted as evidence and the divorce is granted.

Of course, this was all planned.  There was never any sex, and usually the wife was even in on it.  The blonde would charge somewhere between $50 and $100 to play her part.  Oddly enough, the same women would show up repeatedly in photos across multiple divorce cases.  In fact, the New York Mirror in 1934 published an interview with one woman named Dorothy Jarvis, a sort of “professional mistress,” in an article titled, “I Was the Unknown Blonde in 100 New York Divorces.”

What’s even funnier is that at some point somebody bothered to do a study of 500 divorce cases from New York in the 1930s, apparently in effort to fight back against collusive divorces.  The study analyzed the photographic evidence of “adultery” in these cases and found the following facts:

In the 500 photographs, the man was wearing:

– his underwear 119 times
– pajamas 227 times
– a robe 101 times
– nothing 23 times
– a nightgown 8 times
– just a towel 2 times

and . . .

– a kimono 4 times

In these same 500 photographs, the woman was wearing:

– a nightgown 126 times
– pajamas 73 times
– a negligee 67 times
– nothing 55 times
– a bathrobe 32 times
– underwear 26 times
– a chemise 24 times

and . . .

– a kimono 68 times

That’s right, a kimono appeared in 14.5% of the divorce cases studied - shocking to me, as it almost precisely tracks my kimono average of once a week, or 14.3% of the time.  There may be a lesson here, but I can’t figure it out.  I’d also be curious to see a study on whether brunettes would have been just as effective. 

Anyway, the trend of collusive divorce continued until eventually judges and state legislatures got tired of the charades.  The solution: “no fault divorce.”  If they want a divorce, give them a divorce.  Just like any other newly-acquired right, Americans have made good use of it over the years, with divorce rates hovering nationally at about 50%.  Today, getting divorced is almost as easy as getting married.  This has proven useful for Hollywood, where the divorce rate is probably more like 98.765% (according to my unscientific study).  Look at the bright side — with every celebrity divorce comes the potential for two new celebrity weddings.  How else is the print media going to stay in business?