Line One: Hollywood

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Lately denials have been flying all over Hollywood. Warner Bros. Pictures denied that (contrary to a New York Post item) Marilyn Manson had been cast in the upcoming kiddie flick "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." The two actors' unions, SAG and AFTRA, denied that they are at war with each other. Warren Beatty's publicist denied that Beatty was responsible for the delayed production and runaway budget of "Town and Country," a much-troubled movie coming soon with Beatty, Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn.

And so when I heard the news on Monday that Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman had parted ways, I waited for the denial. Cruise's formidable publicist, Pat Kingsley, will be all over this one, I thought. She'll run down those rumors like a redneck in a pickup truck, hitch 'em dead to the back and drag them down Sunset Boulevard. And then came the shocking report over the Associated Press wire, with Kingsley confirming the awful truth.

After the shock wore off, I wondered, why do I care? I don't know Tom and Nicole. The closest I ever got to Tom was on a phone interview. The closest I got to Nicole was in a Broadway theater. She was onstage naked. I was in a box seat, fully clothed as far as I recall.

I care about Tom and Nicole for the same reason everyone cares about Tom and Nicole. The private lives of movie stars are our nation's longest-running reality show. We watch their movies to laugh or cry or defy death. We watch their lives so we can dream. So rich! So beautiful! And when they fall, we must admit, we feel a bit better about ourselves. But this time, the thrill is missing. For there was always something vulnerable about the Tom and Nicole marriage. When they wed 11 years ago, both were still in their twenties. It's easier to grow apart than to grow together. Despite their efforts never to spend more than two weeks apart, it was often a long-distance relationship (time apart was the reason their publicist cited for the end of the affair). And the marriage was battered by external forces. They fought back, suing a London publication that alleged that Cruise was gay and the marriage was a sham.

They won the battle in court, but left embattled nonetheless. They were scrappy when it came to their marriage, and admirably so. Both are known as very nice people. (OK, I don't really get the Scientology thing and they made some bad movies together, but who am I to throw stones?) Unless one of them is revealed to have been cheating with, say, Russell Crowe or Meg Ryan, neither is considered the bad guy in the breakup. I wish both of them well. And I'll forget about that "Far and Away" sequel, for better or worse.