Comic recall: (left to right) Rupert Murdoch, Wendy Deng, Tony Blair and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Brandt the butler. Photograph: PRP
As stories emerge alleging Wendi Deng had a crush on the former PM while married to Rupert, we recall Philip Seymour Hoffman’s role as butler to an elderly billionaire in The Big Lebowski
There is no getting around it: it has been a week when the showbiz world has seemed awfully black. Yet we have Rupert Murdoch to thank for a valiant attempt to take the mind off things, with the stories alleging that his ex wife had a crush on former British prime minister Tony Blair, providing a ray of light when all around is dark.
In fact, how apt that the entire hilarious business should call to mind a Philip Seymour Hoffman movie – or rather, a movie in which the late actor gave one of his short but typically indelible performances. As the faultlessly obsequious manservant Brandt in The Big Lebowski, he is forced into action when an elderly billionaire is made a fool of by his young trophy wife.
Now I ask you: who is Wendi Deng in this noirish mystery, as comical as it is complex? Is there not a fantasy whiff of Bunny Lebowski, the little madam whom the movie finds mixed up in all kinds of unsavoury shenanigans? And how long will it be before someone in the News Corp executive suite unwraps a parcel containing a green-lacquered Chinese toe?
All of which brings us to the latest issue of Vanity Fair, which in the course of chronicling the end of the Murdoch marriage reproduces two notes the magazine claims were written by Wendi, to herself. One is alleged to concern Google boss Eric Schmidt, and begins with a dismissive reference to Mr Schmidt’s girlfriend. “Lisa will never have my style, grace,” opines the erstwhile Mrs Murdoch after some function or other. “I achieved my purpose of Eric saw me looking so gorgeous and so fantastic and so young, so cool, so chic, so stylish, so funny and he cannot have me. I’m not ever feel sad about losing Eric … Plus he is really ugly … I’m soooo happy I’m not with him.”
Thanking you, Wendi, 45.
The other note allegedly relates to former prime minister Tony Blair, who apparently visited Wendi when Murdoch was out of town on occasion, though he has previously denied suggestions that the two became romantically involved.
“Oh shit, oh shit,” Wendi opens. “Whatever why I’m so missing Tony. Because he is so charming and his clothes are so good. He has such good body and he has really really good legs Butt … And he is slim tall and good skin. Pierce blue eyes which I love. Love his eyes. Also I love his power on the stage … and what else and what else and what else …”
Well. According to Vanity Fair, this material came to light after Rupert took the painful step of having to interview devoted staff at his Californian ranch in Carmel as to how Wendi had been keeping herself busy in his absence. Incidentally, please don’t think of this as intrusion into private anguish – at every step of his career, Murdoch has made clear his passionate interest in the justice of other people’s marital difficulties being exposed, and you can only think that he must at last feel honoured to contribute to the canon.
Alas, even allowing for Vanity Fair’s always-omniscient prose style, one has to fill in the dramatic blanks to some extent. And given the timing, in this week of all weeks, Lost in Showbiz can only picture Seymour Hoffman as Brandt, wearing a fawningly pained expression in the wake of the discovery of the notes, and telling a visitor: “We’ve had some terrible news. Mr Murdoch is in seclusion in the west wing.”
And there we must imagine the News Corp tycoon sitting, rug over his knees in some kind of bath chair, the firelight illuminating his tear-streaked face, as he steels his jaw to get the words out: “Strong men also cry. Strong men … also cry.”
Yes, I’m finding it quite impossible to separate fact from obvious fiction, and keep picturing a poolside Wendi lowering her sunglasses to inform Blair: “I’ll suck your cock for a thousand dollars. Brandt can’t watch though, or he has to pay a hundred.”
Cue Hoffman desperately forcing a jovial laugh: “Ahahahahaha! Wonderful woman. We’re all … we’re all very fond of her. Very free-spirited.”
Quite how fond of Deng the staff at Carmel were is a matter of speculation, but you can’t help thinking that if ever there were a moment for the mistress of the ranch to break out the Chinese characters, then perhaps the writing of such notes was it.
For what infinitely little it’s worth, Lost in Showbiz does not believe that Blair would have sealed the deal with Wendi, keen though she appears to have been. Instinct screams that he would have been much too frightened. All those years of desperate sucking up to Murdoch; his wide-eyed awe in the face of the seriously rich – these are psychological impediments too far, for all the illicit thrill someone less craven might have savoured. Blair simply isn’t that sort of man.
Such chaps do exist, of course, with the contrasting analogy in this case being a swashbuckler such as big-hitting West Indies batsman Chris Gayle. You don’t have to be remotely interested in cricket to relish the hilarious tale of the Stanford Super Series, when the since-imprisoned billionaire Allen Stanford invited the English side to the Caribbean for a deeply ostentatious Twenty20 series, with his Stanford Superstars captained by the then-West Indies skipper Gayle.
Now, for the first few days of this edifying episode, Stanford’s young fiancee – who was also on the tournament’s board – was much in evidence at the party. And then suddenly, overnight … she seemed to disappear. The reason, so it was strongly rumoured, was that Stanford discovered she’d, er, got overly friendly with none other than his captain, Chris Gayle. But please don’t doff your hat to Chris yet, because the moment becomes even more exquisite. The series was indeed won by his Stanford Superstars, which meant that Stanford was required to smile before all the cameras as he shook hands, and handed over a $20m cheque – quite possibly the last of his that didn’t bounce – to an insouciantly smirking Gayle.
Oh, Tony Blair! You may have all your big houses and your war credits and your impenetrable umbrella companies. But you’ll never be Chris Gayle, and I think we can divide the world into people who think that’s only to your credit, and people with whom anyone fun would care to have a drink.
Still, even as we raise our White Russians to the Philip Seymour Hoffmans and the Chris Gayles, let us thank the Rupert Murdochs and the Wendi Dengs and the Tony Blairs of this earthly sphere. We could all use a laugh in sad moments, and their commitment to providing one has been nothing if not timely.