Jewish World Review Feb. 29, 2000/ 29 Adar I, 5760
The millionaire of mythology and schoolgirl fantasy chased chorus girls without the help of television game-show hosts, sipped champagne from silver slippers of his own choosing and used dollar bills, or maybe even twenties, to light his cigars. If he were using today's bills, he might not bother, so dim would be the flame.
A million dollars today just doesn't burn very long. Nor even billions. Everett Dirksen, the late senator from Illinois and leader of the Republican minority in several Congresses of decades past, once tried to persuade his Democratic colleagues to cut a little fat from the federal budget with the argument that "if we save a billion dollars here, a billion dollars there, pretty soon we're talking about real money.''
So we can sympathize, at least a little, with Darva Conger, the California blonde (it's a generic term, like a television "network blonde'') who married a millionaire and quickly decided she didn't want him, after all.
"I don't think I was thinking clearly,'' Darva Conger told a television interviewer. "I committed an error in judgment.''
She tried to be nice about it, depending on your definition of nice. She spent some time with her new millionaire helpmeet, Rick Rockwell, but none of it, she insisted emphatically, in bed. "I was very uncomfortable around him,'' she said. "He's just not a person that I would ordinarily have a friendly relationship with.'' They spent their honeymoon in separate rooms. She said she told him: "I don't have those feelings for you, I can't let you believe that I do.''
She told a television interviewer: "I never, ever considered having sexual relations with him.'' This is modern marriage? And then she added, quaintly for our times: "I would never consider having sexual relations with anyone I just met.'' It's a good thing she was trying to be nice about it. The poor guy couldn't show his face if she had been really mean about it.
She doesn't want anyone to think she was digging for gold, either. "I never had any claim to his money,'' she said. "It's his money.''
Mr. Rockwell's millions, as it turns out, are mostly tied up in real estate. His bride was disappointed to learn that his mansion in Southern California was actually "somewhat dinky.'' We can believe that, given the incredible boom in real estate in California, where developers are building $4 million
Mrs. Rockwell, like so many modern young women, obviously had no nosy-Parker aunts to do the Dun and Bradstreet, to say nothing of a scan of the police perp sheet. Such are the deprivations of modern maidenhood. The Fox Network, for whom "Do You Want to Marry a Millionaire,'' is this season's centerpiece of tacky, was supposed to have done a background check on Mr. Rockwell before the ceremony. If it had, it would have learned that a California judge issued a restraining order against Mr. Rockwell in 1991, after an ex-fiancee, one Debbie Goyne, said Mr. Rockwell had hit her and threatened to kill her.
Not so, said the gallant Mr. Rockwell, but, well, he did let a little of the air out of her tires, and he does have a temper, but "it doesn't manifest itself too often.'' This is just the kind of stuff that in an earlier time and in a smaller place Aunt Gertrude, tapping into a network of spies that the CIA might envy, could have learned in an hour.
If all that were not enough, the new, if temporary, Mrs. Rockwell has taken a psychic beating in the media, where she has been likened to a prostitute for selling herself in a public auction. But this is harsh, and unfair.
Diamonds have been a girl's best friend for lo these many years, and wise young women have always given their beaus a good once-over with an appraising eye. A lot of girls have been swept off their feet by hunks with nothing in the bank, and mamas and daddies have been just as impatient with them, as we might be with the likes of Darva Conger Rockwell. Once upon a time a father would have invited Mr. Rockwell into the library -- or den, in our own time -- to discuss his "prospects.'' In the absence of an available father, Darva's mistake was counting on a network-television producer to do that for her.
Nevertheless, she can dine out on this story for the rest of her life, and besides, she has an
engagement ring ($35,000), the prizes ($100,000) and the honeymoon, separate rooms and
separate beds and all, to remember him by. And she gets to keep the
02/24/00: The changing politics of change