Sure, Judith Nathan started out as a lowly interloper, an East Side Camilla Parker-Bowles, making the usual entry on the front page of the New York Post , an attractive divorcee looking a little bewildered in the lobby of her high-rise. But with her wedding last Saturday, she took what may be the real second-toughest job in America-Mrs. Rudolph Giuliani. She had the Governor of New York on her guest list, and the owners of the New York Post and the Daily News, and Donald Trump, and Henry Kissinger and Barbara Walters. Vera Wanged in embroidered crystal and pearl with a Fred Leighton tiara, the 48-year-old new Mrs. Giuliani took her official place among the city’s ruling class.
“She was glowing and she looked stunning,” one guest reported. “The dress fit her to perfection, was absolutely ideal for her, this kind of champagne-colored satin halter cut to the bra line. Not like a 25-year-old who would cut it to the tush.”
Remember the 25-year-old? She was the center of the story that was told for years about the New York power macher whose late-life crisis brought him a trophy, some screams in the sack, the hatred of his first wife’s friends. The usual.
That model, it seems, is now retired.
From Gerald Levin to Jack Welch to Rudy Giuliani, the Judi Nathans of New York have been elbowing the 25-year-olds aside. They’re a new breed of fortysomething Superdames who have been around the block – sex bombs who can do a balance sheet and set the dinner table – and they’re retiring the old-fashioned Bimbettes from the forefront of New York society.
The old paradigm was “And God Created Woman,” in which poor Curt Jürgens fell for Brigitte Bardot. Smitten, smoldering, he burnt to a crisp.
The new one is this: 53-year-old Random House Inc. president and C.E.O. Peter Olson has covered an entire wall of his huge office at Bertelsmann’s new publishing enclave with a ceiling-high image of his 51-year-old second wife, ivillage founder and former C.E.O. Candice Carpenter Olson. They were married in 2001 and have seven children between them.
“I happen to be someone who is very much in love with my wife,” the ebullient Mr. Olson told The Observer . “I have three views in my office: the park, my bookshelf and Candice. It’s a full body shot-very sexy. I have two smaller photos of her in the office as well. People call it the shrine.”
A shrine it is. Clearly, men like Mr. Olson are not giving up a marital sex life for old-fashioned “companionship” and an intellectual bond with their wives. They are marrying for better and better and better. When asked whether his desire for his wife in bed was the equal of his workplace tribute to her, Mr. Olson said, “I can only laugh with pleasure at that question.”
Chalk it up to a new world or a bad economy, to wisdom or pragmatism, to better bodies or worse bank accounts, but a new breed of Superdames is getting the geezers. Back in the ’80s the King Kongs of New York went through a sad and predictable pattern: divorce Mommy, marry Bambi. When John Kluge, the billionaire co-owner of Metromedia, married Patricia Rose in 1981, he was 65, she was 32, a former belly dancer in London who had later posed nude in Knave, a British girlie mag that belonged to her first husband. In the 1980’s, New York society was swimming with them: Susan Penn, the former stewardess, married former Solomon Brothers C.E.O. John Gutfreund when she was 34, he 51. 33-year-old Gayfryd Steinberg got Saul Steinberg to the altar in 1984. Georgette Paulsin was 36 when she became Mrs. Robert Mosbacher in 1985.
But now, instead of 20 being the new 30, 40 is the new 30. And 40 and 45 and 50 are looking very good to those chomping old lions. “You know, a younger wife isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” Candice Carpenter Olson said. “For one thing, women are healthier and more fit now.”
And if Mr. Giuliani’s wooing of Ms. Nathan is emblematic of the new order of things, it’s partly because he has done more than marry Ms. Nathan. He has publicly worshipped her. He smiles at her like a makeout king. He bills, coos, makes googly eyes, clutches her hand as if it were the safety-bar on the Cyclone.
When they got to the altar, witnesses said, the new couple just went at it.
“What a lucky man I am to have such a beautiful lady, such a wonderful person,” the former Mayor said after the wedding, as he kissed his lovely bombshell for the cameras.
It’s not that the age-old scenario of a powerful man seeing a chance to cheat age by wedding a hot young thing has vanished entirely. But the jiggle girl whose heart belongs to Daddy is being replaced by the super-competent, middle-aged sex bomb, professional, educated, toned, solvent, sexy.
When G.E.’s retiring chairman Jack Welch ditched his wife of 13 years, it was not for some baby celery stalk with a big rack, but for Harvard Business Review editor Suzy Wetlaufer, a formidable woman of 43 with four children, one novel and her own midlife crisis-an affair with a 22-year-old editorial assistant-under her belt. Mr. Welch will find himself in good company when he’s sent out to Duane Reade to fetch the Astroglide. When former AOL Time Warner C.E.O. Gerald Levin, 64, remade his life, separating from his wife Barbara after 38 years of marriage, he headed not toward a Reese, Buffy or Britney, but into the arms of therapist Dr. Laurie Perlman, 50, a former Creative Artists Agency agent, former wife of C.A.A. co-president Jack Rapke.
The current Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, divorced and well-known for his active pulse, goes out with 48-year-old lanky-babe Diana Taylor. What does she do for a living? State banking superintendent.
How do we account for this spate of middle-aged drinks of water taking over from the retired phalanx of day-old cupcakes?
For one thing, the economy. If, in the 1950’s, diamonds were a girl’s best friend, in the early 21st century, a second income is a boy’s. “You complete me” may not refer as much to the heart these days as the budget. Ever since the crash, a potential spouse’s kickass career is as much of a draw as her body. When it comes to a second wife, why take on the cargo of a young, hot extra dependent-most of these old boys already have a lot of dependents in boarding school and college-when you can strap another engine to your jet, in the form of a high-functioning middle-aged babe with her own income? And probably some money saved from her first divorce?
We’re not talking about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt here-or even Bill and Hillary Clinton. Picture Teresa Heinz and John Kerry, instead. In the current Elle magazine, Lisa DePaulo describes the Massachusetts Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate and his 64-year-old second wife “nuzzling each other’s necks, in rapt whisper, his enormous paw around her shoulders pushing her close.” Mr. Kerry is quoted saying that his wife “is very earthy, sexy, European.”
But Ms. Heinz’s foreign-policy credibility was as much of an aphrodisiac as her stacked body. “How many [other] women did he go out with … who could talk to a parliamentarian from Japan about the global environment?” Ms. Heinz told Elle.
A woman with an aura of authority and influence, said Elle editor Roberta Myers, no longer sends men running toward the nearest Hooters: “They find it sexy and interesting. And they better get used to it because more and more women have it.”
In Adaptation, the signal moment of the movie may be Nicolas Cage masturbating to the jacket photo of a well-ripened Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean. These days, it seems, the holder of a contract from The New Yorker can compete quite nicely with the holder of a contract from Elite.
But these women are better-looking, to a ridiculous degree, than Henry Kissinger, whose famous line when he was dating Jill St. John was that power is the greatest aphrodisiac. As Manhattan attorney Ed Hayes put it, “Women keep themselves in much better shape, generally speaking. It takes a long time to become a degenerate.”
“I got the ideal woman,” Peter Olson said. “When I met her I realized that I’d finally met the ideal in terms of physicality, intelligence, beauty, and just as a partner in every respect. I can’t understand why anyone would want a younger and more immature woman.”
When British advertising megalith Charles Saatchi, 59, dumped his 49-year-old wife, in no time he had shacked up with Nigella Lawson, the gorgeous 43-year-old widow who has built a cooking empire with the help of her mature, bowl-licking sensuality.
When Today show host Katie Couric guest-hosted The Tonight Show on May 12, her curvy 46-year-old bod was encased in a sausage-tight black dress cut low on top and high on the bottom. “For all of you people from L.A. who have never seen them before, these are actually real,” she said, gesturing to her breasts without shyness.
Later in the show, Mike Myers, purring, laid Ms. Couric flat on her back on the host’s desk, and later The Tonight Show crew cut away the desk’s front so that the audience could watch the newswoman cross and uncross her gams. Ms. Couric, as it happens, has an on-again, off-again relationship with television producer and Boston Red Sox owner Tom Werner, 53, who divorced his wife of 28 years in 2000.
Viacom chief Sumner Redstone just married someone half his age, but since he’s 79, it meant he was robbing the cradle with a 40-year-old woman-his new wife, Paula Fortunato.
But don’t shed any tears for the trophy wife; she’ll never go out of business. Those young and beautiful women who once scored rich, much older husbands eventually got dumped by them, too, although they generally picked up a lot of money by the road. Some of these women have grown up to be just as go-getting professionally as they once were maritally-they learned a thing or two along the way-which makes them, of course, prime candidates to remake themselves as educated, competent, experienced fortysomething second wives rather than the 25-year-old strumpets they started out as.
Political pollster Patricia Duff was 32 in 1986 when she became producer Mike Medavoy’s third wife. With Mr. Medavoy, Ms. Duff formed close political ties to the Clintons. In 1993, she left Mr. Medavoy for Ron Perelman, whom she married in 1995. While in that marriage, Ms. Duff rose to the top of the Women’s Leadership Forum and was a major fund-raiser for the Clinton-Gore campaign.
Ms. Duff is now 49 years old, a shade older than the new Mrs. Giuliani. She is still gorgeous. She is back on the market. And, as a woman who understands her times, the coquette has been remade as a Superdame.
She ought to do just fine.