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SHE HAS BEEN WITH MICK JAGGER SINCE 1977, so Jerry Hall knows the reality: starstruck women seeping into her life from every angle, like piercing January breezes in a draft-ridden country house. During the Rolling Stones' recent concert tour, Hall, 38, was staying with Jagger, 51, in a New Orleans hotel—just before the band's next stop in Las Vegas—when she came across a friendly fax sent by Carla Bruni, the 26-year-old Italian model with whom her husband was rumored to have been involved back in 1992. Hall sent the message to the circular file, but not without some grudging admiration. "That girl," she said, "is so persistent."

It was the tour buses that bothered Mrs. Billy Ray Cyrus. When Leticia Finley, 27, married the 33-year-old achy-breaky heartbreaker in December 1993, she knew about the amorous fans who flung their underwear at Billy from the audience. But nothing, she says, prepared her for the gleaming coaches that cruised past their Nashville home with their windows fogged from heavy breathing within. "Once in a while when a bus would come by," she says, "Billy Ray would go out there on his four-wheeler, and all the fans would go crazy." Not long ago, one woman ran out and was, says Mrs. Cyrus, "snapping pictures and freaking out so much, she went rolling down a hill into a ditch. There she was just laying on her back, still snapping." Adds Mrs. Cyrus: "If I could not have handled the women, I might as well have just not married Billy Ray—they come with him. Our relationship would not work if I was suspicious or ever had that one little doubt. So, I have to completely trust him."

Joanne Woodward, 64, has achieved a kind of Zen state concerning such goings-on. After 37 years of marriage to Paul Newman, still a silver-haired hunk at age 70, she has come to regard rumors and suspicions about Other Women simply as part of her life. "It isn't so much that I've stopped worrying," Woodward said, "as that I've decided that what is, is."

Behind every great man, as we know, there's a great woman. But behind every Great American Sex Symbol—be he a movie star like Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson or Harrison Ford, a TV idol like Luke Perry, a pop legend like Rod Stewart or a pop cultural whatchamacallit like Lucky Vanous—there's a greatly exasperated woman. Granted she's probably holed up in a mansion with two nannies, a personal trainer and enough Evian to help Red Adair douse an oil-rig fire. Yet such perks don't ease the pain of hearing reports, as Kevin Costner's now-estranged wife, Cindy, did a couple of months ago, that your husband, off shooting a movie in Hawaii, is having a fling with a hula dancer. Nor does your bank account matter when you are Pauletta Pearson and your husband, Denzel Washington, is informing Barbara Walters, as he did on national TV in March 1993, that when it came to being faithful, "I haven't been perfect—I'll be quite candid about it."

Once male stars told courtly, embarrassment-saving lies. And those who couldn't deny their indiscretions would claim, when all else failed, to have changed their wandering ways. Yes, it's a jungle out there, the sex symbol would say, but I haven't swung from any strange limbs lately. Rod Stewart took that position with Alana, his wife from 1979 to '84, and it worked fine—for a while. "I was certain he was faithful," says Alana Stewart, who also was married to George Hamilton from 1972 to '76. "But I was stupid, just plain unconscious. I had a very rude awakening." At the time of their divorce, Stewart admitted he was "madly in love" with model Kelly Emberg, but he still insisted the collapse of his marriage "had nothing to do with any other woman. The idea that I was always cheating on my wife while we were together is rubbish."

For better or worse, things have changed. Sex symbols are publicly confessing their sins. "My family has been through enough hell with me," Gibson, 39, has admitted. And Michael Douglas, 50, said recently, responding to accusations that he is a sex addict, "I never pretended to be a saint. Give me a break."

But who's going to cut the wives some slack? It doesn't matter how beautiful or witty they may be, or conversely, how attractive and charming their husbands are not. The aphrodisiac powers of celebrity cannot be denied. In his new biography of newspaper columnist Walter Winchell, Neal Gabler claims that even Ed Sullivan had his lusting admirers and carried on an affair with a glamorous chorus girl. And L.A. romance guru Barbara De Angelis, who was married to magician Doug Henning at the height of his '70s fame, recalls that "women, in front of me, would pass him pieces of paper with their telephone number." De Angelis, who in 1990 wrote the best-selling Secrets About Men Every Woman Should Know, says that for many celeb wives, infidelity is "absolute common knowledge—it's not like you suspect it, you know it."

To an extent, it's also something you have to watch in CinemaScope. Diandra Douglas has endured scenes of her frequently bare-butted husband cavorting passionately with Glenn Close (Fatal Attraction), Sharon Stone (Basic Instinct) and Demi Moore (Disclosure). The actor, by way of explanation, gallantly says of his wife, "She's an old war veteran by now. This is kid's stuff."

But don't believe the old saw that love scenes are hard work performed under hot klieg lights, six inches from the runny nose of some cameraman. Cindy Costner reportedly became distraught at the sight of her husband kissing his female costars; at a screening of No Way Out in 1987, she squeezed Costner's hand so hard during one steamy scene that the actor told a friend she had cut off his circulation. Nicole Kidman is said to have been so unnerved by the prospect of husband Tom Cruise's interlude with the sultry Karina Lombard in 1993's The Firm that she flew to the Cayman Islands to cast a cool domestic shadow over the set.

There may be something to be said, actually, for keeping a short leash on Loverboy—and getting in sync with his career goals. Cruise, 32, and Kidman, 27, seem to have one of the happier marriages in Hollywood. They are openly affectionate—and they spend hours together with their daughter Isabella, 2, skiing in Telluride, Colo., strolling through New York City's Central Park and sharing diaper duty in their Pacific Palisades home. The secret of their marital success? One friend thinks that it's because Kidman is just as wildly ambitious as Cruise. "They both want to be not just superstars," he says, "but the No. 1 box-office stars in the world."

Now compare that to Cruise's earlier marriage. First wife Mimi Rogers admits that she felt overshadowed by the fast-rising star of Rain Man and Born on the Fourth of July. "You cease to be an individual," she said. "No matter what the article is, it's 'Tom Cruise's wife....' " Rogers, now living with producer Chris Ciaffa, with whom she has a 2-month-old daughter, Lucy, says she is still eagerly "waiting for the moment when I don't have to talk about that [blankety-blank] name anymore."

Sometimes, the wives of coveted husbands report, the raging egoism is just as nerve-racking as the philandering. "People in show business can't really live happily," says Merrill Markoe, former girlfriend of David Letterman, "unless other people constantly tell them they love them and they're godlike." Complicating matters occasionally is the fact that the wives often have restless egos themselves. "I was always uncomfortable that Paul was so much bigger than I was," admitted Joanne Woodward. "He was living my fantasy, being what I had always wanted to be: a star."

A mutual friend of Richard Gere, 46, and Cindy Crawford, 28, says that career issues were among the causes that led to the couple's estrangement. "Richard," the source says, "didn't want Cindy to become competition." Sylvester Stallone, 48, has said that if he ever got married for a third time, "it would be a unique situation where me and the woman would have a certain kind of format where we wouldn't be under each other's feet. I insist on people blatantly pursuing other jobs, travels, sports, whatever." Ultimately, though, Stallone believes that monogamy is "an unnatural state for an incredibly long duration."

The first marriage, it seems, is often the Jurassic Park where gargantuan egos begin running amok. Sometimes, says Betty Barry, the wife of actor Gene for the last 50 years, "a man looks around and thinks, 'Look, I married this farm girl—she's dumpy, she should be gorgeous, like the girls I work with.' "

Kevin Costner never had that problem; Cindy once worked as Snow White at Disneyland, and she was, when they met in 1975, clearly the more glamorous of the two. Yet "the actor's mind-set," he told PEOPLE in 1989, "is very selfish. You're always talking about yourself and what you want to do." Casey Danson says that the beginning of the end of her 16-year marriage came when everyone started pandering to her then-husband, Ted. "Eventually the celebrity becomes helpless and unable to lead a normal life," she says. "That's when the family suffers, and ours was no exception."

Even sex symbols can live and learn, though. In 1990, Mel Gibson's wife, Robyn, tired of his drinking and carousing, laid down the law: either he cleaned up his act or the marriage was over. Gibson chose his marriage, and four years later he is, reportedly, still sober. Now his wife and six children regularly join him on far-flung movie sets. "What's it all for if I'm away from them for a year?" he said. "I can't forget I have a wife and kids."

In retrospect, Warren Beatty's 35 or so years of dating may have been the perfect prelude to his marriage to Annette Bening, 36. The moment he first saw her, the 57-year-old actor has said, "I knew exactly what I wanted to happen. I don't think I would have been as clear about it in my 30s." Rod Stewart too is trying to be more mature and considerate. The singer, married to model Rachel Hunter since 1991, says he has told his wife, who at 25 is exactly half his age, "all about all my past relationships. But it's impossible for me to remember everybody I've made love to. I try and point them out if Rachel and I are out together."

Probably no sex symbol has managed marriage better, though, than Harrison Ford—though he didn't get it right the first time, either. Ford's first marriage, to college sweetheart Mary Marquardt, ended in 1979 after 15 years and two sons because, as he has said, "I didn't have the disposition, experience or maturity." Now the star lives on a secluded 800-acre ranch outside Jackson Hole, Wyo., with his wife, E.T. screenwriter Melissa Mathison, and their two children, Malcolm, 7, and Georgia, 4. Mathison, 44, working from home, wrote the upcoming children's fantasy film The Indian in the Cupboard. Ford, 52, picks projects that don't violate his edict of family first, choosing The Fugitive and then Clear and Present Danger in 1993 because, he said, "I wanted to work twice this year and then not work at all next year, so I could stay home with my family and see my kid through first grade."

In Ford's 11-year marriage there has never been a hint of impropriety, though he has had his chances. Consider the wild cast-and-crew party that took place at a basement bar in Jalapa, Mexico, during the shooting of Danger. As the night wore on, as the tequila flowed freely and the mariachi band played, Ford, again and again, declined to dance. When he finally did take the floor, it was for a comic tango with costar Willem Dafoe.

Ford's marriage, though, is the exception. The rule is personified by someone like Minnie Sharp, 25—who, early in the romance, won the affection of 27-year-old Luke Perry when she gamely took up his suggestion to send him a Xerox of her bra, and now that she is married to him must contend with a world of would-be rivals, many of whom have access to their own photocopiers. "I know my husband, and I trust him," says model Kristen Noel, wife of Lucky Vanous since 1989, with a laugh. "But I'm still keeping my eye on him. Let's be honest here." For all that, Alana Stewart feels that after two tries with sex symbols, she has things in perspective. Now 48, and single, she says, "I've come to believe there's too much emphasis placed on fidelity. He had a little fling with a groupie? Who really cares? If you can't cope with the attention these men get, then marry a gardener or a fisherman."

LOIS ARMSTRONG, TOM CUNNEFF, KRISTINA JOHNSON and CAROLYN RAMSAY in Los Angeles, JANE SANDERSON in Nashville and NANCY MATSUMOTO in New York City