Friendly Divorces

updated 02/13/1995 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/13/1995 01:00AM

"Civilized divorce," Danny De Vito declared in 1989's The War of the Roses, "is a contradiction in terms." He had a point. Certainly when the rich and famous uncouple, they seem to specialize in alimony squabbles, tawdry revelations, even accusations of abuse (Roseanne, for instance, said that Tom "pinched me and verbally abused me," then recanted). But some exes don't grind axes—and a heartwarming lot they are.

Fitness guru Susan Powter, 37, still lunches and even vacations with her former husband, restaurant manager Nic Villarreal, and their sons Damien, 11, and Kiel, 10. Until recently, Nic, 33, and his second wife, Shelby, lived rent-free one floor below Powter and her second husband, musician Lincoln Apeland, in their Dallas duplex. When she relocated her family to Pacific Palisades, Calif., last year, the Villarreals moved into a condo just 10 minutes away. "We're a big, happy family," says Powter.

It wasn't always so. In 1984, Powter discovered that Nic, whom she'd wed two years earlier, had begun an affair with a restaurant hostess. The girlfriend was svelte; Powter had been putting on the pounds. After they split, Powter lost weight and created a dieting empire. Her anger gradually dissipated, and by 1991, she says, "Nic and I decided we should raise our children together." The two still attend school events as a couple and were planning a ski trip à quatre before Powter declared bankruptcy last month. Both say their second spouses are understanding about their continued closeness. "It's working for the children," says Powter, "and that's what matters."

Postmarital détente also works for Ali MacGraw, 56, and Robert Evans, 64. Once Hollywood's golden couple, they endured some chilly years following her 1973 defection to second husband Steve McQueen. But since then, the actress and the producer, whose three-year union began in 1969, when he was producing her Love Story, have stayed close—and not just for the sake of their son Josh, 24. "There are not two people who get along better than us," says Evans, who invited MacGraw to move into the guest house at his Beverly Hills mansion after her house was destroyed by fire in 1993. When he brings his many dates back to his pad, MacGraw takes it in stride. "Who are any of us to judge?" she says. "I can count on Bob, and he can count on me."

Ann Turkel knows the feeling. Whenever her former husband, Irish actor Richard Harris, is in L.A., they keep company and she cooks for him. Between visits they chat by phone. "It's great," says the actress, "to have someone who's always there for you." Better, in fact, than when they're really there. "I don't know if I could be with someone 365 days a year," Turkel says. She and Harris met on the set of the film 99 and 44/100% Dead in 1973, when she was 24 and he 43. "He was a teacher, a father, a lover, a best friend," says Turkel, who ultimately made four movies with Harris. He was also a drinker, and at one point during their marriage (which lasted from 1975 until 1982), Turkel stood on a cliff outside their Bahamas home and smashed his liquor bottles against the rocks. The couple split, Turkel says, in part because she decided, "I didn't want people to think I could only get work by working with my husband." One key to their chumminess, says Turkel, whose latest project was this year's thriller The Fear, is her willingness to support herself: "I didn't try to clean him out. The way to a good divorce is not to go after the person's finances."

Diane von Furstenberg, 48, didn't have to. By the time her marriage to Austrian prince and financier Egon von Furstenberg ended in separation in 1973 (they divorced in 1983), she was the head of a $250 million clothing and cosmetics company But their breakup went smoothly for other reasons. "We grew up together," says Egon, 47, "and we were friends before we fell in love."

Besides, it wasn't as if their relationship had ever been exclusive. After meeting in Geneva, where they were both studying economics, they married in 1969 and adopted the New York City jet-set mores, which included an open marriage. By the time they split, says Egon, "our sex life wasn't so much. But we shared so many things in life." Equally devoted to their children, Alexandre, 24, and Tatiana, 23, Diane and Egon (who married flower shop owner Lynn Marshall in 1983) talk weekly and haven't missed a Christmas dinner together in 20 years. "Egon believed in me before I believed in myself," says Diane, who hasn't remarried. "In some ways, I still think I'm his wife."

Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern had a tougher road to amicable distance. When the two actors ended their seven-year marriage, two months after the birth of daughter Laura in 1967, there was so much anguish that friendship seemed unthinkable. Their first daughter had drowned while in the care of a maid in 1962. "It tore us apart," says Ladd. For years after the breakup, they communicated hardly at all. "You can't just be friends, because if you were great friends, you wouldn't be getting divorced," Ladd says.

It was work that finally bridged the gulf. After running into each other in 1989 on the set of Wild at Heart, which starred both Diane and Laura, Ladd and Dern started talking more often. Together they filmed a forthcoming feature, Mrs. Munck. The movie, which Ladd, 55, also directed, is the story of an estranged couple who reconnect decades after their baby's death. "We talked about things in the script that we never resolved ourselves," marvels Dern, 58 (whose second wife, Andrea, an artist he married in 1969, became friends with Ladd on the set). "It was wonderful." Laura, 27, thought so too. "When she came to the set, she cried," Dern says. "It was the first time she'd seen her parents working side by side."

John Derek and Linda Evans had a more mundane Hollywood breakup. In 1975, after 10 wedded years, the Svengali-like director divorced Evans, then 31, and later married a younger look-alike, 19-year-old Bo Shane. "I hated that he loved her and he'd left me," says Evans, who now lives near Tacoma, Wash., with New Age musician Yanni. "But how could I punish him for something so deep in his heart?"

Some women might have managed it—but then Derek did have a way with his exes. Actress Path Behrs, whom he left in 1955, and Ursula Andress, who left him in 1963, are also among his biggest fans. "I'll always love him," says Andress, 58, who plays hostess to Bo whenever she's in Rome. Derek, 68, won't publicly discuss his astonishing track record. "I stay friends with my ex-wives," he says, "by not talking about them."

Sometimes, it's life's hardships that cement the bond between onetime mates. George Hamilton, 55, and Alana Stewart, 49, stood by their 20-year-old son Ashley's side when he was hospitalized in December for heroin addiction. Their four-year marriage, which ended in 1977, had been tumultuous ("I wanted to be out every night...he I turned into Pa Kettle," Stewart once told a reporter). But the preternaturally tanned lothario and the woman who would become the first Mrs. Rod Stewart had put their differences behind them long before Ashley's troubles. Recently, they signed up to be hosts of a syndicated talk show, George & Alana, beginning next fall. Finally they've found something Stewart sees as "the perfect relationship." Might romance bloom once more? "If our ratings are down," she has quipped, "we might consider it."

Stranger things have happened. Shortly before Christmas, Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson emerged from a child-support hearing holding hands. After months of postmarital discord, a gentler Reynolds teased the press, "We're getting married." This friendly divorce idea just might be catching on.

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