Stars cheat, stars marvel

Debra J. Saunders

2/19/2001 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders
CNN's Larry King gave America a twisted Valentine. His guest of honor on "Larry King Live" was the longtime mistress of a married man, a woman whose existence was unknown to the man's wife until the man died in 1997 and the mistress showed up at the funeral with a letter the dead man had written saying he wanted to bequeath even more property to his girlfriend, to whom he already had given two homes. You might think it is rather sick for a TV show to celebrate marital betrayal on Valentine's Day. But wait, it's OK, because the adulterer was a celebrity. Celebrity is America's most powerful disinfectant. Thus King gushed about the beauty of this extramarital relationship between CBS newsman Charles Kuralt and Patricia Shannon. In fact, King was utterly baffled that Kuralt's family would not want to fork over more land and property to Shannon. In the show's legal segment, King even asked a lawyer, "Can we rewrite the law?" As if there ought to be a law making it easier for men to transfer family assets from their wives and children to their gal pals. (Pssst, Larry. If the law ought to be changed, it should be to mandate community property to make it harder for cheating spouses to funnel family assets to their flings.) On the one hand, there is something to be said for the fact that popular culture no longer targets men's mistresses for gratuitous abuse. Old mores spared the cheating husbands and wrongly directed the social stigma toward his side dish. But there is little improvement in this modern approach to mistresses -- "Larry King Live" obligingly referred to Shannon as Kuralt's "longtime companion" -- spares the girlfriend and philandering husband, yet heaps scorn on the wife and legal family. Kuralt's widow, Suzanne "Petie" Baird Kuralt, has since passed away herself, but before she died, she was treated to public scorn for not wanting to hand over more assets to The Other Woman. The celebrity-smitten Montana Supreme Court, to its discredit, ruled in Shannon's favor, and determined she was entitled to an additional plot of property valued at $600,000. It so ruled even though Kuralt had had Shannon removed from his will in 1994 and even though Kuralt had time to draft a will leaving the additional property to Shannon but failed to do so. The court instead relied on a letter Kuralt knew lacked the force of a will. (Maybe he felt he had given Shannon, at that point his former mistress, enough.) But the court gave the benefit of the doubt not to the wife, not to Kuralt's children, and not to Kuralt's will. Shannon said she rejects the term mistress, because the term implies "an unequal relationship." That is, the term must be too painfully accurate. He enjoyed two wives, she had no husband. And then she went to the courts to subvert the law to make up for her bad decision. Shannon boasted that she considers herself a "feminist." No, countered Cathy Young, in San Francisco pushing her book "Ceasefire!: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality." "In a way that's very pre-feminist," Young noted, mentioning something about "selling sex for wealth." After the assets came the transfer of celebrity, as Shannon, Monica-like, becomes famous for having slept with a man who was famous. And note how in Shannon's brand of feminism, sisterhood is dead. King asked if Shannon ever felt guilty about Mrs. K. "No," Shannon replied. "I believed and I believe now that I did her no harm." Considering that the Widow Kuralt hired a lawyer to keep Shannon from getting yet another home from the family estate, I'll venture to guess that Petie Kuralt would not agree. But the feelings of Petie Kuralt don't matter. She wasn't famous.