It was a balmy day on Kenya’s Diani beach in April 2005 when Angelina Jolie pulled off yet another media masterstroke. Although rumors had been rife for months that the stars of Mr and Mrs Smith were a real life couple, at the time Brad Pitt was still rather awkwardly married to Jennifer Aniston.
The newly besotted pair made sure to keep their distance publicly but were “caught unawares” by a lottery-winning paparazzo who just happened to be behind the right sand dune at the right time on that African beach in April — capturing the new couple playing happy family with Angelina Jolie’s son Maddox.
This pictorial announcement, which was carefully arranged (make no mistake), came just one month after Aniston had filed for divorce. The gushing press followed up with a strong line on how much Brad loved Maddox and wanted a family — something Aniston had, by inference, refused him.
This neatly obscured the obvious narrative from what it was: a middle aged white guy has mid-life crisis, cheats on his wife, dyes his hair blonde, buys a motorcycle, gets a tattoo and leaves said wife for younger, sexier model.
Instead this is what Us Weekly wrote at the time: “It was clear that Brad and Maddox have a close relationship — they were joking around together. When Brad would talk to him, his face would light up and he’d giggle.” Even after the image surfaced, the actors’ reps denied a relationship, but a source spoke reverently of their love to Us Weekly at the time, “They wrapped their arms around each other [at the pool] and shared a long, passionate kiss.”
It was a PR coup to say the least, presenting a relationship that could have easily turned Brad’s army of female fans against him into a sad, sorry tale of a guy who just really wanted a family. And it was accomplished by a woman who has proven again and again to be one of the sharpest media strategists in the game.
So much so that the New York Times (a publication not known for its love or understanding of celebrity gossip) was prompted in 2008 to publish an exhaustive feature praising Angelina’s skill at orchestrating her image: “While all celebrities seek to manipulate their public images to one degree or another, Ms. Jolie accomplishes it with a determination, a self-reliance and a degree of success that is particularly notable. The actress does not employ a publicist or an agent. ‘She’s scary smart,’ said Bonnie Fuller, the former editor of Us Weekly and Star magazines. ‘But smart only takes you so far. She also has an amazing knack, perhaps more than any other star, for knowing how to shape a public image.’”
There were a few notable missteps along the way. Admitting in a TV interview that she’d told her kids, watching Mr and Mrs Smith together, that ‘this is where mommy and daddy fell in love’, after years of claiming that they were nothing more than friends throughout Brad’s marriage was certainly one of them.
Who can forget that infamous 2007 interview with Cosmopolitan (UK) magazine in which Angelina declared “I have slept with four men in my life — and I married two of them!”?
Anyone with an ability for basic math finds this claim utterly ridiculous. In her desire to paint herself pure, she’d clearly forgotten her 2004 interview with Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush in which she boasted, ‘I have been involved with a few men over the years. But not the ones that are in the paper.” And “I have lovers,” she confided. “I’m not bringing anyone to my son so I’m not involved too closely.”
Despite these infrequent miscalculations, Angelina rapidly succeeded in altering the story swirling around her from that of a man-stealing, blood-obsessed, brother-kissing maniac into one of the world’s great beauties, cancer campaigner, and savior of refugees, women and children.
She was so good at it in fact that in 2008 Brad Pitt dumped his own long-time publicist Cindy Guagenti, clearly realizing he was now living with the best media manipulator in the industry.
You better believe he’s regretting that now.
— Imogen Lloyd Webber (@illoydwebber) September 23, 2016
As Brangelina (a name the couple always hated by the way) has imploded around us, we have had front row seats to Angelina Jolie media mind control 101.
Here is what the Lainey Gossip celebrity site noted about how Angelina Jolie controlled how the split was announced: “Her lawyer is Laura Wasser – and this is key, because Laura Wasser also represented Johnny Depp, and TMZ was getting all kinds of insider information that favored Johnny’s side in his ugly split from Amber Heard…much of what’s been initially reported by TMZ is going to favor Angelina. Which is that she wants physical custody of all the children and only “joint legal custody” for Brad. According to TMZ: “Angelina’s decision to file has to do with the way Brad was parenting the children … she was extremely upset with his methods.”
So, already, she’s putting it out there, some suspicion, that Brad’s influence on the children was concerning to her. Remember, Angelina Jolie is a master media strategist. There are few better than she is at this game. Consider the timing of this. TMZ reports she filed on September 15th. Typically celebrities bury their scandals on Friday afternoons. She decided to wait until after the Emmys, wait until after Emmy Monday, when all entertainment and news coverage on the Emmys has subsided, and then, on a Tuesday morning, WHEN EVERYONE IS PAYING ATTENTION, she delivers on Gossip Christmas…The timing is not coincidence. Angelina Jolie wants full eyes on Angelina Jolie. Brad Pitt is about to find out what it feels like on the other side.”
Therefore from the way she clearly blindsided him to the fact that the story was now about a woman who was leaving her husband “for the health of her family’,”Angelina’s narrative of the woman who saves children was firmly intact. She was out in front of the story, she was in control of the details, and the carefully timed leaks. To say Brad Pitt was on the back foot would be the understatement of the gossip century.
As he scrambled to assemble a team to handle the allegations, and brace himself for the allegations that would follow — including an FBI investigation over his parenting, sordid rumors of his affair with a co-star (Marion Cotillard who is currently pregnant), a fondness for Russian hookers, drug use and alcohol abuse — Brad Pitt was now riding out a celebrity gossip shitstorm the likes of which has not been seen for decades.
But after years of correctly reading the public appetite, I believe this latest campaign on the part of Ms. Jolie may be the biggest miscalculation of her life.
You see, Brad Pitt is no Johnny Depp. He is well regarded, loved by the public, continues to make movies that people want to see and remains one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood. And he has been praised by Angelina and others repeatedly over the years for being an extraordinary father. Whatever happened on that plane — his drunken rage, idiotic behavior, whatever — no one (apart from his wife apparently) believes that he deserves this media maelstrom that ensued.
— The Sun (@TheSun) September 25, 2016
For a couple who had already put in place years ago provisions for their children — how everything might be divided should they split, in order to ensure a break up that was private and dignified — this current situation is inexplicable. It’s like they planned for a conscious uncoupling but instead got an Amber Heard special.
The best explanation for Angelina’s current “napalm his life” approach that I’ve seen came from Page Six: “Pitt’s team believes her reason [she is being so aggressive] is that she wants to take a job with the United Nations, but needs full custody of the children before she leaves Los Angeles.”
As reports emerge that Angelina — who spends an increasing amount of time in London — wants to move to the UK and join the House of Lords, this rationalization rings true. It’s easy enough to feel sorry for Brad right now. He is playing chess with Bobby Fischer and so far he is wiping the floor with him.
And yet we haven’t seen a single leak or story from his side that is damaging to her character. This — a woman who has been publicly proclaimed as mentally ill by her own father, with two ex husbands, obvious eating issues and a well documented history with heroin– should be an easy target. It speaks volumes about Brad’s character that he is not assassinating hers, the mother of his six children.
Over the weekend, Brad appeared to re-group. He has now hired a legal team and media advisors to help him ride out the rest of this story. He has started to get “his side” out there through friends — to People magazine, Us Weekly and TMZ. He is scrambling to get some media traction in order to defend himself. It’s understandable and will probably work. It’s also a shame that he has to.
But for a guy who participated in these machinations in the past (see “Jennifer Aniston refuses to give Brad a baby!”) it may also be true that he’s had some awful karma waiting around the corner for him.