Courtney Stodden became one of Hollywood's most scandalous celebrities without ever getting into a drunk-driving accident or checking into rehab to kick a cocaine habit. Instead, the aspiring singer/actress shocked the glitterati by… getting married.
What made Stodden's nuptials so scandalous is that the blonde bride is only 16, and her groom, actor Doug Hutchison, is 51. Not since rocker Jerry Lee Lewis wed his 13-year-old cousin Myra in 1958 has a show-biz marriage caused such a sensation. The Hutchison-Stodden wedding last month unleashed a torrent of tabloid headlines on Internet celebrity gossip sites. The couple were featured on ABC's "Good Morning America" and covered in newspapers around the world, from the Sydney Morning Herald to the London Daily Mail. The irony is that, despite the 35-year-old age difference in what has often been described as a "May-December" marriage (it's actually more like "April-October"), the girl at the center of the scandal is an advocate of traditional moral values.
Courtney Stodden is a churchgoing Baptist who says she was a virgin on her wedding night in Las Vegas, where she and Hutchison tied the knot with the required legal permission of her parents. And the teen bride's mother, Krista Stodden, says gossips who have criticized the newlyweds are a bunch of jealous hypocrites. "She was a virgin when she got married.… She's the most honest girl you'll ever meet, and the people who are turning around and calling her all these rotten names are girls that have been sleeping around, who have disgusting lives," Mrs. Stodden told me in a phone interview Wednesday. "I mean, a girl that every man would love to have, and she's a woman that every woman would like to be, and women know this, and they try to discredit her.… And so what is out there in the media is just their insecurities, just flying all over the place."
Mrs. Stodden sought out an interview with me after seeing a blog post I'd written in which I called to the attention of conservative readers what seemed a relevant fact gleaned from her daughter's Facebook page: "Courtney describes herself as a Christian and a Republican. She's on our side, whether we like it or not." Despite Courtney's self-identification as a rare Hollywood Republican, no responsible authority on "our side" was evidently eager to be seen as condoning this mismatched marriage, and the mother of the bride says she understands such reluctance. "You know, myself, if I think of a 16-year-old girl and a 51-year-old man together, I think I would start thinking, like, 'Oh my God. I can't even fathom that.'… It's very unusual, that's why it's so controversial," said Mrs. Stodden who, at 51, is the same age as her new son-in-law. She calls Courtney her "baby," and notes that neither of her older two daughters pursued show-biz careers -- or middle-aged movie-star husbands. "My other daughters, they all have husbands their same ages, and if people would have told me this two years ago, I would have said, 'Oh, my God -- I can't even wrap my mind around that.' But it happened. It's working for them, and they look great together."
Hollywood doesn't share Mrs. Stodden's approval of her daughter's marriage -- one online columnist pronounced it "ick to the extreme" -- and much of the disapproval has centered on Courtney's parents, who have been accused by some of "pimping" their daughter and even smeared as "trailer trash." Both accusations are ridiculously misguided, according to Mrs. Stodden, who laughs as she says, "In fact, I've never lived in a trailer." She and her husband Alex, who owns a real-estate development business, have two homes and are respected citizens of Ocean Shores, their hometown in Washington State. Mrs. Stodden is a hairdresser who owns a successful salon and drives a Jaguar, and says that if anything, her daughter -- who was privately educated at a Christian academy -- was previously "known as a spoiled little rich girl that has everything she wants."
Spoiled or not, Courtney Stodden unquestionably has something that every girl wants: Stunning good looks. Or as Mrs. Stodden says of her youngest daughter, "She never looked like she belonged in Ocean Shores." By the time she was in sixth grade, Courtney's remarkable beauty began to set her apart from her peers in the seaside resort town of some 4,000 year-round residents. A precocious affinity for makeup and high-heeled shoes accentuated her distinctive appearance, and she unabashedly declared her ambition toward an entertainment career. "Courtney was the only daughter, from a very young age, that wanted to be in front of the camera. She loved to perform," Krista Stodden explained in our interview Wednesday. "She'd say to me, 'I'm going to move to California. I'm going to live in Hollywood. I just have this feeling. That's where I belong.'"
In pursuit of that dream, 14-year-old Courtney recorded videos of herself -- dancing to a Michael Jackson song and lip-synching to Christina Aguilera's retro-pop tune "Candyman" -- and uploaded them to YouTube, where they attracted attention from men who were apparently unaware of the performer's jailbait status. Mrs. Stodden says her daughter received online messages of romantic interest from men around the world, including at least one police officer and two major-league baseball players. But while her good looks made Courtney somewhat of an underground sensation online, and also helped her win a local contest that qualified her to compete in the state's division of Miss Teen USA pageant, she was increasingly the object of hostility from her hometown peers. Last December, she produced and posted to YouTube a video in which she shared her experiences with cyber-bullies. "Along with being in the public eye comes a lot of criticism, hatred and jealousy," Courtney says in the video, describing how she was "harassed on a daily basis on the Internet" and reading online comments from local teens calling her a "bimbo" and a "slut." Her mother says such hurtful comments were ironic in that Courtney, a faithful congregant of Ocean Shores Baptist Church, carefully avoided the more typical sorts of adolescent rebellion. "She does not fall under peer pressure, and I think this is what made a lot of girls really, really angry, that Courtney would not participate in her small town in the drugs, the dating, going around with a bunch of boys and drinking," Mrs. Stodden said.
Some critics have condemned Krista Stodden as a pushy "stage mother," but she insists that it was Courtney's own idea to seek Hollywood stardom and says: "I am just guilty of one thing, and it's a good thing, being a very supportive mother. If my daughters tell me they want to do something, then I'm going to help them do whatever their goals are." This was how, through a friend in Hollywood, Mrs. Stodden got in touch with Hutchison, a veteran actor best known for his roles in the 1999 Oscar-winning film The Green Mile and more recently the ABC-TV series Lost. Hutchison teaches acting and Mrs. Stodden sought his assistance for her daughter's career. An e-mail correspondence began and 16-year-old Courtney has said she found herself falling in love with Hutchison before they had ever met. There was never any improper behavior between the teen starlet and the middle-aged actor, and Mrs. Stodden said that, as unusual as it is, the couple's marriage is consistent with her own family's Christian moral beliefs. "She broke no biblical standards by marrying a 51-year-old man, because she was a virgin, she has good morals," she said, describing her daughter's marriage as a "blessing," of which she says Courtney has had many.
"God has given that girl some blessings beyond belief. I mean, God has been so good to her," said Mrs. Stodden, comparing her daughter to another iconic Hollywood beauty. "I look at the story of John Derek and Bo Derek, and they had a very successful marriage, and she was actually younger than Courtney when she got together with John Derek." Indeed, Bo Derek -- who would become world-famous in the 1979 hit film 10 -- was just 16 when she met her then-47-year-old future husband, a thrice-divorced actor and director to whom she remained married until his death in 1998. Whether or not Courtney Stodden will herself enjoy such success either in her marriage or her career, the comparison is apt in at least one regard: Bo Derek is a Republican. Perhaps the GOP needs a new slogan: "Don't Hate Us Because We're Young and Beautiful."