Why Did Barry Diller Marry?

Despite the beating the IAC boss is receiving in the business press, Barry Diller showed up last night at the grandest party of Fashion Week, the bizarre event sponsored by Gucci for poor Malawian children each of whom could survive a decade for the price of the fashion label's more expensive accessories. By the internet mogul's side, as usual, Diane von Furstenberg, the fashion designer he wed in 2001. Which is as good a time as any to ask the age-old question: why on earth does 65-year-old Diller, an inducted member of the boy-loving velvet mafia, persist with such a sham of a marriage? (Clue: it's something to do with the good-looking baldie on the left.)

It's not as if Diller has kept his sexuality such a secret.

Sure, he threatened Michael Wolff if the media columnist, then at New York magazine, wrote about his personal life. "No. I don't think you understand," he told Wolff. "I would kill you." And a memoir by a former escort who claimed to have bedded various members of Hollywood's gay mafia was expunged of all references by name to Diller; though a character nicknamed The Bear, bearing some resemblance to the compact tycoon, did make an appearance.

But, at least at the level of gossip, Diller's inclinations have been a staple for at least two decades among journalists, fellow media magnates, the gay establishment, and their catamites. Diller has done little, beyond vague threats to journalists and publishers, to dispel the rumors. The tycoon's donations to charity include many gay causes. His former yacht, the appositely named Black Sheep, regularly docked at Provincetown, the gay summer resort on Cape Cod. (See video.) Page Six even reported, three years ago, that the high-living mogul "partied" aboard the boat with Chris Beckman, a pretty boy from the Real World: Chicago.

Why Did Barry Diller Marry?

Several authors have gone beyond mere implication. The Operator, Tom King's biography of David Geffen, the most open member of the velvet mafia, states baldly that Diller is gay. Both Geffen and Diller were immediately sought out by the press when Michael Ovitz, the once-mighty Hollywood agent, blamed a mysterious gay cabal for his professional demise. And Maer Roshan, ridiculing the discretion of known gay celebrities, referred in New York magazine to Diller's long-term relationship with a former editor-in-chief of The Advocate, the gay magazine.

So why does Diller bother? There seems little doubt that the IAC boss and Diane von Furstenberg are close friends; they have known eachother for decades. In the homophobic Hollywood of the 1970s, it was probably useful for Diller to confuse the issue of his personal life. His counterparts might suspect, or know; but there was enough contradictory information to prevent exposure by the press. That's now less of a reason for dissimulation, of course: the dam has broken; newspapers and magazines, facing competition from gossipy blogs such as this, are much less easily browbeaten by privacy-obsessed moguls; they can't afford to repeat the official line without looking craven. Diller's marriage to Diane von Furstenberg was described, even in the normally straight New York Times, as a "merger".

But there's one other reason for Diller's marriage of convenience, and it's quite touching. Diller has no children of his own. Diane von Furstenberg, and her children Alex and Tatiana, are the closest the solitary mogul has to family. Diller is said to be particularly fond of Diane's 38-year-old son, pictured left. "He really loves Alex," says someone who knows them both. Diller deeded Alex his house in Malibu on his first marriage (no word yet on what the wedding present will be for his second, to Ali Kay, disclosed in today's Page Six).

That's not the extent of Diller's financial support: Diller has already financed Diane von Furstenberg's fashion label; it is widely assumed that he will leave his fortune to Alex and his sister. Which provides an explanation for the merger, if not for the pretense of a wedding ceremony, so bogus that David Geffen refused to attend. Marriage, apart from presenting a front to conservative high society, does make it easier to avoid inheritance tax. Now Diller had better fend off his hostile shareholder, John Malone, and extract some value from IAC's languishing portfolio of internet businesses.

The gay billionaire, who marries his fag hag so that he can support her children: that's an uplifting narrative; it loses some of its dramatic power if the billions evaporate.