LOS ANGELES — In an age where too many celebrities are famous for little more than being famous, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt occupy a spot in the Hollywood firmament matched only by the stars of yesteryear — Bogart and Bacall, Tracy and Hepburn, even Burton and Taylor. The married couple are equals in the way few movie stars are.
Jolie and Pitt are accomplished actors — gilded by Oscar, firmly on the A-list — but both have also transcended their acting. She has segued into directing, him producing, and they’ve both become champions for social causes at home and abroad. Through a careful management of their image and social media footprint, they conjured the glamour of the movie stars of old.
So when Jolie filed for divorce from Pitt in a Los Angeles court Tuesday, even those who usually steer clear of such tabloid fodder took notice. Pitt, 52, and Jolie, 41, aren’t your average Hollywood celebrity couple falling out of love.
“They came from an era before celebrities were doing their own social media,” said Vanessa Diaz, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles and assistant professor at California State, Fullerton who specializes in pop culture. “What celebrity means, looks like, sounds like, is changing. All of the changes in media, like reality TV, make it so Brangelina is one of the last old Hollywood kind of couples. Two of the biggest movie stars coming together.”
Film critic and historian Leonard Maltin said that “we don’t know anything about their private lives, really, nor is it any of our business, really. But they’re both successful and attractive people who have been forced to live at least some of their lives in public. So the public feels a certain ownership, whether they’re entitled to or not.”
Yet together they managed to walk a path that was public when it served their purposes — as when Jolie revealed in a 2013 New York Times Op-Ed that she had a double mastectomy to raise breast cancer awareness — and private when they chose to be. And rather than nurture Instagram followers, they chased their creative passions.
But for all their iconoclastic nature, they met in that most conventional Hollywood way: on a film set. It was 2004, while they were co-starring in “Mr. &Mrs. Smith,” shortly after Jolie ended her marriage to actor Billy Bob Thornton — and Pitt was still married to Jennifer Aniston.
And that’s when the media, which had always had its eye on Pitt and Jolie separately, became obsessed. Brangelina was born.
“Brangelina has a lot of meaning behind it because it’s not just Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie,” Diaz said. “Brangelina is more than a pronoun. It’s an adjective.”