A few days later, Perelman called his reliable friend Melanie Griffith and asked for Barkin’s number. In his relentless style, Perelman began leaving messages on Barkin’s answering machine. Reluctantly, she agreed to meet him and found herself charmed by his old-fashioned romanticism.
Barkin knew about Perelman’s intensity, his tendency to be controlling, and his ugly past divorces, her friends say. But she had her own legendary temper, and in one interview she said she believed her fuse was quicker to light than his. “I finally met my match,” she said about Perelman. “In business, Ronald is tough; you don’t put over anything on him. But personally, he’s very gentle with women. In fact, in terms of compromise, I give him more credit than I do myself. He has enormous patience with me. I yell at him, but he never does, even though I sometimes think I’d be yelling at me.”
As a nascent couple, Perelman and Barkin had a charged, give-and-take dynamic. Julianne Moore, the actress and Barkin’s best friend, once told a story that seems to capture Barkin and Perelman’s chemistry. “We were sitting around the pool in East Hampton, and invariably there’s a lot of kids, and a lot people get thrown in the pool. Ronald rushed Ellen to sort of shove her into the pool, but Ellen being Ellen, they pushed and pulled and tugged. He finally sent her in, but she pulled him in with her. I thought it was an incredible metaphor for their relationship. They’re really evenly matched.”
Early on, Perelman made clear his feelings about how Barkin should conduct her movie career, her friends say: no sex scenes, no kissing scenes, no movies shot on locations away from New York. And all scripts must be personally approved by him (a Perelman friend says Perelman encouraged Barkin’s film career, and didn’t suggest any limits).
At that point in Barkin’s life, acting wasn’t a top priority for her. Her kids were getting older. She wasn’t being offered the most interesting parts, and was tired of taking bad ones that she felt she had to just for the money. She was also supporting her mother, Evelyn, and her brother, George, a former editor at National Lampoon and High Times, was living in her New York apartment and working on screenplays. Besides, Barkin was hardly a workhorse by nature. “I wish I had a little more ambition,” she once said. “But then what would I do? Turn down more roles with more vehemence?” She once playfully confessed, “Me no likey worky.”
Perelman offered relief from all that. He demanded to be allowed to install her mother in a fabulous New York apartment blocks away from their townhouse. Ellen and Evelyn protested that the rent was too high; Evelyn worried that if Ron and Ellen’s relationship soured, she wouldn’t be able to afford it herself. But Perelman was insistent, Barkin’s friends say. When asked in one interview what she most liked about her husband, Barkin said, “He’s a real caretaker. And it just extends forever—this is a man who will take care of you and everyone you know and love forever, whether he has $100 or $100 billion.”
Barkin herself was wowed by Perelman’s life of extreme luxury. He maintained huge homes in New York, Florida, and the Hamptons, constantly jetting among them. Barkin was also spellbound by the art hanging on his walls. “Are you joking me?” she once recalled saying to him. “I can sit for hours in the library or in the living room and look at the Picassos, the Matisses, the Lichtensteins, the Mirós, the de Koonings, the Rothkos.”
If Barkin seemed overwhelmed by it all, she also enjoyed it. And she seemed to enjoy him. Cindy Adams, the New York Post gossip columnist, remembers meeting the couple for the first time at her home for a shivah call—her husband had just died—and they arrived looking like a matching set, both wearing white button-down shirts and blue jeans. As Barkin approached her, Adams says, she noticed a string of pearls around Barkin’s neck.
“Aren’t they gorgeous?” Barkin said. “They’re the first pearls I’ve ever had.”
The wedding in June 2000 was small, some 45 guests or so. But beneath the festive veneer, there was stress. That very day, Duff was testifying that Perelman had waited to tell Caleigh he was marrying Barkin until the day before, and that when he finally had, Caleigh was distraught.
Perelman and Barkin’s prenup was another issue. In the months leading up to the wedding, Barkin had told a friend, she and her lawyers had raised concerns about certain clauses of the agreement (a Perelman friend denies Barkin raised such concerns). Barkin signed the contract the day before the wedding. “I would never use the word naïve with Ellen Barkin in the same line,” one of her friends says. “But she really loved him. She had heard all the other stories about his other wives. She thought this one would be different somehow.”