MORE THAN 50 PEOPLE, DECKED out in their finest attire, filed into the living room of the historic yellow Victorian house in downtown Hailey, Idaho, one night in September 1996. They had come to celebrate the back-to-back birthdays of Madison Myers and Kim Tannahill, two women who cared for the children of the town's most glamorous couple, actors Bruce Willis and Demi Moore. As guests nibbled on jumbo shrimp sent over from the Mint, the local restaurant Willis owns, the just-30 Tannahill greeted her bosses at the front door. There the stars discreetly presented her with a gift: a pair of half-carat diamond earrings.

"I've never had diamonds in my life!" Tannahill squealed as she raced up two flights of stairs to show off the jewels to Myers. "She was beside herself," Myers, now 32, recollects. "Bruce and Demi loved Kim."

Diamonds may be forever, but affection between the two stars and their employee proved less durable. Moore, 35, and Willis, 43, fired Tannahill last August and sued her in U.S. district court in Blaine County, Idaho, in January, claiming she billed them for personal expenses, welshed on some $8,000 worth of loans and blabbed about their private lives in violation of a confidentiality agreement. They are seeking at least $300,000 in damages. A few days later, Tannahill fired back, claiming in a suit filed in Los Angeles superior court that she was "shamelessly exploited and abused" by the pair. She depicted her 3½ years with the family as a post-modern Cinderella tale (though with five-star accommodations). Now living in L.A., Tannahill says in the suit that she was subjected to "intimidation, threats and force," bullied into working around the clock week after week without overtime pay and discouraged from having any friends. And she portrays the stars as self-involved, inattentive parents stuck in an "on-the-rocks" marriage. But she reserves the sharpest barbs for Moore, whom Tannahill accuses of "prescription drug abuse" and abusive behavior. The suit claims Moore trapped a terrified Tannahill in a bedroom for a 2-hour "verbal beating" last August. "It's scary what I could do to you," it quotes Moore saying.

Neither side would comment, but friends, neighbors and nanny Myers—who left the Willis family amicably last summer—suggest Moore and Willis were the best thing that ever happened to Tannahill. The shy, overweight and apparently aimless young woman arrived in Hailey from her Lewiston hometown in the early '90s. After stints as a T-shirt store clerk and coffee-shop waitress, Tannahill landed a job in October 1993 looking after a 3-year-old girl in Hailey, an unassuming former mining town of 4,500. There she met Myers, then already working for the Willis family, and soon found herself helping care for the stars' three daughters—Rumer, now 9, Scout, 6, and Tallulah, 4—at the family's $2 million, six-bedroom house on a sprawling ranch outside town. Tannahill was soon jetting to movie sets and vacation spots in the U.S. and Europe, working out alongside Moore and her personal trainer in the family's home gym, receiving top-dollar skin care from a dermatologist, consulting a nutritionist and recuperating from painful liposuction at the couple's Malibu house—all paid for by Bruce and Demi, who took a Henry Higgins-like interest in their new nanny.

The attention paid off: Tannahill slimmed down four dress sizes (to a 4), her acne vanished, and she began dating more frequently. "She had a boyfriend every place we went—New York, L.A., England, Florida," says Myers, who worked for the family for six years. But the makeover, a Demi pal says, was more than skin-deep: "[Kim] thought she was just another part of the family and a movie star herself."

Friends say Moore's film persona as master of the one-arm pushup (in G.I. Jane) masks real dismay over the current legal battle, which could include testimony from her children. "She is so hurt," says one Hailey pal, whose daughter has attended birthday parties at the star's house. "She said, 'I did everything for that girl' I feel sorry for [Demi]." The suit has also angered some residents of Hailey, where Moore and Willis have invested a reported $8 million since moving there in the late '80s, restoring an old theater, bar and other buildings, including the house once shared by Myers, Tannahill and Moore's 2,000 dolls. "I think the girl should have a lot of duct tape put on her mouth," says Ketchum resident Lynn Knutson, a Moore acquaintance "I think Demi was very, very, very kind to her."

As for Myers, at whose wedding Moore and Tannahill both served as bridesmaids, the controversy is less painful than bewildering. "This mean heart that Kim has now was not always there," she says. "That's why all of this does not make any sense."

LARRY HACKETT
KEIN BAKER in Idaho

  • Contributors:
  • Kein Baker.