Scott's world -- UPI Arts & Entertainment

By VERNON SCOTT, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  Nov. 30, 2001 at 4:19 PM
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Outrage of outrages, Tinseltown's ubiquitous paparazzi -- the free-lance photographers who assemble around town in the wake of movie/TV stars -- have fallen victim to Osama bin Laden.

Part of the fallout from the atrocities of Sept. 11 is the banning of many paparazzi from previews, premieres, parties, celebrity hangouts and other Hollywood bashes by a gentlemen's agreement among hosts and sponsors.

The reason given is somewhat obscure. It is feared a terrorist posing as a photographer will slip into the ragtag paparazzi army and fire something other than a flashbulb or strobe light at a star.

As improbable as that may seem, so was the horrible event of Sept. 11 when two huge airliners crashed into New York's Twin Towers and a third rammed the Pentagon to start a war.

The nation has become more cautious about crowds and terrorists since then, and it is construed that international news would follow the murder of two or more stars attending a glamorous event.

Ergo, a careful watch has been deployed regarding people carrying cameras or other possibly lethal items at a major Hollywood event.

It would certainly be a coup of international significance if, say, a superstar such as Julia Roberts were a target of Taliban assassins.

Thus, precautions are being taken by organizations and sponsors of industry events to beef up security with operatives demanding identity from the mob of photographers at entrances and exits to major star events.

In the past 50 years or so, the paparazzi -- Italian name for unlicensed still photographers and cameramen -- came into being, chasing celebrities all over Rome in post-World War II Italy.

Paparazzo may be found worldwide in such diverse places as London, Moscow, Tokyo and probably Tierra del Fuego.

Hollywood, however, is the Mecca (you should excuse the word and substitute "citadel") for the freelance shutterbugs.

They are as much a part of the Hollywood scene today as stretch limousines, half-naked starlets, leading men with an extra white tooth, and the biggest box-office attractions on the planet.

Paparazzo of both sexes line the red carpets at major events and are absolutely irreplaceable for studios, TV networks, newspapers (including racy tabloids), periodicals and, of course, press agents.

The majority of paparazzi are independent entrepreneurs who sell their photos to almost anyone willing to pay them.

Prices run from five bucks -- for a shot of, say Michael Douglas -- to thousands of dollars for a photo of Madonna with an accidental exposure of her breast.

Pricing is a sliding scale, fetching whatever the traffic will bear or bare. The Michael Douglas negative might double in value if wife Catherine Zeta-Jones is included in the frame.

Then again, a snapshot of Tom Cruise kissing his ex-wife Nicole Kidman would be worth a fortune. So would a shot of Cruise with his new leading lady, Penelope Cruz.

The paparazzi are smart. Most can distinguish members of the skinny brigade of blonde (sometimes) starvelings with rib-cages and navels exposed:

Renee Zellweger, Cameron Diaz, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lisa Kudrow, Sarah Jessica Parker, Calista Flockhart and Sarah Michelle Gellar among others.

Or maybe they click off a dozen shots of every anorexic cutie with long, ironed blonde hair and hope for the best.

A peripheral hardship stemming from reduction of paparazzi at any given event is that it reduces the number of targets for such would-be Hollywood tough guys as Alec Baldwin and Sean Penn, whose antics include punching paparazzi on the nose.

Even Sinatra and Bogart -- two infamous punch-out artists of the past -- wouldn't hit a defenseless photographer with a camera in his hands, leaving the victim unable to defend himself.

The insincerity of movie/TV stars is evident in their trashing of paparazzi during interviews, complaining about the nuisance of free-lancers.

Yet they will deplore the reduction in their numbers.

Most stars know the names of veteran paparazzi and wave and call to them by name when asked to pose for a shot -- which they do willingly with toothy smiles and artful body language.

The publicity can only be profitable for the posturing beauties and their tuxedo-clad escorts. For a paparazzo it means money in the bank.

It's a very old and symbiotic relationship, not unlike the consanguinity of a skeletal operatic tenor singing a duet with a 400-pound soprano.

They may despise one another off-stage, but when the lights go up and the strobe lights pop they are immortalized for the moment: two souls who need each other.

It is contemptible that the Taliban might stoop to executing a harmless little actress to emphasize how intent they are on gaining sympathy for their nebulous cause.

After all, look at how those weak-minded assassins treat defenseless women in their own countries.

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