Calling Wolf Blitzer. There’s a war on, but it’s not in the Middle East. We’re talking about the battle between celebs and the paparazzi — a conflict initiated when Tom Cruise made his photog-bashing call to CNN after Princess Diana’s car crash. But now the photographers are shooting — or, more precisely, not shooting — back.
The first skirmish came Sept. 8, when Sylvester Stallone went to the opening of a new Planet Hollywood in Rome. Reportedly angry that the star had called them ”legalized stalkers,” a contingent of shooters refused to snap the trimmed-down star. Stallone had no comment on the snub. Then, at the Emmys Sept. 14, Fran Drescher, who in recent weeks has whined about photographer harassment, also got the cold shoulder strap from the shutterbugs. The normally spotlight-loving star retaliated by walking briskly down the red carpet. ”We did boycott [her],” says photographer Laura Luongo, whose work has appeared in TIME, Newsweek, and Vogue. ”She said some nasty things. When she was a nobody, she was hamming it up and begging for us to take her pictures.” The Nanny star is unavailable for comment.
The next test of photographer solidarity will come at the Sept. 22 (in New York) and Sept. 23 (in L.A.) premieres of The Peacemaker, starring vocal paparazzi foe George Clooney. Not long after the actor’s tabloid-bashing Sept. 2 press conference, rumors of a Clooney boycott began brewing. Whether Clooney will get the Stallone or Drescher treatment is hazy. Some say they’ve forgiven the ER star. (”He hasn’t gone after us,” says L.A. photog Kathy Hutchins. ”He’s gone after the paparazzi, those who fit the true meaning of the word.”) Others say they plan to stand firm. (”We’ll show up and make a statement by not shooting George,” says New York freelancer Stephen Trupp.) But many agree that the cluster of stars who’ll surround Clooney (e.g., Cruise and Nicole Kidman) may make it too hard to resist.
It remains to be seen if any kind of organized boycott can be sustained. It takes only a few itchy fingers among the photographer ranks to break down a protest. In the end, it may not matter. ”I don’t think [boycotting] will affect us,” says Phil Bunton, editor in chief of the Star. ”We can’t control what photographers are doing — they’re freelance. Besides, I’m not sure I care if I ever see another photo of George Clooney.”
With reporting by Bill Higgins, Tricia Laine, and Frank Swertlow