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Acursed Paparazzi Stalk Respectability

September 21, 1988

HOLLYWOOD (AP) _ Phil Ramey is a bounty hunter, and the bigger the name, the greater the prize.

Don Johnson and Barbra Streisand fetch more than $1,000. Michael J. Fox and new wife Tracy Pollan can bring in five times that. Sean Penn and Madonna, though, are on the discount shelf.

Ramey calls himself a photographer. His critics call him a paparazzo. Whatever the case, Ramey’s subjects rarely say cheese.

″If you’re in open view, you’re fair game,″ Ramey said recently as his Bell Jet Ranger helicopter roared over Beverly Hills.

″When you’re a celebrity, the normal rules of privacy don’t apply,″ he said, leaning out the door to shoot another roll of Merv Griffin’s new home site.

Ramey takes the shots - a secret wedding, an undiscovered affair, a private estate - that push readers of National Enquirer and Star into tabloid ecstasy.

Ramey is aggressive: He collected shots of Bruce Willis’ and Demi Moore’s wedding with a camera hidden in a friend’s purse. But he does have standards.

″I don’t pop up from behind hedges, and I don’t enter private property,″ Ramey said. ″I think this thing about invading privacy is way overblown.″

Tell that to Cher.

On July 27, Cher’s live-in boyfriend Robert Camilletti was arrested for investigation of felony assault after he crashed into photographer Peter Brandt’s car. Brandt, who had been staking out Cher’s mansion for the Star with Ramey’s assistance, said Camilletti also smashed his camera.

″He tried to kill me,″ Brandt said.

Prosecutors have yet to decide if Camilletti’s outburst was justified, and no charges have been filed. Meantime, the incident has prompted fierce debate over the tabloid photographer’s place in Hollywood.

″I’m getting really, really angry,″ Cher said. ″After a while it really bothers you and disrupts your family life.″

Veteran publicist Richard Grant concurs. On a recent Saturday night, he took clients Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker, both stars of TV’s ″L.A. Law,″ to dinner at Spago, a fashionable Los Angeles restaurant.

″I pulled up and I saw 20 photographers out front,″ Grant said. ″So I used my car phone, called the restaurant and told them to open the back door. We had to sneak in.″

Ifthey’re not sneaking through back doors, celebrities are fighting back. Photographers have been chased and beaten, with Sean Penn and Prince’s bodyguards leading the charge. In one famous case in the early 1980s, a New York judge ordered cameraman Ronald Galella to stay at least 25 feet away from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and her children.

The photographers, for their part, claim their behavior is decent and acceptable.

But lost in all the finger-pointing and name-calling is the fundamental role these photographers may play in perpetuating the Hollywood myth.

″We absolutely feed on each other,″ said Mary Ann Norbom, Los Angeles editor of Star. ″We need them, but they need us, too.″

Said James Seymore Jr., assistant managing editor of People magazine: ″Celebrity is a two-edged sword. If these people did not hunger for fame, they would not make themselves so available or show up in such conspicuous clothes. Part of the price of fame is the loss of anonymity.″

While the photographers are frequently depicted as voyeurs and leeches, their relationship with stars can sometimes be symbiotic and even friendly. They do, after all, keep stars in public view.

″I’m a centrist and I see both sides,″ said publicist Michael Levine. ″These photographers might be able to help ingrain a celebrity into the culture. And I think they can have a place. There are a few (photographers) who are, in fact, responsible.″

″We may make thousands of dollars on photographs, but the stars make millions on them,″ said Bob Michelson, who runs a celebrity photo agency in Los Angeles. ″If we take the stars’ shots and put them on the covers of magazines, these people will continue to work.″

Conventional thinking holds that celebrity photographers always stalk their victims, springing from bushes at just the right moment. Their real tactics, in fact, tend to be much less dramatic, Ramey’s helicopter notwithstanding. Most published shots come from photographers in the right place at the right time - often with inside information supplied by publicists and other sources.

Dominick Conde, a New York celebrity photographer, depends on theater press agents to tell him when people such as Streisand or Bette Midler buy Broadway tickets; Conde then waits outside the theater. A girlfriend at the New York hot spot Columbus calls Conde when big names reserve a table.

Ramey has a staff that fields tips and tells him where to be and when, sometimes guiding his helicopter (rented for $425 an hour) from the ground by cellular phone.

And the Nancy Seltzer and Associates public relations firm recently sent out a release alerting photograpers that Bruce Willis, Dennis Hopper and Michelle Pfeiffer would attend a benefit screening of Miss Pfeiffer’s new movie, ″Married to the Mob.″

Don Johnson, for one, said he’s resigned to the fact that the photographers - and their other half, the gossip writers - will never disappear.

″It used to bother me,″ Johnson said, but he quit worrying ″when I came to the realization that it didn’t really matter what the truth was, that it didn’t really matter what I felt or how I felt.″

In the end, an individual’s celebrity can be measured by the number of photographers he or she attracts.

″We have a saying in New York,″ Conde said. ″The celebrities shouldn’t worry when we take their picture. They should worry when we stop taking their picture.″

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