The state of celebrity gossip

Tone of tabloid stories hasn't changed much

THE POPULAR “Hear and Now” radio program out of Boston (WBUR) called to ask your sage gossip, Liz, how have things changed in the world of celebrity coverage? I thought you all might enjoy what I laughingly refer to as my “insight”…

The coverage of Brad and Angelina and Jennifer and others current, seems like unprecedented 21st century overkill, but it’s not. That sense of overkill comes from the proliferation of weekly magazines, daily entertainment programs, and the 24-hour scrutiny of the Internet. Back in the day, fan magazines were monthly. Life and Look were weekly, but did not concentrate solely on movie stars.

Well, just as people now can’t live without instant communication, they can’t seem to live without instant celebrity news, chewed up and spat out with incredible rapidity.

In comparative terms, nothing was bigger than the Taylor/Burton/”Cleopatra” scandal, and Elizabeth and Richard’s subsequent adventures for the next 10 years. When the story broke in Rome, in 1962, it dominated every New York tabloid for weeks on end — and this is when N.Y. had six daily papers! Elizabeth had ALREADY been involved in a husband stealing scandal — taking hapless Eddie Fisher from girl-next-door Debbie Reynolds. When La Liz took up with Richard Burton, breaking apart another home, the public couldn’t believe it — and they couldn’t stop reading about it.

There were other lurid Hollywood scandals — Lana Turner’s teenage daughter stabbing Lana’s gangster lover to death; Ingrid Bergman being banished from the U.S. for a decade after she left her husband and child for director Roberto Rossellini in 1949.

THE NATURE and tone of stories that are written now hasn’t changed much. If you can, go back and look at fan magazines from the late 1950s on. Greater interest evolved in revealing feet of clay, printing unflattering photos and just making it up, essentially. Today there is an unhealthier and crueler concentration on bodies and faces. But the headlines “Brad To Jen: Stop Blaming Angelina!” Those are straight from Photoplay, circa 1963, just change the names: “Burton to Liz: Stop Blaming My Wife!”

The big, big difference is the Internet and websites like Perez Hilton and TMZ. There’s no hiding now. There’s no boundary, no sense of guilt or hesitation. Yet, isn’t it only different in quantity? In 1959, gossips most terrifying figure, Hedda Hopper, wrote a long feature piece, titled, “Don’t Drink, Marilyn. It Won’t Bring Back the Baby.” (This after Monroe’s third miscarriage.) I’d be hard-pressed in 2009 to find a nastier headline on the covers of US Weekly or In Touch or Life & Style. The more things change…

So, I am glad my column has never devoted itself entirely to “stars.” I can wax philosophical. I can promote wonderful books, and theater. I certainly have my say on politics.

I think I’ll stick around.

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