Celeb trysts run up the tabs

Exclusive photos kick off bidding wars

Wenner Media’s Us Weekly is taking a victory lap this week with exclusive photos of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie cavorting on a Kenya beach, long before Pitt and Jennifer Aniston announced their separation.

Rival American Media’s Star Magazine had to make do with a ridiculous photo illustration, while Bauer Publishing’s In Touch went with a photo of a New York Daily News cover about the photos.

But Us Weekly’s “get” came at a steep cost.

A British photo agency touched off a bidding war when it alerted U.S. press to the existence of the photos. American Media anted up $150,000 for North American rights. Bauer raised to $220,000 and a dogfight ensued between People and Us Weekly, which spent the afternoon outbidding each other by $10,000 increments.

People thought it had a deal at $320,000, but Us Weekly offered $500,000, contingent on the agency signing the contract immediately. The agency did, even though People offered $1 million shortly before ink hit paper.

For Us Weekly, the buy was about more than the 1 million newsstand copies they hope to sell.

“We broke the story of the two of them currently dating,” says editor-in-chief Janice Minn. “It was important to us to continue to own the story since Brad Pitt’s rep publicly said it was untrue.”

This week, on to a celebrity coupling nobody broke: Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Photos show Cruise happily waving to the paparazzi with a sheepish Holmes in tow. His rep and sister immediately confirmed the two-week “relationship.”

A skeptical Minn suggests Cruise is looking to connect with a younger aud that didn’t grow up on his pics, while Holmes looks to hype the upcoming “Batman Begins,” in which she stars.