Fox-TV special goes behind the makeup

February 24, 2005|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

We are pleased to report the following celebrity news: Dennis Quaid buys dinner for his wife at a grocery store. Halle Berry shops for bathroom grout at a home improvement store. Teri Hatcher wears hair curlers in public. Ben Affleck chokes on Diet Coke.

Feel better, don't you?

That's the point. Photos of celebrities at their most mundane and unattractive fill tabloids and glossy magazines, reassuring us that even our biggest stars sometimes get mustard on their faces. This new wave of celebrity worship/humiliation reaches its apotheosis tonight at 9 with the broadcast of a Fox program called, simply enough, Stars Without Makeup.

It is exactly as it sounds - photos and video of celebrities looking like they just rolled out of bed, faces blotchy, hair like a crow's nest, bellies hanging out. All on display for a full hour tonight, from the network that brought us When Good Pets Go Bad and Celebrity Boxing.

There's something comforting in knowing that celebrities are not a race of perfectly formed superhuman pod people sent to Earth to make us feel bad. In fact, they wait in line at Starbucks. They fill up their cars at the gas station. They wear sweat pants in public. They are, as Us Weekly posits in one of its most popular features, "just like us."

"Seeing Paris Hilton or Mischa Barton strolling down the red carpet is such a posed moment and it doesn't really speak to them," says Albert Lee, senior editor of Us Weekly. "Their lives are not wearing $10,000 beaded dresses. Their lives are just like ours. They go to the same grocery stores we do. Their cars break down like ours."

Now any self-respecting celebrity glossy has pages of photos of stars doing ordinary things. Dustin Hoffman carries Italian for Dummies around Milan! Jennifer Garner shops for produce at a supermarket! Barton carries a brown bag to The O.C. set! Drew Barrymore snaps pictures with her digital camera!

"Seeing celebrities in these moments adds fuel to the very personal connection most fans have with famous people," says Nathan Cooper, executive editor of Life & Style magazine, which runs a feature called "Diva or down-to-earth?"

"If someone idolizes Jennifer Lopez, seeing her juggling two bags of groceries only adds to the level of empathy that fan may have with her."

Cooper and other editors say they reject plenty of photos that show celebrities in embarrassing situations. He worries the Fox program, which will apparently feature unflattering images, may push the limits of good taste.

"You're getting into catching them at really bad moments," he says. "That to me rings a little more mean-spirited. It's that `Oh my God!' factor."

Fox said it could not make an advance copy of Stars Without Makeup available for press preview because it wasn't ready, and that producers of the show were not available for comment. Tabloids have run candid photos of stars for years, but it didn't become mainstream until Bonnie Fuller remade Us Weekly into a celebrity gossip sheet in 2002. The magazine's circulation zoomed from about 300,000 to more than 1 million, and other publications quickly copied the formula.

Many celebrities don't seem to mind the attention - particularly Affleck. In recent weeks, he has been pictured checking under the hood of a $155,000 Aston Martin, smoking, leaving the gym in baggy sweats, shoveling food into his mouth and walking the streets barefoot and in his underwear.

It all prompted Star magazine to offer this advice to his girlfriend, Jennifer Garner: "It's time to dump the schlump."

Other stars use the interest in their regular lives to their advantage. Those promoting projects - such as Tom Cruise shortly before Collateral was released last year - will often lunch at the Ivy, a famous Beverly Hills restaurant where the paparazzi are often outside.

But Cruise and others have also complained that photographers in search of candid photos are ruining their lives. Cameron Diaz is accused of lashing out at a photographer last fall and hitting and wrestling away his camera outside a Hollywood hotel.

"There are certain celebrities who don't want this type of exposure," said Michelle Lee, executive editor of In Touch magazine. "But for the most part, people do understand that it is a necessary part of being a celebrity today."

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