It’s anything goes when photogs shoot the stars
September 28, 1986 | Jeannine Stein
HOLLYWOOD Vinnie Zuffante’s black eye has healed, but the details of how he got it remain fresh in the photographer’s mind.
He claims to have gotten the shiner during a scuffle with an actor who accidentally popped him while tangling with two other photographers.
It was the actor’s wife who asked him to intervene, said Zuffante, recalling the recent incident.
“She comes running over and grabs my jacket and says, `Stop them! Stop them from fighting!’ ” Zuffante said. “So I put my camera down and try to break it up, and then he just popped me in the face. NEXT time I see him I’m not going to say anything, I’m just going to see what he says. I see them all over, but I don’t always take their picture.”
Zuffante, 30, is one of a breed of photographers who are commonly labeled paparazzi for their devotion to snapping pictures of celebrities. Their turf is anywhere a famous face can be found: parties, premieres, restaurants, doorways, even the city streets.
In Los Angeles, photographers such as Zuffante are a fact of life, constantly chronicling the ACTIVITIES of television, music and movie stars that become fodder for thousands of celebrity-oriented magazines and newspapers around the world. It’s not an easy life: braving the cold, waiting outside for hours to snap a picture, getting smacked around by people who don’t understand you have a job to do.
This Friday night was no exception.
At 6, Walter McBride, Barry Talesnick and Marc Courtland were at the Century Plaza HOTEL waiting to get shots of “Falcon Crest” star Jane Wyman at an Arthritis Foundation awards dinner. McBride, 26, and Talesnick, 28, are based in New York, where they work for the Retna PHOTO syndicate; Courtland, 27, from Los Angeles, said that he sometimes shoots for the syndicate as well as the Hollywood Reporter.
An hour later, the three were ushered into a small room for a brief photo session. Wyman treated them like foreign diplomats, asking their names and shaking their hands. “Take all the pictures you want,” Wyman said, posing with the dinner’s honorees.
“Let them do one more and that’s it,” snapped a tuxedo-clad man. But Wyman was in no hurry, and did not protest when they JOINED her at a small table to chat.
“They’re adorable,” she said. “I don’t like it when (photographers) are aggressive. Then they lose me.”
Publicist Chris Christman wasn’t as affable. “We tried to discourage them from coming,” Christman said. “We figured they weren’t really interested in our function. We don’t feel they serve our purpose.”
By 7:30, McBride, Talesnick and Courtland were off to shoot a benefit. Meanwhile, comedian Jackie Mason was drawing celebs to his one-man show at the Canon Theater in Beverly Hills. As Jane Fonda, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart and other luminaries emerged from their limos, a handful of photographers were there to capture the moment.
“This is an OK event,” said Ralph Dominguez, a 12-year veteran of this beat.
As he was shooting Hope Lange, a very pregnant Bette Midler and husband Martin von Haselberg sneaked by, catching the photographers off guard.
“Now we have to come BACK!” Zuffante yelled after them, annoyed that he would have to return later to photograph Midler.
“Normally that should not happen,” Dominguez said. “Everyone was talking. We should have spotted her a mile away.” When the flow of stars ceased, the photographers split up and began their quest for more familiar faces. Typically, many head for celebrity hangouts such as the restuaruants Spago, Le Dome and Nicky Blair’s, using their contacts with parking valets and maitre d’s to find out who is inside the restaurants and who is expected.
Often they have to share sidewalk space with autograph seekers. Some photographers don’t mind the fans; others feel they’re the bane of their existence, often getting in the way of important shots.
By 8:45, Zuffante was waiting outside Spago, where the air was heavy with the smell of garlic. So far he had taken a picture of “One Life to Live” star Andrea Evans. “I’ve been doing this since I was 14,” said Zuffante, who wore a white leather jacket, a BELT BUCKLE that said “Vince” and a three-day beard.
Zuffante said that he has a lawsuit pending against one of Prince’s bodyguards, who the photographer claims took a couple of swings at him outside the local nightclub Carlos ‘n Charlie’s. “That was MY RIGHT eye,” he noted.
The occasional scrapes don’t discourage him. “I get to travel a lot: New York, Chicago, London,” he said with a thick Brooklyn accent. “In New York everyone knows me. I don’t mind standing outside. It doesn’t bother me.”
It is not the most lucrative business, said Zuffante. He sells his photos to Star File, a New York-based company that then tries to syndicate them here and abroad. Some photographers work the same way, letting syndicates such as the Gamma-Liaison Agency take roughly half the profits, and others are salaried employees of other photographers. Still others act as their own agents, selling their photos directly. Most shoot on speculation.
How much a PHOTO sells for depends on who is in it and how good it is. An exclusive shot of a marketable celeb can bring in thousands of dollars; a less desirable one, maybe $25.
“You spend what you make,” Zuffante said. “You usually end up buying your own film and paying for your own processing. When I travel I PAY my way.”
Free-lance photographer Brad Elterman, who has written a how-to book, Shoot the Stars: How to Become a Celebrity Photographer, said that the tabloids have been seeking full-length fashion shots lately. If a starlet wants to get into one of these papers, Elterman advises dressing for excess in an eye-catching gown. “That can be more important than if they’re with a new date,” he said.
The current list of hot stars includes Don Johnson, Bruce Willis, Cybill Shepherd, Priscilla Presley or anyone on “Dallas” or “Dynasty.” Actor Sean Penn and rocker Madonna still are considered the king and queen of the PHOTO set, even though Penn has had numerous run-ins with celebrity photographers. Dominguez says that Penn is “a rebel without a cause. He’s living in the past. He seems to be mad at everyone.”
After Spago, it was back to the Canon Theater, where at 9:45 a SELECT group of guests was walking from the theater to a reception at the Bistro Garden across the street. The photographers, claiming publicists had told them to be back by 10, missed most of the stars again, including Fonda and Midler.