General News

EXTRA: Leo's Private Press Corps

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Mar 19, 2001 | 11:50am EST

It's not easy being the most famous man in the world. Nasty rumors about you are circulated on the Internet. The press watches your every move. Make one stinkin' movie in a third-world country and all of a sudden you're an environmental terrorist.

It's enough to drive a guy to punch a photographer, Frank Sinatra-style. Or, in the case of Leonardo DiCaprio, it's enough to drive a guy to hire his own media. (Heck, at $20 mil per movie, he can afford it).

And when "The Beach" premiered at Mann's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood last week, that's pretty much what happened.

Leonardo DiCaprio, you see, isn't just the most-tracked star on the movie universe -- he's the most "innovative." (Hey, even his own camp says so.)

To be sure, the guy does know a thing or two about the power of, well, power. Word around the campfire was that unless Leo personally OK'd a TV crew, newspaper, magazine or Web site for the red-carpet festivities at the Chinese, the outlet's requisite reporter types weren't invited. (Neither were the environmentalist protesters, of course, but they came anyway.)

Although some media types were shut out of the premiere, the crew from the Official Leonardo DiCaprio Homepage (www.leonardodicaprio.com) was there in full force. Deemed "DiCaprio's personal media" by Variety, the site beamed out live streaming video coverage of the event.

Forget all that silly environmental nonsense, or those stories of barroom fights and late-night carousing with his homeboys, bodyguards roughing up photographers and his friend (rapper Q-Tip) smashing a paparazzo's camera. The Official Leo Homepage people gave the teen-age girls what they want: the baby-faced superstar.

A sample of the hard-hitting coverage: "A football field length of red carpet turned sidewalk into catwalk in front of the entrance to the theater as the press, standing three deep along the rope line, screamed, yelled, cajoled, flashed, filmed, taped and recorded the arrivals of celebrity, cast and crew. ... Appearing relaxed and happy, Leonardo emerged from his limousine dressed in a navy blue Armani suit, dark silk shirt and matching tie. [He] was all smiles and spent a little moment with just about every journalist who shrieked for a little bit of his time."

Manipulative? Perish the thought. Chuck Smith, a rep of DiCaprio's Birken Studios, says the players of Team Leo are "innovators" in movie-star spin control. "We're trying to gain some control over Leonardo's image because of the complete saturation during the 'Titanic' run," he told Variety, failing to mention all the other stuff that's happened since the big-boat movie. DiCaprio's people have been handling the star's hype ever since Leo fired his big-name PR firm, Baker Winokur Ryder, last year.

On the opposite side of the ideological spectrum, the owner of "The Anti Leonardo DiCaprio Revolution" Web site (http://gladstone.uoregon.edu/~mberglan/antileo.html), one of more than a dozen DiCaprio-bashing sites on the Net, thinks the star's media games are a joke.

"Journalism coverage should be unbiased, and his power over the coverage obviously compromises that," says Michael Bergland. "To have the actual subject of coverage pick and choose who writes the story is a step too far. They might as well ban the media all together and have Leo issue a press release."

Actually, the most interesting press release issued after "The Beach" premiere at the Chinese wasn't from DiCaprio, or from 20th Century Fox, which released the film, but from the premiere-crashing environmentalists and their group Justice for Maya Bay International Alliance (JUMBIA). Their dispatch not only railed about the environmental crimes allegedly perpetrated by what they call "the bulldozer movie," but took potshots at DiCaprio fans and the Fox spin doctors, as well.

"The premiere attracted only a small crowd of about 150 DiCaprio fans," the bean counters at JUMBIA declared. "Fox agents led them in practice squeals before the heartthrob himself arrived. When the protesters began chanting, distributing flyers, and holding out their signs, every television camera not controlled by Fox agents scurried to film them, and print media reporters asked for interviews."

For the uninformed, the protestors allege that Fox, DiCaprio and makers of "The Beach" illegally filmed on a beach in Phi Phi Leh Island, Thailand, that's designated as a national park, desecrating the local ecosystem. During production of the movie, environmentalists on the Thai island wore DiCaprio masks with bloody fangs in protest.

To be sure, environmental havoc is nothing to pooh-pooh, but Leo's latest publicity snafu seems tame compared to some of his other tabloid-fodder escapades and publicity missteps. He hasn't made a movie in two years, yet he's made so many (oft-unflattering) headlines that it's perhaps understandable if he hates reporters (he does).

It makes a guy want to take a page from Sinatra's book and give those parasites a knuckle sandwich. Oh, wait, Leo's the world's biggest celebrity. He has bodyguards and sidekicks for that.

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