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Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

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My Life As a Celebrity Dirt Digger

What it's like to party with Taylor Swift and Leonardo DiCaprio—for your job.

It felt like I was at the prom—a very fancy prom. Everyone was dressed in Calvin, Marchesa, or Oscar, and everyone looked impossibly perfect. Also drunk. Everyone was a little drunk.


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But it wasn't the prom. It was the 2014 Weinstein Company/Netflix Golden Globes after-party in the Beverly Hilton hotel—one of the high points of my career as an entertainment journalist. At the time, I was the Executive News Director for both In Touch and Life & Style, two of the best-selling celebrity magazines in the world. I oversaw all news content, online and in print. There were things I loved about that job, and things I hated, but being invited to awards show parties was an undeniable perk.

That night, I bummed a cigarette off of Kevin Spacey before I headed to the bathroom. There was Robin Wright Penn, looking every bit as ethereal and gorgeous in person as she does in House of Cards, laughing with her head thrown back, an arm loped lazily around her munchkin of a fiancé Ben Foster. Glancing with disdain at the enormous line for the ladies port-a-johns (yes, port-a-johns), Robin handed her globe to Ben and strode purposefully into the men's room.

Inside the party, on a small dais, there was an unofficial summit of the sexiest men alive: Bradley Cooper and Leonardo DiCaprio. (Both brought their moms as dates). If you ever wondered if the world would end if two Sexiest Men sat on one couch, I can tell you the answer.

It did not.

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photo two:
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Jaime King, Taylor Swift and Hailee Steinfeld party while Leonardo DiCaprio hangs out with his mom at the Weinstein Company/Netflix Golden Globes after-party, 2014. Photos: Getty.

Taylor Swift commandeered a crew of pals to dance like nobody was watching to "Call Me Maybe." Except they were watching. Around the room, guests held their iPhones aloft, snapping pictures as Taylor whipped her hair around her head. In one surreal moment, I found myself doing the sprinkler to "Celebrate" in between Swift, Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts while Bono and Puff Daddy laughed and clinked glasses at a nearby table. It was dreamlike and sparkly and an evening that has provided cocktail party fodder for the past twelve months.

Being a celebrity journalist wasn't all glitter, though. There were the times when publicists rang me up to call me a liar, an asshole, or sometimes something even worse. There were the long nights in the office chasing dead-end stories instigated by malicious housewives of one county or another. There was the nervous pit that lived in my stomach all the time, inspired by the fear that my team would get something very wrong. There was the time Lil' Kim call me a bitch to my face in the middle of Harlem and I was pretty sure she would kick my pansy ass. I had a degree in economics from an Ivy League university. Sometimes I wondered whether I was really living up to my potential.

I found myself doing the sprinkler to "Celebrate" in between Swift, Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts while Bono and Puffy Daddy clinked glasses at a nearby table.

Nobody's job, except perhaps sweeping up in the evening at the pig-slaughtering factory, is all bad. The Golden Globes, the Oscars' sillier, drunker, step-cousin, is the one night in Hollywood when everything happens in one place: the awards, the after-parties, the after-after-parties. You can bob in and out of the HBO bash or the Fox bash without even going outside. It's like a fraternity hotel party, and as a senior magazine editor, you can mix and mingle without a sign tattooed on your forehead that says "journalist"—or "gossip whore."

But that's a rare occasion. Most red carpet events are a special form of hell where journalists are jostled about like cattle, barked at by publicists and agents, and then condescended to by celebrities who lived incredibly sheltered lives within the Hollywood bubble.

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Bono and Sean Combs at the Weinstein Company/Netflix Golden Globes after-party, 2014. Photo: Getty.

There are long nights of parties and after-parties where the press is relegated to the outskirts of a very tiny VIP area and forced to watch the famous humans and record their activities as though they were animals in a zoo. When you approach a celebrity as a journalist, it is imperative to act as though you are the most humble servant in the world, and that what they are deigning to tell you (what they are wearing, usually) is the most fascinating thing you have ever heard. Fame does something to the brain. Celebrities are so catered to by their teams that they become infantilized, making them prone to temper tantrums, intense narcissism, and a constant need for attention.

Famous people are "on" all of the time. Tom Cruise might just be the best example of this. He becomes more Tom Cruise-like with each step he takes down a red carpet. He makes direct eye contact with each and every reporter. He touches their hands and arms in an intimate way. There is no way to tell what he really thinks of you. He is just playing the part of global superstar.

When celebrities are your job, you want nothing to do with them in your spare time. I cut my cable. I never bought a gossip magazine. I went to NYU to get a masters in Religious Studies just to cleanse my palate during Britney Spears's epic 2008 meltdown. Then I wrote a book about nuns. I am hoping that evens out all of my gossip sins.

I went to NYU to get a masters in Religious Studies just to cleanse my palate during Britney Spears's epic 2008 meltdown. Then I wrote a book about nuns.

When you see these parties in glossy magazines and on websites, it looks like everyone is having the bloody time of their goddamned lives. In reality, most of those party photos are staged. No one ever sticks around much longer than it takes to snap a few photographs, and the evening is exhausting for everyone. It takes real effort to look so sparkly.

There's lots of glitz and glamour in Hollywood, but there's also a lot of pomp and circumstance. It is a heavy lift to make that world look as perfect as it needs to appear in order to keep its economic engine chugging along. The Hollywood industrial complex—made up of agents, managers, lawyers and publicists—exists to bolster celebrity brands. The more people want to be like celebrities, the more stuff celebrities can sell them. Many of the things that I wrote helped to make this possible. I also think that a lot of my writing helped to pull back the curtain on this process. I used to say that I worked as a fourth estate for the celebrity world to give consumers a counterpoint to that glitz and glamour.

I left that game awhile ago, but I do look back on it fondly. Like any job, being a celebrity journalist comes with the good and bad. But I'd still take it any day over being a lawyer.

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