INTIMATE STRANGERS: Comic Profiles and Indiscretions of the Very Famous

Bill Zehme, Author . Dell $13.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-385-33374-0

"I do not believe in celebrity," declares Zehme at the beginning of this rousing collection from the last two decades. It's an odd statement coming from the man who more or less perfected the Art of the Celebrity Profile, but it's also the key to Zehme's success. As these pieces show, Zehme has a knack for humanizing demigods like Madonna and Frank Sinatra, luring them down from Olympus (i.e., Beverly Hills) to eat lunch and go shopping just like real people. Thus readers learn that Sharon Stone enjoys bacon and guns; Woody Allen likes wearing hats even though they don't suit him; and Jerry Seinfeld consumes monstrous portions of Cheerios. The stars apparently like Zehme's warts-and-all approach; after all, he notes wryly, publicists keep returning his calls, even after he decimates a celebrity in print (as he did with his mocking Rolling Stone profile of Arnold Schwarzenegger, filled with choppy, intentionally banal sentences like "Arnold drives a Humvee" and "Arnold shames all men."). Zehme here proves himself a master of his craft; his 1990 article on Warren Beatty, the "ultimate Impossible Interview," should be taught in journalism schools as a textbook way to overcome a difficult subject. Similarly, aspiring infotainment writers should read Zehme's Heather Graham interview, in which he self-loathingly deconstructs celebrity journalism. Obviously, trading scatological jokes with Howard Stern isn't rocket science; Zehme freely admits that his profession is "both essential and ridiculous." Nevertheless, the American public has a seemingly insatiable appetite for this kind of work, and as this collection demonstrates, Zehme does it better than anybody. (Dec. 3)

Reviewed on: 09/30/2002
Release date: 11/01/2002
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