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Celebrity-mania in dozens of new magazines, web sites

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SANTA ANA, Calif. - One recent week, it was all about Paris Hilton's new Greek shipping heir boytoy, with the added juicy twist that she stole him from Mary-Kate Olsen, or so it was reported in Star magazine.

OK! magazine, the latest to join the ever-growing circuit of magazines devoted to celebrity news, sugarcoats the tale, describing the hook-up as Hilton's "New Romance."

And US Weekly, quite possibly the grand diva of all celeb glossies, tells us now that Britney Spears' marriage to Kevin Federline is on the rocks following the birth of their baby.

Celebrities. We've been gobbling down news and non-news about them since at least the Hedda Hopper gossip days of the 1930s. But in the past few years, as a half-dozen magazines focusing on the lifestyles of Hollywood's elite and semielite have hit newsstands, our celebri-lust seems to have reached new heights.

"I love them! I pick them all up," said Lee Ann Marshman, 36, of Santa Ana. "I want to know who's getting fat, who's getting skinny and who's fooling around on who!"

The bookstore clerk said she thinks of it as mindless fun.

"It's the same as reading a romance novel," she said.

Sure, friends and co-workers could be chatting about Iraq or Scooter Libby or melting ice caps. Instead, the buzz seems to be about TomKat (Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes) or full on "If-I-were-Brad-Pitt, I-would have-gone-with-(insert Angelina or Jennifer here)" debates.

"As a society, we're much more comfortable talking about stars than say, politics and religion," said Cynthia King, director of entertainment and tourism studies at Cal State Fullerton.

"Those discussions are now considered improper in social settings so people stick to fluff like movie stars."

Other media analysts and psychologists speculate that the American fixation on everything celebrity may have to do with the lack of aristocracy - celebrities are the closest to royalty we'll ever get.

"I guess we like to see that even celebrities get involved in scandals, that they get cheated on, have their hearts broken and have affairs," said Breniecia Ruben, 20, a moderator for the popular OhNoTheyDidn't online community at

And knowing that most people will never enjoy that kind of fame or glamour in real life gives way to the ultimate form of vicarious living: By flipping through the slick magazines and reading up every detail of the stars' lives, it might make readers feel more connected, inspired or at the very least, entertained.

"It's not that my friends and I don't get into discussions of the more serious happenings in the world," said Jillene Black, 26, of Costa Mesa, Calif. "But too much serious talk can get tedious, so reading a celebrity magazine and looking at the pictures can be a release and fun."

Black said her mom religiously tunes into tabloid TV shows like "Access Hollywood" and "Extra."

This year, US Weekly posted a 24 percent increase in circulation, to 1.67 million, and People magazine, arguably the leader in its class, boasts a 3.8 million circulation. At the same time, major news weeklies like Time and Newsweek report flagging sales.

"You're even seeing general news becoming more entertainment-focused," King added. "We're not a news-based society anymore, no one reads the paper or pays attention really. People feel the issues are beyond their control and it's more fun to dish about Brad and Angelina."

InTouch Weekly could be US Weekly's twin: same stories, slightly different pictures. Except InTouch goes for $1.99 - US Weekly is $3.49 a pop. Celebrity Living, at $1.89 a copy, slashed its Oct. 24 issue price to 25 cents to nab more readers.

"There's definitely a glut," said Lisa Granatstein, news editor for Mediaweek, which tracks the media industry. "I've begun to wonder how many reincarnations there can be about Brad and Jen's breakup. It's not that the interest in celebrity news will wane or die out, but with the number of outlets available, not all of those magazines will survive."

If magazines weren't enough, countless Web sites like and draw thousands of hits daily by folks eager to snatch up tasty morsels of online celeb gossip. Fans clog message boards to comment on recent photos of Jennifer Aniston canoodling with Vince Vaughn or snicker about Brit-Brit's aspiring rapper hubby Kevin Federline, who often is mercilessly pegged as nothing more than a scruffy moocher. There's even a Web site devoted entirely to the offspring and pregnancies of celebs like Heidi Klum, Brooke Shields and Jennifer Garner (

"I check those Web sites out every day when I get into the office," said Mindy Tran, 29, of Fountain Valley, Calif. "I'm a little addicted. I have to get my daily fix!"

At Oh No They Didn't, the online community forum on LiveJournal, some 22,000 members dish the latest dirt on Hollywood couples and scrutinize candid photos of celebs.

According to Web site moderators, "big news" days included when news broke of Jude Law's infamous affair with the nanny, Britney Spears' baby and the announcement of Katie Holmes' pregnancy with Tom Cruise.

"Right now, the hot rumor is Britney is about to dump Kevin Federline. Someone just posted pictures of his credit card getting denied at Blockbuster. And someone else posted samples of his new rap album and it sounds really (bad)," said Ruben, a college student from Raleigh, N.C.

While she and others embrace their love for celebrity gossip, there are those who barely want to admit the guilty pleasure. Especially the guys who surreptitiously swipe their girlfriends' copies of US Weekly.

"I mostly only buy the magazines to look at the pictures," insisted Katie Swanson of Newport Beach, Calif. "I like to see what the celebrities are wearing."

Guys like John Banker, 26, of Irvine, Calif., say they don't devote that much time reading about celebrities, preferring science and technology news over political and current events.

"I used to read more about celebrity gossip when I was on summer break from school and I was bored out of my mind," said the auto analyst.

Still, there might be more to his story.

"Somehow," he said, "I still seem to always know more about celebrity stuff than my friends" know.


(c) 2005, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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