Desperate Characters: Celebrity Filler Hall of Fame

What passes for social life in Hollywood is largely a matter of quid pro quo.

Symbiosis, Hollywood style: Publicists harbor an insatiable need for a celeb, any celeb--just a warm, breathing, relatively famous body--to make appearances at premieres, deli launching, gala receptions for Leroy Neiman, and private previews of site-specific environmental installations. Celebrities nurse an analogous need to have their pictures taken. Anywhere. Hence, the phenomenon of Celebrity Filler, the human equivalent of Hamburger Helper.

"You gotta get somebody famous at these things," says one publicist. "You just invite them all, pray somebody shows up and then let the press sort them out."

It's not so much that the celeb needs to do anything; he or she must simply be a moving target for the "Entertainment Tonight" cameras, a bit of recognizable human scenery that flashes by as Mary Han reads the cue cards. They are required to create the illusion of excitement at the event in question. Politicos even have their own word for the glittery famous they court to get their fund raisers off the editorial and onto the front page: "Sparklies."

Sometimes, Celebrity Fillerhood is a way to keep your career on life-support. Those in the flickering ember stage find that constant exposure in the party pages of the papers gives them an edge when it comes to snagging those desirable commercial endorsements and cameo roles in TV sitcoms.

For the younger versions of these desperate characters, those whose shows have yet to hit syndication, life is just one big party and they're invited.

Take the Zappa offspring, for instance. There are nights on the Tinseltown scene when you wonder if Frank Zappa ever fed his kids at home. Did the musician just wander in around dinner time, find an empty fridge and yell, "Yo, Moon Unit, grab Dweezil and go find a restaurant opening!"

At a tender age the young Zappas learned to stalk the night, fearing no paparazzi's flash in the search for nourishment. They began treading that overexposed path that leads to becoming Celebrity Filler, the limbo-like state between having a career and having to explain who you are when cashing a cheek.

For a while the Zappas were running neck and neck with Justine Bateman and boyfriend Leif Garrett, but after an L.A. paper instituted a Justine Bateman Watch as a regular feature, "Justseen" has been unseen.

"With some of them, I can name every dress they own," says one paparazzi insensitively. "With Justine I could tell you what earrings go with what dress."

In the case of Billy Idol, he could tell you what earring goes with what sneer; with Timothy Leary, what unfocused gaze goes with what sports jacket.

"Sometimes I think it's an act of mercy to photograph these guys," he says. "I mean, who's going to buy another picture of Zsa Zsa Gabor? You sit around fantasizing that Prince Charles will dump Di, marry Zsa Zsa and make these shots worth something."


Bill Higgins is the society writer for the L.A. Herald Examiner.