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A Night on the Town With Paparazzi : Anything Can Develop When They're Out Shooting Stars

September 15, 1986|JEANNINE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

Vinnie Zuffante's black eye has healed, but the details of how he got it remain fresh in the photographer's mind.

He claims to have gotten the shiner during a scuffle with an actor who accidentally popped him while tangling with two other photographers.

It was the actor's wife who asked him to intervene, said Zuffante, recalling the recent incident.

"She comes running over and grabs my jacket and says, 'Stop them! Stop them from fighting!' " Zuffante said. "So I put my camera down and try to break it up, and then he just popped me in the face. Next time I see him I'm not going to say anything, I'm just going to see what he says. I see them all over, but I don't always take their picture."

Fact of Life for Famous

Zuffante, 30, is one of a breed of photographers who are commonly labeled paparazzi for their devotion to snapping pictures of celebrities. Their turf is anywhere a famous face can be found: parties, premieres, restaurants, doorways--even the city streets.

In Los Angeles, photographers like Zuffante are a fact of life, constantly chronicling the activities of television, music and movie stars that become fodder for thousands of celebrity-oriented magazines and newspapers around the world. It's not an easy life: braving the cold, waiting outside for hours to snap a picture, getting smacked around by people who don't understand you have a job to do, say the photographers.

And Friday night was no exception.

At 6, Walter McBride, Barry Talesnick and Marc Courtland were at the Century Plaza hotel waiting to get shots of "Falcon Crest" star Jane Wyman at an Arthritis Foundation awards dinner. McBride, 26, and Talesnick, 28, are based in New York where they work for the Retna photo syndicate; Courtland, 27, from Los Angeles, said he sometimes shoots for the syndicate as well as the Hollywood Reporter.

Greetings From Wyman

An hour later, the three were ushered into a small room for a brief photo session. Wyman treated them like foreign diplomats, asking their names and shaking their hands. "Take all the pictures you want," she said, posing with the dinner's honorees.

"Let them do one more and that's it," snapped a tuxedo-clad man. But Wyman was in no hurry, and did not protest when they joined her at a small table to chat.

"They're adorable," she said. "I don't like it when (photographers) are aggressive. Then they lose me."

Publicist Chris Christman wasn't as affable. "We tried to discourage them from coming," she said. "We figured they weren't really interested in our function. We don't feel they serve our purpose."

By 7:30, McBride, Talesnick and Courtland were off to shoot a Thalians benefit. Meanwhile, comedian Jackie Mason was drawing celebs to his one-man show at the Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills. As Jane Fonda, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart and other luminaries emerged from their limos, a handful of photographers were there to capture the moment.

"This is an OK event," said Ralph Dominguez, a 12-year veteran of this beat.

As he was shooting Hope Lange, a very pregnant Bette Midler and husband Martin von Haselberg sneaked by, catching the photographers off guard.

"Now we have to come back!" Zuffante yelled after them, annoyed that he'd have to return later to photograph Midler.

"Normally that should not happen," said Dominguez. "Everyone was talking. We should have spotted her a mile away."

When the flow of stars ceased, the photographers split up and began their quest for more familiar faces. Typically, many head for celebrity hangouts like Spago, Le Dome and Nicky Blair's, using their contacts with parking valets and maitre d's to find out who's inside the restaurants and who's expected.

Often they have to share precious sidewalk space with autograph seekers. Some photographers don't mind the fans; others feel they are the bane of their existence, often getting in the way of important shots.

The Scene at Spago

By 8:45, Zuffante was waiting outside Spago where the air was heavy with the smell of garlic. So far he had taken a picture of "One Life to Live" star Andrea Evans. "I've been doing this since I was 14," said Zuffante, who wore a white leather jacket, a belt buckle that said "VINCE" and a three-day beard.

Zuffante said he has a lawsuit pending against one of Prince's bodyguards, who the photographer claims took a couple of swings at him outside the local nightclub Carlos 'n Charlie's. "That was my right eye," he noted.

The occasional scrapes don't discourage him. "I get to travel a lot: New York, Chicago, London," he said with a thick Brooklyn accent. "In New York everyone knows me. I don't mind standing outside. It doesn't bother me."

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