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PALM LATITUDES

Close-Up : Say Big Cheese

August 28, 1994|Sharon Whitley

Most photo albums are filled with such gems as Aunt Hortense holding two fingers above Uncle Delbert's head. But when Paul Walton of San Diego pulls out his pictures, nobody yawns.

There's Walton posing with Tom Cruise. Seinfeld. Oprah. Janet Jackson. Bill Clinton. Yasser Arafat. George Burns. Walton, 38, has been retired for six years--ever since receiving a $1.7-million out-of-court settlement from a former employer, who Walton says withheld his sales commissions. So, with no job or wife or kids to cramp his lifestyle, Walton can live off the interest and investments while chasing celebs around the globe.

He spends about $70,000 annually on his hobby, racking up "at least a million" frequent flier miles to hang around star-studded gatherings and political events, from this year's Academy Awards ("Clint Eastwood used my cellular phone") to last year's breakthrough Middle East peace conference in Washington, where he met Yasser Arafat at the National Press Club.

"As I shook his hand, I introduced myself to him as Paul Walton, Jewish, San Diego. I didn't know what his reaction would be. He clamped my hand with his other hand and said, 'We're cousins! We're cousins from way back! We were never meant to be enemies!' I was shaking."

Walton has at least 50 photos showing him with entertainers and political figures, "but I have hundreds of other photos with part of the head missing," he sighs. "I'm disappointed more often than ecstatic." Which just goes to show that you've got to be careful whom you let handle your camera. "When I met President Clinton at Hotel del Coronado a few months ago, a stranger took my photo with his camera, and I had to follow him home to get the negative." Walton's technique? "I treat celebrities normal, with respect," he says. "If I get a picture, great; if not, OK." Walton says he has been turned down only once: "Demi Moore said no. She was nursing a child at the time, so I don't blame her." Walton has been on Oprah (twice), NBC's "Today" show and on Australian TV. However, Walton notes that not everyone is taken with his adventures. "My dad says, 'I wish he'd just settle down, meet the right girl and have children. Bill Clinton, Yasser Arafat--who cares?' "

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