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Red-Carpet Access to Technical Support

* Entertainers, athletes and politicians get all the help they need when it comes to fixing computer or Internet problems.

March 29, 2001|HUGO MARTIN |

They earn ungodly salaries, get VIP treatment at the most exclusive clubs and restaurants and live in mansions the size of airplane hangars. But if you need another reason to believe the rich and famous are different from the rest of us, just look at the kind of tech support they get.

It's not that movie stars, professional athletes and political bigwigs don't whine like teething babies when their Web browser locks up. The difference is that they have access to some of the top technology experts--many of whom provide free support because, well, who is going to say no to Arnold Schwarzenegger or Shaquille O'Neal?

Call it a VIP cyber perk.

Eric Person, a producer at Cimarron Group Interactive, the Hollywood-based firm that created the official Web sites for Schwarzenegger and Michael Douglas, said that after his company created, one of the company's technology experts went to the Terminator's home to set up a new computer for his wife, Maria Shriver.

"It was just an extra service we provide," he said.

Shriver's problem was that she simply didn't know where to plug all those confusing wires into the back of the computer, Person said.

Other celebrities need tech help just to log on to their own Web site.

Tonia Raebiger, vice president of production for One World Live Entertainment, the Los Angeles-based firm that built the official Web sites for actresses Marilu Henner, Daisy Fuentes, Melanie Griffith and others, said she routinely fields calls from her celebrity clients about computer and Internet problems.

"I have one celebrity who we work with who needs lots of assistance," said Raebiger, who declined to identify the computer-inept starlet. "I'm always on the phone with her. She wants to know how to get on the Internet and how to get on her own Web site."

She recently fixed a broken laptop that was stepped on after a celebrity client left it on the floor.

"Lesson learned," she said. "Don't leave your laptop on the floor."

Ben Platt, who runs the Los Angeles Dodgers' Web site, is the unofficial computer guru to many of the team's ballplayers as well as longtime announcer Vin Scully.

Platt said he has consulted for several players on the best computer to buy and helped first baseman Eric Karros install a CD writer so he can record music on his home computer.

When Karros' wife wanted a digital camera, Platt helped the couple pick it out and then set up the software in the family computer to display and print out the digital pictures.

Platt also has tutored Scully several times on how to get on the Web, send e-mail and bookmark sites. The veteran announcer initially showed no interest in the Internet until Platt showed Scully a handful of pages of statistics from opposing baseball teams, which Platt had downloaded from the Web.

Scully was amazed. "He said: 'My God, this must have taken you hours,' " Platt said. "I said: 'It took me five minutes.' "

Scully was convinced.

He is now on the Internet daily, reading online newspaper coverage of baseball teams across the country.

On the other end of the technology learning curve is O'Neal, the Los Angeles Lakers' MVP center and Internet entrepreneur who founded his own Web site,, and is a key investor in Digital Media Campus, a technology business incubator.

O'Neal's business interest is rooted in his love for technology. The 7-foot, 1-inch center routinely surfs the Web on his laptop, which he carries to away games.

But when he wants to learn the latest Internet developments in flash technology or streaming videos, he turns to the staff at or Digital Media, said Leonard Armato, O'Neal's longtime agent.

Steven Spielberg, who also is known for having a computer within reach at all times, turns to the information technology crew at DreamWorks when he has computer problems, said Marvin Levy, his publicist.

And with DreamWorks, the studio that created such technology-driven films as "Antz" and "The Haunting," Spielberg has access to some of the brightest minds in Hollywood.

"We have enough people who can do it and who are available instantly," Levy said.

Politicians get much the same treatment.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who uses e-mail to stay in contact with friends and family, relies heavily on a laptop to check her messages and track her appointments when she travels between Washington and California, Feinstein spokesman Howard Gantman said.

When her e-mail program freezes, the senator usually hands her laptop over to the same technology experts who update her office Web site.

"She is like everybody else," Gantman said. "When she has a problem she turns to someone who is more savvy."

Gov. Gray Davis, who is considered semi-competent with a computer--"He can move a mouse," said a former staffer--has several staff members who help the state's chief executive fix computer and Internet problems. But when he is at home, his primary computer guru is his wife, Sharon.

"He will say, 'Why can't I send this e-mail?' and she will say, 'You have to left-click, honey,' " said Davis' former press secretary Michael Bustamante.

Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a big fan of technology who helped raise $16 million to arm police officers with computers, said he has several assistants to bail him out of technical trouble.

But when he has computer problems at home, he said, he usually calls the toll-free help line that came with his computer.

"Typically, they tell me to turn the computer off and on again," Riordan said. "That works 95% of the time."


Hugo Martin is a reporter for The Times' Metro section.

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