It's a typical movie plot: Smart-mouthed swinging single comes in contact with winsome child and goes suddenly soulful and soft. Only this time, it's the Hollywood press who are mooning amid the baby bottles.
With the recent deliveries of a string of A-list stars, celebrity scribes -- historically the gleeful chroniclers of Tinseltown's love triangles, court appearances and rehab relapses -- have ditched the wasp-tongued, dirt-digging persona for one of doting godparent.
"Oh, Baby!" "Getting Ready for Baby!" and, of course, "Twins for Julia!" have been the headlines at grocery checkouts and newsstands as, in the span of a few months, Gwyneth Paltrow, Courteney Cox, Helen Hunt, Kate Hudson, Debra Messing and Heidi Klum all gave birth, Julia Roberts announced she was pregnant with twins and Jennifer Lopez got married very quickly, privately leading to much speculation. ("Is She Pregnant?" ran a less-than-subtle headline in People.) And no sooner had Britney Spears said she'd become engaged to dancer Kevin Federline than an online betting service set odds on her first-born's gender (10-to-11 on either) and whether she'd have twins or triplets (20-to-1).
Even George Clooney's recent star-studded Lake Como party -- a Rat Packish respite amid all the baby talk -- wasn't completely safe, including as it did Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, who are the subjects of the most intense baby watch since Japanese Crown Princess Masako produced an heir.
The telephoto lenses of paparazzi, which once scanned for illicit embraces or bad behavior, are now glued to Aniston's abdomen in hopes of getting the first glimpse of a hoped-for "bump" or parked in front of Paltrow's home for the latest "money shot" for fan magazines -- the celebrity newborn. Hard-core fans who previously gobbled up news of public debauchery and spats on the set are now cooing over Cox's baby, Coco, and applauding Hudson's once-again trim figure like a bunch of besotted aunts and uncles.
The shift is an indication of changing attitudes toward celebrity and motherhood -- along with good business sense. Following the trail blazed belly-first by Demi Moore and Sarah Jessica Parker, today's new celebrity moms are taking their pregnancies public mere weeks after conception and showcasing their growing "bumps" -- the preferred description in celebrity magazines -- with a pride once reserved for six-pack abs or a pear-cut pendant from Harry Winston. Thanks to Parker (with a nod to Reese Witherspoon), they have realized that far from dimming the glamour, an actress' tips on surviving morning sickness and sleepless nights only endear her to fans by providing common ground and a sort of surrogate kinship.
"Having a baby is the most human experience that can happen," says Janice Min, editor of Us Weekly. "And it provides a real connection for fans, to know that even though celebrities have these perfect lives, they still get stretch marks or gain weight or have their ups and downs."
Cooperating for Privacy
Up until relatively recently, family photos were controlled by studios and publicists -- think Bogie and Bacall posed stiffly on the living room floor with kids -- and images of pregnant stars were exceedingly rare. But as magazines like Us and People play up the "real-life" images of celebrities, paparazzi have become more plentiful, and stars, out of personal inclination or necessity, have become more cooperative.
"There's only two sets of pictures that the public wants to see," says Gary Morgan, co-owner of Splash News and Picture Agency, which supplies celebrity photos to magazines and newspapers worldwide. "That's weddings and babies."
Instead of throwing a punch or destroying a camera aimed at their child a la Alec Baldwin (who in 1995 broke the nose of a photographer trying to get footage of Baldwin's newborn), star couples will allow one or two shots to be taken and circulated in an attempt to buy a little privacy. However earnest these celebrity requests, their controlled photo ops do little to discourage the paparazzi simply because there's so much money at stake.
Starlet-with-child shots can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars -- the first shot of Paltrow with her baby reportedly went for $750,000. As a result, according to Hollywood observers, there are about 100 paparazzi in Los Angeles alone keeping track of celebrity due dates. (Roberts and Liv Tyler are next.)
"You have people coming in from all over the world," says Randy Bauer, owner of celebrity photo agency Bauer-Griffin. "It's like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."
Far from scoping the club scene or leering into limo windows, paparazzi now hang out in parks and playgrounds. In Los Angeles, they hover around family-friendly sites in Malibu, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica.