Angel Mora and Luis Miguel are natural enemies: paparazzo and pop star. Spurred by a star system that makes Miguel's tiniest dalliance NEWS, Mora hunts the Mexican balladeer with all the big-game intensity of the Green Hills of Africa. The Miami-based photographer once spent hours hidden outside a hotel in Puerto Rico, hoping to catch the crooner leaving the arms of former amour Daisy Fuentes. Later he suffered a beating outside Miguel's heavily guarded Acapulco home after snapping Mr. Romance frolicking about the pool with unbalanced ex Mariah Carey. And this past December 1, Mora spent a night in jail on a trumped-up robbery charge after capturing the camera-loathing superstar at South Beach's Tantra, sharing a plate of lobster and filet with his latest fling, calendar girl Sofia Vergara. But Mora, who sells his celebrity snaps to tabloids on five continents, is more upset about the police exposing his film than he is about a night in the slammer. The trophy shot would have been worth $50,000 to $60,000 worldwide.
Perhaps the paparazzi's pursuit inspired Miguel's macabre selection of Casa Casaurina -- the late designer Gianni Versace's Rococo manse -- for the November 30 press conference that launched Mis Romances, the fourth offering in his series of standard boleros. Eager for a rare public word from the reclusive star, photographers, TV crews, and notebook toters flew in from Mexico, Spain, and toute Latin America and filled up the same broad staircase where deranged fan and discarded party trick Andrew Cunanan murdered Versace four years ago. So strict was security, anyone attempting to leave early found the gates chained shut. Outside, adoring masses waited with outstretched arms and glad cries to touch the clothes of departing journalists, gasping, "Did you see him?"
But a fifteen-minute photo-op is not enough to steal a soul or make a fortune; Mora trailed Miguel's limo from the Mandarin Oriental to new night spot Mynt; from Vergara's North Beach pad to Tantra. Bodyguards shielded the couple from the camera, even pointing a flashlight at Mora's lens to keep pix out of focus. But the big bucks are in the tabloids, so Angel waited for his chance: When a Tantra food runner dropped off the surf and turf at the holy couple's Tantra table, Mora made his move. "Excuse me," he said in Spanish. Click. Click.
One of Miguel's bodyguards followed Mora to the bar. "You can't take pictures," he told the paparazzo.
"Okay, I won't anymore," Mora obliged. But he wouldn't give up the film -- not when asked nicely, not when offered money, not even when the goon twisted his left arm behind his back. Just then Angel remembered a time in Acapulco when Luis cowered behind Mariah Carey while his grounds patrol pressed Mora's head against the sand, he alleges, with a gun. If a couple of tourists had not happened to walk up right then ... At Tantra, calling for backup through his lapel mike, the guard loosened his grip and Mora squirmed away.
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Just inside the door, Tantra owner Tim Hogel and his lovely wife, Irina Korneeva, were greeting club regular Rachel Ovadia. "This guy comes running full speed out the door," says Hogel. "He hurdled the ropes and ran like he had killed somebody." Ovadia adds, "He basically slammed into me, and I felt like a tug on my purse; I yanked back and all my stuff fell out." Hogel and his door staff gave chase, blocking Mora from his Mercedes (business is good!!), so the photog wriggled under a van parked nearby. Maybe he could even get another shot!
When the police arrived, Mora says he felt relieved. The head of Miguel's security team approached the squad car, where the cops were now holding him, telling Mora the charges against him would be dropped if he gave up the film. Since Mora had no idea that the rap would include purse-snatching, he stonewalled. Rebuffed, Miguel's man appealed to Miami Beach Police Ofcr. Eric Schultz who, Mora says, replied, "Don't worry, I'll take care of this." (Schultz was unavailable for comment.) But once at the station house, Schultz seized Mora's camera and then returned it with the counter set back at one: film exposed. No more photos.
"That's routine," explains Miami Beach Police public information officer Bobby Hernandez. "If you take a camera into the jail, we have to make sure there's no weapons." Mora's lawyer, Ellis Rubin, scoffs, "It's absolutely wrong! It's destroying somebody's property that has nothing to do with the arrest." With his client up on felony charges for strong-arm robbery, publicity-hungry Rubin intends to subpoena Luis Miguel and, because he sees this incident as a continuation of the Acapulco beating, possibly even Mariah. Persecution elevates the paparazzo. "Mr. Mora is going to stand for every journalist in this country," Rubin thunders.
For his part Luis Miguel would like to stand alone. "It doesn't help to sing love songs," confessed the crooner, sweating profusely at the earlier Casa Casaurina conference. "I get embarrassed by personal things." But he can't have celebrity both ways: He cannot expect fans to thrill at airbrushed publicity photos without hungering for the man in the flesh; he cannot hope the hordes will substitute his love songs for their own without yearning to learn about his real life entanglements. In consumer society, if Miguel won't deliver, Mora will.