When he lived in Miami, he was known as Mario Lavandeira, a self-described "z-lister" who attended Belen Jesuit Preparatory School.
"I was the big, gay, fat kid in an all-boy Jesuit school, so my friends were all the ones in, like, the drama club ... they weren't even all in my class. I was friends with younger students," he recalls.
Yet, The Bitch has noted, fate sometimes metes out a mild form of biblical justice for high school outcasts: They who were once rejected shall rise to success and popularity, while the mean girls and big men on campus shall hit their social and mental peak during senior year and then decline rapidly.
That certainly seems to be true in the case of Perez Hilton, the scrappy, salacious identity Lavandeira adopted four years ago. After his first Website (PageSixSixSix.com The Bitch owns the T-shirt) became popular in 2003 for mercilessly skewering Britney Spears, Lavandeira taunted and eventually befriended some of today's hottest stars. Paris, Lindsay, Nicole Lavandeira hung out with them at all of the most exclusive nightclubs, including Butter in Manhattan and Rain in Las Vegas. When the New York Post threatened a lawsuit for the appropriation of its indomitable gossip column's name in 2004, he changed his URL to PerezHilton.com and dubbed himself "the trashtastic Cuban cousin of Paris and Nicky."
Some of Perez's blog rivals have called him more sycophant than journalist. Often, when other gossip sites prominently feature negative stories about Paris Hilton, Perez shines a soft-focus lens on her antics. He has a perfectly rational explanation for his self-editing: "Here's a perfect example: A few weeks ago there were these pictures of Paris Hilton exiting a car, and you could see her vagina. I don't need to put those pictures up on my site, because we've all seen her vagina already! Come on! It's out there for public consumption! But if there's a story that relates to one of my friends, I won't ignore it. Of course I'll talk about it!"
Perez describes himself as "entertainer first, journalist second," and says he isn't afraid to piss off his famous friends by revealing dangerous truths his months-long taunting of Lance "I'm Gay" Bass ultimately resulted in the boy-bander coming out on the cover of People magazine.
"There might have been a point when I was scared of that, but now that I've gotten to this level where I've really established myself, I don't really care anymore. Thankfully the friendships I do have with celebrities are genuine, and it's not like ass-kissing, 'Hello, gorgeous.' I'm unapologetically me," Perez says.
The Miami-boy-gone-Hollywood is inching closer to his goal. Following appearances on CNN's Headline News morning show Robin & Company and a plug on Howard Stern's radio smorgasbord in May, Perez achieved his ambition of getting a million hits on his site in one day. "Now I have a new goal: two million a day by the end of the year," he proclaims.
The Bitch caught up with the busy gossipmonger this past week at Miami International Airport, just as he was headed back to his home in New York after a whirlwind trip to the subtropics. Three days before, he had hosted the Social Miami party at the Sagamore, and scored front-row Madonna tickets from his amiga Ingrid Casares. He spent time with his large Cuban family.
While in Miami, Perez also filmed segments for his yet-to-be-named reality-television show, which is being produced by World of Wonder's Randy Barbato (the guy who brought you both the documentary and fictionalized versions of Party Monster). The show will be ready to air early in 2007, providing it finds a nurturing cable network.
Hilton was most excited to talk about the Belen Jesuit class-of-1996 reunion, which was held July 22. In an online post before the event, he had commented, "Saturday night we have our ten-year high school reunion, which we're anxious/nervous about. We went to this all-boy Jesuit prep school in Miami. Wonder how they'd react to Perez in his pink satin suit?"
According to Perez, the committee for the student-led alumni organization had agreed to let him bring his reality-show camera crew. On the day of the event, his invitation was abruptly rescinded. "They didn't call and say literally: 'Don't come.' They just said, 'Don't come with a camera crew.' Which was upsetting to me because they had said yes, we could do it, and then all of a sudden the day before the event, they said no," he laments. "We only get a certain amount of money per episode, and it's pretty expensive to fly a crew out to Miami. I was more upset about that than the fact of not being able to film my reunion. I was like, you know what, they disrespected me, so I don't need to be in that environment, and I'm gonna have my own party! I e-mailed them all, and I was, like, you know, whoever wants to come, come; if you don't, whatever. I had two people [from Belen] come, which was two more than I expected," he laughs.
It seems the decision to uninvite a former student listed on Wikipedia as one of the school's "newsworthy alumni" came as a surprise to the alumni association.
"Apparently it was some kind of big controversy for them. Somebody from the alumni association contacted me afterwards and apologized. They were like, 'We want you to know that you are always welcome back at your school,' which was a nice e-mail to get," he says charitably. It seems that life in Hollywood has toughened the assumed Hilton's hide. "Whatever. I moved on. After that little party, that was the furthest thing from my brain," he asserts.
PerezHilton.com receives about 900,000 hits a day, and Hilton has great blog ambitions. "Right now I'm known by the tastemakers, as they call them. The cool people, the industry people, the media, celebrities, techies ... those are the people who are familiar with Perez Hilton right now. But I want that name to eventually be as well known as Paris Hilton," Perez says.
He dreams big, of having his own talk show and going mainstream. Now that he has hit the big digits, the haters are coming on thick and strong. There's an anti-Perez Website (www.pajiba.com/perez-hilton.htm), and the harshest comments on Perez's site are usually directed toward the webmaster himself. That doesn't bother him at all. "I love it! That means I'm doing something right! I'm not gonna lie like Paris [who said scathing online chatter from nonfans made her cry buckets of tears in the recent, hilarious TMZ.com interview]; I frickin' love it bring it on! I'm like Star Jones in a lot of ways. I'm a polarizing figure. You either love me, or you love to hate me. That's fine by me, 'cause in a way, I'm not really Perez Hilton, so I don't care!"
Ground Control to MoMA
No one seemed to notice when Terence Riley, the Miami Art Museum's charismatic new director, recently referred to the place as MoMA. Riley let it slip as he introduced photographer-artist Shimon Attie during the July 20 opening for Attie's wide-ranging MAM installation. Looking up from her vodka-and-tonic, The Bitch had a fleeting daydream of New York's temple of modern art touching down on Flagler Street like a giant white spaceship.
Riley might be the next best thing. The 51-year-old, who landed here in January, brings years of experience as MoMA' s curator of design and architecture. His work overseeing the NYC museum's recent $860 million renovation made him the obvious choice to guide construction of MAM's planned $200 million, 125,000-square-foot building in Bicentennial Park. And, The Bitch is pleased to report, he knows how to party.
After the Attie opening, Riley threw a bash for members at his Design District home. Based on a Mies van der Rohe design, the elegant, compact house Riley built several years ago seems designed for sophisticated soirees. No Pottery Barn here. The youngish crowd snacked on pâté and bruschetta while checking out the stuffed-animal-upholstered love seat, marble-top Saarinen table, iridescent lap pool, and Raymond Jungles-designed garden. Relaxed and resuited in a black guayabera, Riley was the consummate host, insisting on showing The Bitch his special-edition black Nike high-tops accented with some kind of bright orange strap doodad. "It's not Mr. Riley. It's Terry," he said by way of loosening things up.
After a few more laps of Chardonnay, The Bitch wasn't calling anyone mister. In fact she was having a bit of trouble navigating the scene. A stumble on the way to the hors d'oeuvres table had her accidentally putting her dirty paws all over one of the low-slung couches. No one seemed to notice.
Even if the air conditioning was not pumping at the recent grand opening of the latest chic boutique to grace Collins Avenue in South Beach, the revelers packed inside Sabrina Monte-Carlo were certainly chill. As owner Sabrina Monteleone weaved her way around racks of Burberry and aqua ottomans in her gold beaded Jenny Packham dress (price tag: $3200), she welcomed guests with an I'm-hot-but-I'm-happy smile and made sure everyone had a glass of champagne. The bubbly was plentiful and was soon followed by much-needed ice water as the temperature inside reached Chicago heat-wave proportions. The Bitch and her pup companion were about to retreat to the colder clime of the nearby Urban Outfitters when the always fabulous and fashionably late Heatherette designer Richie Rich arrived with his entourage. "Hey, you!" Rich exclaimed as he showered The Bitch with air kisses. "Would I ever miss a party?" Rich asked as he pouted and posed in his navy patent-leather spiked-heel boots for photo after photo, almost upstaging the party hostess herself. "Here, get a picture of us!" he squealed as he cocked his head next to Sabrina's. The Bitch snapped a few shots of the fashionistas and then panted her way to the fresh air outside.
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This Bush Has Crabs
News flash: President Bush has crabs. That's what several media outlets said, anyway, after W stopped at famed Joe's Stone Crab in South Beach this past Sunday evening, during his Miami barnstorming trip. Thing is, stone crabs are out of season way out of season. So what gives?
Turns out the man who gets his advice from "a higher father" didn't get the word that Florida fishermen stopped pulling up stone crabs more than two months ago (the stone crab season runs from October 15 to May 15). In fact Sunday night was the last for Joe's until the stone crab season begins again in the fall. "Most customers understand it," said Joe's owner Stephen Sawitz, referring to locals' avoidance of the signature dish during the summer. Unwitting tourists and, apparently, unwitting presidents order away, however, happy to dine on defrosted crab as part of their authentic tropical experiences.
If he noticed, Bush didn't seem to care, according to Sawitz, who said the president's private dining room echoed with laughter throughout the meal. Sawitz was coy about who joined Bush for stone crabs, jumbo Alaskan crab claws, and New York sirloin. He said he had agreed not to disclose their identities in order to "protect [the president's] privacy." (But The Bitch hears they were Andy Garcia and Dan Marino.)