"We're trying to act as a mediator, but we're really limited in what we can do," says Miami Beach Police spokesman Det. Bobby Hernandez with a frustrated sigh. After fielding a week's worth of calls from angry residents and scoop-seeking reporters, he's just now coming up for air. The cause of this fracas, which lured hordes of television camera crews and helicopter-borne photographers? Not the much-ballyhooed arrival of 70,000 "anti-globalization" protesters for next month's Latin American trade summit, but a force with even more potential to bring Miami Beach to a grinding halt: J.Lo.
"That whole Jennifer Lopez debacle" is how Hernandez refers to the international press corps that descended on the Beach in the wake of Lopez and Ben Affleck's canceled September 14 nuptials. Affleck headed for his Georgia estate while Lopez holed up in her $9.5 million, eleven-bedroom mansion on the Beach's North Bay Road. There a reportedly tearful Lopez feasted on take-out Cuban food from Puerto Sagua while watching videos fetched from Blockbuster by her staff. But the true melodrama unfolded on the street outside. A sea of photographers and reporters gathered in front of the sprawling manors neighboring Lopez's, all desperate for pictures and footage of her -- or at least a tidbit of break-up gossip. The scene soon came to resemble Camp Elian, with a dash of O.J. Simpson's notorious freeway chase.
Lopez's trips beyond her gated driveway -- on one occasion hidden in the back of a delivery van, other times with decoy vehicles deployed first -- drew a pack of paparazzi in hot pursuit. And as if Detective Hernandez weren't busy enough patiently explaining to Lopez's neighbors that the press couldn't be evicted from the area, now he had to contend with numerous reports of reckless driving.
Kulchur spoke with seven photographers on the J.Lo beat, all of whom insisted on anonymity. Some were fearful of jeopardizing their regular freelance jobs with respected national daily papers and news magazines; others felt that being identified as "paparazzi" would cost them future access to sanctioned photo-ops.
Two European photographers told Kulchur of gunning their car up to 115 miles per hour as they trailed Lopez's two Lincoln Navigators across the Julia Tuttle Causeway, swerving in and out of afternoon traffic. An American photographer followed Lopez at 70 mph down Alton Road, watching in amazement as her SUV suddenly swung a violent U-turn to pull a James Bond escape: "The driver was a maniac! There's no reason for that. They think this is all a game, but somebody's going to get killed. And then they're going to blame the paparazzi. ... It's going to be Princess Diana all over again."
What seemed to particularly incense the photographers was their belief that off-duty Miami Beach police officers were behind the wheel as Lopez re-enacted 2 Fast 2 Furious on city streets. Her security detail seemed intent on fostering that impression: One British photographer tailing Lopez's white Navigator on I-95 found himself buzzed from behind by a black Navigator outfitted with flashing strobe lights and a siren. Initially he thought he was being pulled over by an unmarked police car, but the two men who subsequently gave him an earful were Lopez's own bodyguards. A veteran Miami-based photographer told of having a badge thrust at him as he tried to follow Lopez into the spa at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
"Absolutely untrue," declares police spokesman Hernandez regarding the alleged involvement of Miami Beach officers. Last year off-duty cops manned a boat in Biscayne Bay to prevent intrepid photographers from zipping up to the waterfront rear of Lopez's mansion and leaping on her private dock. This time out, Hernandez says, not a single off-duty officer was employed. Hernandez himself, however, had a taste of the behavior that has branded J.Lo as a diva. "Lopez's people said since they paid a lot in taxes, we -- the police department -- should give them officers," he recalls somewhat incredulously. "I had to explain that there are a lot of people with money here on Miami Beach. They have to hire off-duty officers like everyone else. We can't just pull officers who are assigned to patrol the city because she doesn't want people following her around. That's the price you pay when you're a celebrity. It comes with the job."
Like Hernandez, the 300-plus residents of the Waverly, one of the high-rise condominium buildings that have sprouted on the Beach's West Avenue, also had a novel encounter with the humble, Bronx-born girl that Lopez insists she remains. Plunking down $350,000 at the Waverly may buy you a room with a view, but if Jenny's on the block, forget about hitting the weights.
Lopez's entourage arrived at the Waverly on September 15, where bright red signs in the lobby and elevators announced that the gym would be closed from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., with apologies "for the inconvenience." While residents assumed maintenance or renovations would be taking place, Waverly sales agents were busy crowing to prospective condo buyers that Lopez would be working out inside the building's fourth-floor gym all week long.
Waverly chief financial officer David Greeff confirms that Lopez's personal bodyguard, who lives in the building, had pitched him the idea. "I'm not as starstruck as some of the other people on the board of directors," he laughs, but he recognized the potential free publicity. In fact, he quips, he already has a condo sales slogan in mind: "When Jennifer Lopez wants to work out at the best gym on South Beach, she knows where to come."
Not everyone at the Waverly, home to its own share of self-styled divas, was quite as enthusiastic as Greeff. Several residents who poked their heads inside their gym that evening were curtly informed that a "private party" was in session and loudly told to leave by Lopez's bodyguards. One resident says he came face to face with a large gentleman clad in a Miami Beach Police Department shirt -- who jumped up off an overhead shoulder-press machine to physically escort him out the door.
As word spread, the next evening saw several Waverly gym regulars (who have been known to include -- when his editor unchains him from his desk -- a huffing, puffing, Stairmastering Kulchur) wage a flanking maneuver. When Lopez arrived with a flock of gal pals in tow, this defiant group staged an act of fashionista civil disobedience and refused to dismount their treadmills. Lopez quickly turned tail, in a manner of speaking. She hasn't returned since.
Detective Hernandez says he is investigating this claim of an illegally moonlighting Beach police officer, though he voices his own suspicions: "Some of her security people may think they're police officers."
Fortunately security cameras inside the Waverly's gym captured footage of Lopez's entire workout there. (Note to Lopez bodyguards: According to several people who've watched the digital recording, next time you're trying to block Lopez's sweaty, ahem, assets from prying eyes, remember to drape a towel over both of the gym's cameras.)
As for Lopez, her representative at the New York-based Dan Klores Associates publicity firm denies both the use of police personnel and any display of fake police identification. It's still unclear why someone willing to spend $160,000 on her wedding flowers alone would need to requisition a condo's private gym for her fitness regimen. But Lopez's rep is more upset by Kulchur's terminology in describing her Waverly workout: "You need to stop using the word entourage! Jennifer Lopez does not have an entourage! She just has a lot of friends. "
"Jennifer Lopez is still money in the bank," says the head of one large photo agency, "but because so many people are involved now, the checks you're depositing are getting smaller. If you have three or four teams competing with each other [for photos], it's not only harder to get an exclusive, it's harder to get a good price."
Case in point: the 2001 photos of Lopez and then-paramour Chris Judd (for those keeping score, that's post-Puffy and pre-Affleck), snapped while the two floated blissfully in the Delano Hotel's pool. The agency head says he was able to broker a $50,000 sale for those pictures. Last month, however, as newspapers clamored for images to run with their J.Lo wedding-bell-blues headlines, pictures of a bikini-clad Lopez frolicking in the ocean off Miami Beach fetched only $4500. Not that the demand for such pics has lessened since 2001 -- five different British tabloids ponied up that purchase fee.
Yet flip open your copy of that week's Star and you'll see virtually identical photos under a banner that screams, "Exclusive." Page through competitors Us Weekly, People, and In Touch Weekly and again you'll spy some of the same supposedly "exclusive" photos.
"They were double-dealing," the agency head snipes of the paparazzi in question, two men shooting for the Los Angeles-based X17 agency, and reportedly violating their contract with the Star. "When you break your word, it knocks the whole business. Your bargaining strength disappears."
If true, the only folks more upset than Star's Bonnie Fuller was a Miami-based team of photographers also on hand as Lopez took a dip in the ocean. Though this trio were able to sell their own similar pictures overseas, their lead photographer feels "if we had all worked together, we could've made so much more money." Instead, he says, the X17 boys saturated the market by hawking their shots to every interested publication. "Those pictures would've been worth $100,000. But people get greedy and they shoot themselves in the foot. "
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The X17 agency head dismisses such accusations as nothing more than sour grapes from his competitors, but he agrees that with so many shutterbugs trailing Lopez, it's impossible to get a good price for anyone's shots. For him, the key is to stay one step ahead of the pack -- as when his agency had the first photos of Hollywood's current hookup du jour, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, hand-in-hand in Beverly Hills. "Nobody believed they were really a couple until they saw those pictures. Then they had to come to us and pay our price" -- nearly $50,000, he says --"instead of the other way around."
Of course there's always next time. And given Lopez's annual ritual of celebrity uncoupling, future lucrative opportunities seem assured. In August 2002, for example, pictures of a fully clothed Lopez and Affleck garnered $75,000 from People, simply because the two were captured reading a copy of Us Weekly with themselves on the cover. A People spokeswoman argued that the excessive price was warranted, telling the New York Post they came as part of a set, and "we're not responsible for the way these photo packages are put together." But to most observers, People seemed desperate to keep the photos from archrival Us Weekly, which would no doubt have used them for self-promotion.
"J.Lo shouldn't do movies anymore," the bikini-ogling Miami photographer adds. "She'll get the same amount of publicity from just letting us photograph her. People would much rather look at a picture of her walking on the beach than sit through two hours of Maid in Manhattan or Gigli. "