Paparazzo Ben Evanstad, whose National Photo Group works with a fistful of Hollywood shutterbugs, has gotten the message loud and clear.
"More than ever before, almost every photo we take is of a celebrity and their child," he said at his West Hollywood office. "A picture of Christina Aguilera by herself might sell for $500; a picture of Christina Aguilera and her kid might sell for $5,000. The magazines tell us they want the photos of the celebrity parents with the kids. Nice, happy pictures."
Increasingly, these children are getting magazine covers of their own, without their well-known mothers or fathers. It's fresh tabloid territory -- after all, we didn't regularly see snaps of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore's kids until they were older. Celebrities' offspring used to be out of the spotlight. Not anymore. Lacey Rose of Forbes.com even has a Hollywood's Hottest Tots Under Five ranking.
"These kids on our list -- we're so fascinated with them because they offer a window into their parents' lives," she said.
Celebrity parents know that, so some auction off the first pictures of their babies for big bucks instead of letting the paparazzi get first dibs. Those exclusive baby covers sell magazines like nothing else does. Case in point: newborns Knox and Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, shining stars in one of Hollywood's most exclusive media nurseries: the cover of People.
"Our cover with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's twins was the highest-selling in seven years," said Jess Cagle, executive editor of People. "We did five major baby covers this year -- it was a huge year." (People paid a reported $14 million for the pictures of the Jolie-Pitt twins; the magazine won't discuss figures. Pitt and Jolie reportedly donated the money to charity.)
Baby Photos 'Humanize' Hollywood Stars
Few understand -- or explain -- the publicity game with the insight of Howard Bragman, author of the new book "Where's My Fifteen Minutes?"
Baby pictures "make celebrities like the rest of us," he said. "'Look, they have to change diapers and they have to deal with breast-feeding and bottles.' It humanizes them to this target audience of women consumers who are the buyers in America of household goods and products."
For a celebrity with image challenges, kids can be game-changers. It's no accident that Clay Aiken came out of the closet cuddling his newborn. Who could recall Nicole Richie's drug use or scrapes with the law after a babylicious cover photo? And remember when Britney's Kevin Federline seemed like just a nightclub-hopping party boy?
"You talk about a guy who's turned his image around with kids," Bragman noted. "Very savvy."
Even with more stunning offspring of the famous on view than ever, Forbes declares there's no doubt about the hottest tot: 2-year-old Suri Cruise is the top gun in the celebrity playground.
"She is a fashion icon," said Rose. "Suri Cruise has outperformed grown-up stars like Matthew McConaughey, Britney Spears and Brad Pitt at the newsstand."
"The best pictures you can get right now is Tom Cruise and Suri," said Evanstad. "A picture we took a week ago of them walking down the street -- you would think the next week it wouldn't be so valuable to get that photo again, but it is. It doesn't matter that it was gotten yesterday. We're still gonna try to get it again tomorrow."
It's that relentless, day-after-day pursuit that some celebrities wish they didn't have to deal with.
"Most of the parents don't want their kids out there in this world," said Bragman. "Some can't help it. I don't think Tom Cruise and Katie [Holmes] have a choice."
Certainly, in 2008, many celebrities found the soft glow of young children warming public opinion in their favor. It can be a whole new world for those determined to be their photographers -- who now find themselves shooting wholesome pictures in daylight hours, instead of chronicling the nightclub misbehavior of Young Hollywood.
"Well," said Evanstad, "we like to see what happens after they go to the nightclub. And then, nine months later, what the end result is."
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