Rocky Relations Between Celebs and Their Staff

The border between friend and client blurs when it comes to celebs and stylists.

ByABC News

July 6, 2007 — -- Being famous enough to require help may look easy.

You have someone to pick out your clothes, do your hair, schedule your appointments, cook your meals, count your push-ups and blow on your latte.

But then — and this is the hard part — you have to actually deal with those people.

Where stars are concerned, we've moved on from being obsessed with celebrities to being obsessed with the people who work for them. The tabloids are filled with stories of the friendships and feuds between the beautiful people and "their people." There's even a magazine dedicated just to the people who toil to make the lives of the rich and famous that much more streamlined.

Depending on whom you ask, stylists, personal assistants and other staff members are either mere employees, necessary to keeping a celeb perfectly coifed and on time, or they're a star's best friend, confidants who spend incredible amounts of personal time with their boss-cum-bosom buddy.

But pop princesses and movie stars aren't the only public figures living under a microscope and worried about keeping their hair and clothing perfectly styled. Presidential candidates are similarly watched and similarly primped.

Presidential hopeful John Edwards made headlines for paying up to $1,250 for a haircut. When word got out that the former North Carolina senator was using campaign funds to pay for expensive 'dos, he quickly distanced himself from Los Angeles-based hairstylist Joseph Torrenueva.

In a recent Washington Post article, Torrenueva said he was hurt that Edwards, whom he had come to consider a friend, had played down their personal relationship.

"I'm disappointed and I do feel bad," Torrenueva told the Post. "If I know someone, I'm not going to say I don't know them. When he called me 'that guy,' that hit my ears. It hurt."

It is not uncommon for service providers to believe the relationships they have with celebrities are more than just business, said psychologist Stuart Fischoff, an expert in the psychology of celebrity.

"People next to celebrities want to think of themselves as friends," said Fischoff. "It is a problem of perception. I'm not sure [Torrenueva] had any right to assume what he assumed and the unwanted consequence was that his feelings were hurt."

"People will try to get close to a celebrity and then have their expectations dashed and then get furious," he said.

Perhaps no celebrity-staff relationship was weirder than that of Anna Nicole Smith and Howard K. Stern, her lawyer/personal assistant/manager/house boy/possible lover.

In the trial that ensued after Smith's death in February, the bizarre details in the relationship between Stern and Smith were revealed.

Stern, the public learned, was more or less broke and sleeping in the living room of his client's house — not exactly a standard professional relationship. He also thought he was the father of Smith's baby.

This blurred border between friend and business associate is "highly charged territory," Robert Thompson, a professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University, told ABC News.

"You have some of these people who celebrities are putting on the payroll to do the kind of things that are often done by a friend," he said.

"These people are paid to be minions. They are intimately involved in the celebrity's life, often spending more time with the person than the celebrity's own family."

But as the people who work for celebrities become famous in their own right, tensions rise for another reason — jealousy.

In the past, magazines were filled with photos of the clothes stylists had picked out for their clients. Today the magazines feature the stylists themselves. The relationships between celebs and their stylists — like Jessica Simpson and Ken Paves who have together launched a line of hair extensions, or celebutante Nicole Richie and stylist Rachel Zoe who had a famous falling out — are all standard tabloid fodder.

Zoe earned a reputation for working with superthin clients, fueling speculation that she had encouraged Richie to lose weight in an unhealthy way. During the pair's falling out, Richie, in a thinly veiled message posted to her MySpace page, accused Zoe of having an eating disorder. Others have wondered whether the split in their relationship was fueled by Zoe's rising star.

Tabloid journalism and the desire to keep tabs on starlets everywhere they go led to the importance of stylists, said Sasha Charnin Morrison, fashion editor at US Weekly.

"As celebrities started doing red carpets and press junkets and then getting photographed outside their homes by the paparazzi, they realized they needed to have the right look wherever they went," she said.

"Sure, stylists sometimes outshine the celebrities they work for and that causes tension. It's all very glamorous. It's show business and who wouldn't want to be part of that?"

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