July 26, 2007 -- There's a certain intimacy that comes with servitude, especially when your job is serving the famous.
The people who take care of stars — from changing light bulbs to arranging for the boss' dog to be cloned — see a side of fame others do not, and they sometimes become a bigger part of that life than they bargained for. Just ask the assistant involved in the car chase with his former boss Lindsay Lohan.
The dynamic between famous person and assistant can play out in all sorts of ways. Celebrity assistants interviewed for this piece said that horror stories and hostile interactions with their employers happened less frequently than you might think.
They say when assistants have the same boss for several years, the relationship often transforms from a business-only rapport to friendship.
"Our business relationship is the primary one, but over 21 years we have become friends," said Bonnie Low-Kramen, who has been Academy Award winner Olympia Dukakis' personal assistant for more than two decades. "She's very aware that she couldn't do all the things she does in her life if I were not doing my job."
Low-Kramen recalls that her biggest mistake on the job — she handed Dukakis the wrong speech before she went on stage at an event — resulted in a civil conversation, without yelling and screaming, as to whether she had the correct speeches in line for the next events. Still, Low-Kramen, who wrote a book titled "Be the Ultimate Assistant," says she hasn't made the mistake since.
"I'm like part of the family," said John Murphy, whose celeb boss required that he sign a confidentiality agreement, making him tight-lipped about his job.
Nondisclosure agreements are commonplace among personal assistants, who are expected never to repeat anything they see, hear or do for their bosses. If they do, punishments range from getting fired to monetary fines.
'Don't Get too Close,' Warns the Veteran Assistant
Matthew McConaughey, Hugh Jackman and Renee Russo are just a few of the A-list celebrities Anita Ferry has worked with during her 28-year career as a celebrity personal assistant.
When assistants butt heads with their employers, often it's because the relationship has become inappropriate, says Ferry, who says she has seen assistants drink too much at parties they attend with their bosses. Celebrity stylist Philip Bloch calls it the "piano thinking it's the concerto" syndrome.
"People make the mistake of getting to close — think the celebrity is their best friend. You can't forget they are still their boss and you are there to take care of them, not to hang out [with] them," said Ferry. "People go to parties and have too much to drink and act inappropriately whether it's dancing crazy or picking a fight. People really need to draw the line."
'Oh My God, Someone Had a Baby and I Have to Send Flowers'
The job description of a celebrity personal assistant depends entirely on whom you ask and, more importantly, who the celebrity is. For Ferry, her career as a personal assistant meant she did anything and everything.
"What I have done has always been above and beyond a typical assistant, I've sort of helped managed someone's life," said Ferry. "It's like a personal lifestyle manager. I've planned parties from two to 2,000 and I've chartered planes at a moment's notice."
Personal assistants may look forward to an uninterrupted weekend — most say they work from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. but are on call 24/7 — but in reality celebrity bosses are constantly calling on them to make dinner reservations or send gifts when spur-of-the-moment events arise.
And while personal assistants often accompany their celeb bosses to film premieres and award shows, it's not all glitz and glam.
John Murphy, 28, is the personal assistant to an unnamed A-list daytime talk show host and says most of his duties are pretty mundane. Most days are spent tending to household issues and taking care of the host's wife and children.
"It's not all glamorous," said Murphy. "Yesterday I was crawling under the house because there was a problem with the air conditioning."
Freebies, Cars and Tickets, Oh My!
Celebrity personal assistants may be responsible for some boring, mundane tasks, but they get paid pretty well. The average annual income for a celebrity personal assistant is almost $62,000, according to a survey conducted by the Association of Celebrity Personal Assistants, an agency that networks personal assistants with one another as well as acts as a resource for celebrities who are in the market for a new assistant.
Many of the celebrity personal assistants interviewed reported making more, and said that their end-of-the-year bonuses often equaled their annual salary.
Carol Burnett's assistant was even luckier. She received a brand-new Range Rover from her boss, according to Jonathon Holiff, ACPA founder who says he was treated to worldwide travel opportunities and tickets to events like Mike Tyson's fight in Las Vegas when he worked for stars like "Growing Pains'" Alan Thicke and Faye Dunaway.
Perks and pay aside, being a celebrity's personal assistant is described by veterans as "hard work" and "exhausting." While the new Rover is certainly an incentive, a chance to touch the dream can be priceless.