Sometime in the coming weeks, perhaps as soon as the first week of May, somewhere in the world—probably Paris, but possibly Los Angeles, or maybe even Addis Ababa—Angelina Jolie will bequeath unto the celebrity weeklies a gift so magnificent that, until recently, few imagined such a thing was possible. She will give birth to Brad Pitt’s child.
Not since Jesus has a baby been so eagerly anticipated. Actually, forget Jesus. Only three wise men turned up to greet him in the manger. The Brangelina baby—as the megawatt couple’s spawn is known, at least until its parents give it a proper name—has People, Us Weekly, In Touch, Star, and Life&Style (working, of course, on behalf of the millions and millions of readers they serve) awaiting the newborn’s arrival, all of them hoping and scheming and planning to voyage to the ends of the Earth, if that’s what it takes, to get a first—preferably the first—glimpse of the blessed child.
Why are people, and People, so desperate to see the Brangelina baby? The men and women who helm the celebrity weeklies have an easy answer. Their readers, they explain, view celebrities as their friends; and as they would be with any friends, they’re interested in their so-called life events. The big three of life events, the theory goes, are weddings, breakups, and babies—hence the celebrity weeklies’ laserlike focus on celebrity weddings, celebrity divorces, and celebrity babies.
But even for a life event, celebrity-weekly editors go on to explain, the Brangelina baby is particularly enticing. For one, there’s the simple matter of aesthetics. “The parents happen to be two of the most gorgeous people on the planet. How gorgeous is that baby going to be?” wonders Bonnie Fuller, the editorial director of American Media, whose stable of magazines includes Star. Dan Wakeford, an executive editor of In Touch, offers a tentative answer: “This could possibly be the most beautiful baby in the history of the world.” Even more than looks, there’s the backstory. “There’d be a lot of interest if it was Jennifer Aniston’s baby,” explains an editor at one celebrity weekly, “but with Brangelina, there’s that extra factor that the Hollywood golden couple was broken up so that this relationship, and this baby, could happen . . . I mean, this is the baby Jen wouldn’t give Brad, and the fact that it’s Angelina giving it to him—my feeble little mind can barely handle it!”
In that sense, the birth marks the end of a modern fairy tale, the sentimental made-for-TV-movie moment of the happy new family in their cocoon of bliss (and for added narrative pleasure, there’s poor Aniston off smoking and getting naked in a bad-looking movie with chubby Vince Vaughn). Whoever contrives to get the shot of the gorgeous Pitt-Jolie offspring will not only enjoy a lucrative windfall. They’ll give us the closure we all crave, while throwing open the door to the next serial fairy tale (the inevitable marital bumps, etc.) that will delight and/or disgust millions of us around the world—and sell a ton of magazines. But first, the photo, or what Debra Birnbaum, the deputy editor of Life&Style, calls “the Holy Grail of celebrity journalism.”
The Brangelina-baby photo hunt is unusual insofar as the hunters seem more beleaguered than the prey. Ask any Sears studio photographer what it’s like to shoot a squirming 1-month-old posed on a bearskin rug, and he’ll tell you that it’s not easy. Now, imagine trying to get a candid, on-the-move shot of a baby whose parents are doing everything in their considerable power to prevent you from taking their child’s picture, and you have an idea of the difficulties facing a paparazzo on a typical celebrity-baby assignment. “Weddings are so much easier,” says one with a sigh. “At least with those you’re dealing with full-sized people.”
To gauge just how challenging a celebrity-baby photo hunt can be, consider the last big one—which was for Sean Preston Federline. Steve Ginsburg, who abandoned his bartending gig to become a Los Angeles paparazzo and who has made a handsome living ever since, had high hopes for landing the first picture of Britney Spears and Kevin Federline’s baby. He tracked the singer in the final months of her pregnancy, studying her moves, learning her habits, trying to glean as much information about her as he could—so that, when her due date arrived, he would be in position to land an exclusive. Of course, Ginsburg wasn’t the only one doing such legwork, and when he showed up one day in mid-September outside the Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center—where Spears had checked in under an assumed name—he discovered the place already swarming with paparazzi. “It was a spectacle,” Ginsburg says.