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The Press: Paparazzi on the Prowl

3 minute read

On Rome’s Via Veneto, the night was gay with lights and pink azaleas in curbside tubs. At a sidewalk cafe, Ivan Kro-scenko, 31. a man in a black leather jacket, sipped espresso and cased the pedestrian traffic with a predatory eye. A bearded giant strode past: Cinemactor Steve (“Hercules”) Reeves. “Mr. Universe,” sneered Kroscenko softly. “So who cares?” He was after bigger game. “Linda Christian. Ava Gardner, Anita Ekberg. Jayne Mansfield.” he rolled the names lovingly across his tongue. “They are important people. They make trouble.” Kroscenko rose, slung the strap of his Rolleicord camera over a shoulder, and went prowling for trouble.

Trouble that can be shot with a cam era is Kroscenko’s business. A three-block stretch of the Via Veneto, cascading from the Aurelian Wall to the U.S. embassy, is his favorite hunting ground. Here, in the glittering array of hotels, smart shops and open-air cafes, throng Kroscenko’s picturesque prey. He is a paparazzo* one of a ravenous wolf pack of freelance photographers who stalk big names for a living and fire with flash guns at point-blank range.

Shot from a Box. The paparazzi are a small crew—a couple of dozen at most —and they are more bullyboys than news photographers. They lounge beneath lampposts, lips leaking cigarettes, cameras drawn like automatics. “Come see lo facio secco [When he comes out, I’ll drill him],” they snarl, while waiting for their quarry to open a nightclub door. Then the paparazzi attack. These days they find more and more targets. Easter is past, celebrities are drifting down the peninsula, and hot times are ahead.

No one is safe, not even royalty (see cut). In February on the Veneto, when U.S. Actor Ernest Borgnine and his estranged wife, Katy Jurado, wrangled in the street, cameras popped. They caught Actor Cornel Wilde struggling with a local heckler, froze Anita Ekberg’s bosom as it heaved in a wild dance at a private Roman orgy. When Katharine Hepburn passed through town recently, the paparazzi mounted Vespa scooters, putt-putted out to waylay her at Fiumicino Airport. Because Ava Gardner once called him a dirty name. Paparazzo Tazio Secchiaroli vengefully hid for hours in a cardboard box on a Cinecitta movie lot, finally got what he came for: an unflattering shot of Ava in an old bath towel, hair wet and stringy as a mop.

Like a King. In slack moments, the paparazzi manufacture incidents: one of their number taunts a show business idol into arm-flailing rage, and bulbs flash. The practice has a sound commercial basis : Italian newspapers and magazines pay as little as $5 for paparazzo portraits of quiescent celebrities; pictures of celebrities rampant bring as much as $500.

Legitimate news photographers scorn the paparazzi as streetwalkers of Roman journalism. But like streetwalkers, they cling to their place in society. Via Veneto cafes have found they are good for business. With paparazzi lurking just off the premises, cash customers mass to watch for fireworks.

Now and then, a paparazzo goes on to loftier things—Tazio Secchiaroli has his own agency, employs five photographers. But most are content to bay on the Via Veneto. Displaced Russian Kroscenko would not consider moving his base of operations. “I couldn’t live anywhere else but here,” he said. “I feel like a king. I make the Via Veneto, and it makes me.”

-A name coined by Movie Director Federico Fellini for a freelance photographer in La Dolce Vita, his gamy study of Roman, cafe society. “Paparazzo,” says Fellini, “suggests to me a buzzing insect, hovering, darting, stinging.”

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