TALES FROM TINSELTOWN: Publicist left alone on island to keepceleb-crazed fans at bay

Publicists are accustomed to the bizarre behavior of obsessed movie star fans. We're often the first to read the strange fan mail, open the panty-filled gift parcels, or receive the phone calls. We know how far they'll go. But even I was surprised by the group of intrepid Sicilian fans who tracked down our film production last week on the small Maltese island of Gozo. Well-equipped and well-financed, they were on a celebrity hunting mission, and were not to be denied.

Publicists are accustomed to the bizarre behavior of obsessed movie star fans. We're often the first to read the strange fan mail, open the panty-filled gift parcels, or receive the phone calls. We know how far they'll go. But even I was surprised by the group of intrepid Sicilian fans who tracked down our film production last week on the small Maltese island of Gozo. Well-equipped and well-financed, they were on a celebrity hunting mission, and were not to be denied.

As mentioned in my previous column, our production fled the floodwaters of Central Europe for the warm, safe harbors of Malta. Ah, the perfect place to relax. What possible "publicity emergencies could arise in this friendly, relaxed vacation retreat? It was highly unlikely that I would be bothered by the cry of "He's choking! Quick, someone get a publicist! Nope, this was going to be the ultimate paid vacation. Step onto the set, say a few hellos, and then get my sunscreened self to the beach. Maybe do a little jet skiing, too.

But I had not counted on the "Sicilian Nine."

Learning their favorite Very Big Star (VBS) was on the island, this quick-response unit of worshippers chartered a flight to Malta and booked rooms at the VBS' exclusive hotel. They were fully fitted with video and still cameras, autograph books, walkie-talkies - in case they split up - pictures of the VBS, movie posters, you name it.

One of them had even tried to get hired by the hotel in hopes of an inside opportunity. They lurked everywhere, and when their presence in the lobby and at nearby restaurants grew wearisome, it was deemed necessary to send in the cavalry of one: me.

My appeasement offer - signed headshots of the star - were rudely rejected.

It's a face-to-face or nothing, they demanded. "That's just not possible, I apologized. "Well then, we'll enact our secret plan, I was told.

The game was on. I welcomed the challenge.

Their "plan was revealed the next morning, our final shooting day. These clever stalkers had rented one of three houses on a hill overlooking our set. There they were on the roof, cameras and telephoto lenses at the ready. But I wasn't to be bested so easily. I had a giant cloth screen placed in front of the set to obscure most of it from view. I also asked the VBS' stunt double to walk around the perimeter to distract them long enough for the VBS himself to slip onto the set unnoticed.

It worked. My phone rang. "Could we give you the names for the signed headshots? the spokesman asked resignedly. Game, set, match...

At the end of the week most of the crew flew back to Los Angeles, but I'm staying behind. There's still a little matter of the interrupted jet skiing I must attend to.

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