TALES FROM TINSELTOWN: Press sink teeth into Bronstein'stoe-curling moment at LA Zoo

A visit to LA Zoo toetally bites! I'm referring to the infamous

incident at the zoo, in which journalist/celebrity spouse Phil Bronstein

was bitten by a seven-foot lizard during a VIP tour. The beast in

question, a 55-pound Komodo dragon, was decidedly unimpressed by the

notoriety of Bronstein and his wife, actress Sharon Stone. It was Stone,

allegedly, who encouraged Phil to enter the cage. Not sure, exactly, who

told him to remove his white shoes before entering, lest the lizard

mistake them for rats. Instead, the Big Liz mistook his white feet for


I was curious how the zoo's PR rep, Lora LaMarca, was handling the

onslaught of publicity.

"I received 32 calls on Monday alone ... I think I've done 20

interviews, including five with the Los Angeles Times," she told me.

"Today is the first day since it happened that the San Francisco

Chronicle (where Bronstein is executive editor) hasn't called me."

Certainly this is the biggest news to hit the LA Zoo - usually

overshadowed by San Diego's - since one of its prized elephants was cast

opposite Bill Murray in a major motion picture. (Regrettably, the

pachyderm found Murray "difficult to work with" and abruptly quit the


LaMarca clarified a few misconceptions. The normally docile lizard had

never before acted aggressively. Cage entrances by non-zoo personnel are

extremely rare. VIP "backstage" visits are intended to show potential

donors the keeper areas and animal bedrooms. It's not a secret tour of

hidden exotic animals. Far from it.

"The private visits show our guests the areas where animals are cared

for and sleep - where donations are needed for improvements," LaMarca

says. "The best place to actually see the animals is in front of the

public viewing areas where they spend most of their time."

The zoo depends on the financial support of benefactors, to the tune of

millions. Let's face it, your paltry entrance fee does little more than

feed the rhinos and buy fresh paint for the zebras. Stone and Bronstein

had not, however, made any donations. Perhaps they were waiting to see

how things went with the Komodo. Not good, obviously. The thing grabbed

poor Phil's toe and hung on like Strom Thurmond to his Senate seat.

Ironically, the leapin' lizard has brought much needed attention to the

zoo's efforts to raise another dollars 2.8 million for a new gorilla


There are also plans to build new digs for the lizards, which will take

on all comers for ten bucks.

The footnote is that Bronstein is recovering. If he and Stone are good

sports, they'll attend the opening of the new zoo enclosures. But I

suspect he'll pass on Stone's next dare: sticking his head in the lion's

mouth at the circus. At a VIP command performance, of course.

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