It's the dawn of another workday. On your way to the office, you pop into the local coffee shop to grab a cup of java and catch up on the latest gossip. But imagine if you never left the coffee shop. Imagine if the coffee shop was your office — and gossiping was your job. That's the way it is for Perez Hilton, Hollywood's most infamous insider. However, when Perez, whose real name is Mario Lavandeira, arrives at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in West Hollywood with his computer, he's not there to loiter. He's networking to collect the latest entertainment news for his website, PerezHilton.com—a popular destination for daily distraction and one of the top gossip websites.
Before starting his site in 2004 (then called PageSixSixSix.com before a lawsuit by the New York Post forced him to change it), Lavandeira got to know the industry from all sides. Some of his past professions in Tinsel Town include stints as an actor, publicist, and journalist. It's only recently that he's dedicated himself to his site full-time and gained a high profile in the process, standing out amongst other gossip bloggers for the inside tips he gets by partying with the A-listers.
Love him or hate him, when Lavandeira says "I don't even think I have competition," he's probably right. Unlike an anonymous blogger in Anytown, USA, Lavandeira is right in the heart of the action — his oft-criticized knack for promoting himself as a personality has garnered invites to some of the hottest industry events. In the last six months he's been to the Cannes Film Festival, Sundance, New York's Fashion Week and the MuchMusic Video Awards, to name just a few. Afterwards, it's not uncommon to read a play-by-play on his site of who-did-what, right down to the smallest details, like what Nicole Richie was eating (grilled cheese) or what Jessica Simpson smelled like (vanilla). But now that Perez has become so recognizable, you'd assume celebrities would avoid him like carbohydrates.
"Not at all," says Lavandeira. "Since people know who I am they'll come up to me."
But what about his namesake and friend, the notorious Paris Hilton? Lately readers can't help but notice the contrast between Lavandeira's reports on Paris (one picture is captioned: "People are going to be very impressed with Paris' album") and other starlets such as Lindsay Lohan (a headline reporting her latest endorsement deal decries: "Selling Out Is The New Black"). So, how can you have a top Hollywood gossip site and not trash the sex-tape starring, most-maligned socialite of them all?
"There were these pictures that popped up of Paris exiting her car and she wasn't wearing any panties," he says. "A few of the other gossip blogs posted pictures. I didn't. My readers don't need to see Paris' vagina — they've already seen it."
Speaking of exposure, Lavandeira currently has a reality TV show in production, which he describes as a Real World/Simple Life/Surreal Life/Punk'd hybrid.
"We're put in situations that may not happen every day that make for good television — like Kathy Griffin and I going to buy star maps and seeing which celebrities let us into their homes."
But with the celebrity mingling comes also the requisite mudslinging. Lavandeira once referred to actress Shannon Elizabeth as being on the dreaded Hollywood "F-list" — and she confronted him in-person.
"I felt bad about that," he says, "but not about calling her F-list, because, you know, I'm keeping it real. She is F-list! Come on. The only thing people remember her for is American Pie and that was years ago."
Did he feel guilty about the dig?
"No, I didn't feel guilty except for one moment when she said that it came at a bad time because things were slow for her — maybe she couldn't get work! Poor thing," he laughs.
Of course, everyone loves to see someone getting served a dose of what they dish out. Lavandeira's own personal life has become the target of blog-fodder on sites such as Gawker.com, which published nasty email correspondence between Lavandeira and a publicist who neglected to send him an industry invite. But he'll take the good along with the bad.
"I'm old school. Any press is good press."
As for setting up shop at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Lavandeira doesn't foresee an increase in office overhead anytime soon.
"Make me pay rent?" he scoffs. "They should pay me money!"