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THE BIZ : Tour Guide to the Stars

Several hundred fans are lined up outside Book Soup in West L.A. Inside, Ann-Margret, sitting behind a counter stacked high with her autobiography, “Ann-Margret, My Story,” smiles as photographers and reporters assault her with strobes and mikes. Just when it seems that the line of fans may be ignored, a woman starts yelling at the reporters. “OK. Out! That’s it! Time’s up! You’ve had it!” With the help of the owner, she shoves them out the door.

Fifteen years ago, publishing houses sent authors on the road with a map and some phone numbers, but now they rely on media escorts like free-lancer Karen Hebert to show their writers around. Hebert’s been in the biz 14 years. Her previous job was teaching first-graders, which she says was perfect for “taking care of the personal needs of celebrities and authors.”

Hebert has guided hundreds through the book-signing and talk-show circuit, including Clive Barker, Ken Follett, Carrie Fisher, Bob Woodward and Muhammad Ali. “I’ve seen Dom DeLuise in his underwear,” she recalls.

She once drove around town with five Elvises to promote a book on Elvis impersonators. “I had an Elvis kid. I had Elvez (the Mexican Elvis), a couple female Elvises and an Elvis that was the mayor of a Midwestern city.”

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Ali was her most gracious guest, Hebert says. “He signed books, kissed babies and threw punches for hours.” Shirley MacLaine was the least; escorts voted her the Golden Dart Award at the American Booksellers Assn. convention for being so difficult to deal with. Not that Hebert would provide any details. She doesn’t narc on her former first-graders either.


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