In a town where celebrities and tabloids feed off each other, where stars show up in sweats at the grocery store and jog along Mulholland Drive, the tale of Alec Baldwin punching a paparazzo outside his home has struck a chord.
Perhaps it was the timing of this particular brand of guerrilla journalism that inflamed debate in beauty salons, shopping centers and on street corners Friday, even among the jaded L.A. crowd.
There they were, two glamorous stars caught in a vulnerable moment. But this was no clandestine tryst arranged for public consumption. It was a father and mother bringing their newborn girl home for the first time.
And when Baldwin slugged celebrity photographer Alan Zanger on Thursday afternoon for ruining the homecoming with wife Kim Basinger and 3-day-old Ireland, he became either heroic family man or volatile Hollywood snob.
It just depends on whether there is a baby in the house.
Speaking for the family-first set was Janet Smith, cradling son Jacob in her arms in a Ventura Boulevard shopping center. "We talked about it at the gym this morning, and we all said we'd have punched the photographer, too."
But manicurist Kim Glupker, flipping through People magazine while waiting for her next customer, said she saw both sides of the issue. After a salon-wide debate, however, she sided with boxing Alec.
"I love to read People, I love knowing and seeing this stuff," said the 24-year-old Glupker. "But honestly, it's not going to kill me to wait a few weeks to see the baby."
First Amendment advocates defended Zanger--but lamented the tactics of celebrity photographers.
"People appreciate the victim here," said Joe Saltzman, a USC journalism professor. "Nobody's going to come down on the side of a photographer or some sleazy guy. But these are the same people who buy the celebrity magazines and look at the pictures of stars."
Nonetheless, Saltzman believes that tabloid photographers--as well as any member of the media--has the right to photograph celebrities. It's their approach that should change.
"There's no reason for photographers to go to extremes," Saltzman said.
For his part, Zanger says he was videotaping Baldwin from his camper truck--albeit through tinted windows--parked on public property as the threesome pulled into their driveway. Police confirmed Zanger's account that Baldwin got aggressive once mother and child were indoors. He sprayed shaving cream on Zanger's windows while screaming at him to leave.
Eventually, Zanger said, he jumped out of his truck. That's when Baldwin threw the punch, knocking Zanger's glasses off and causing his nose and face to swell.
"Anyone with a shred of human decency knows there are times in your life when you want your privacy respected whether you are a public figure or not," Baldwin said in a prepared statement Thursday. "I do believe that bringing your wife and 3-day-old baby home from the hospital is one of those occasions."
So, should Zanger have been there, at that moment--waiting for the grand entrance of a newborn?
Zanger is emphatic. It's exactly those moments he waits to capture.
"It's the thrill of waiting and waiting and finally getting your shot," Zanger said. "It's like an animal hunter, hiding in the bushes, waiting day and night and then finally getting your prey."
Zanger's attorney, Neil S. Steiner, filed a lawsuit in Superior Court on Friday afternoon, alleging assault and battery. "These people, like Baldwin, think they're above the law," Steiner said.
But while Baldwin, who was arrested, faces possible criminal charges, his defenders wonder: Was he so wrong?
"Until you're a parent, you don't understand that moment," said Claudia Castillo as she loaded groceries into her car in Woodland Hills. "It's a moment of intimacy between the mother, father and brand-new baby."
Dave Lichtenfeld, who was taking his son, Michael, to the grocery store, will never forget his own moment but has a different, no less poignant spin.
"There are a lot of things to be worried about--my wife, the baby," Lichtenfeld said. "I don't think anybody wants to be bothered. You have the car seat, all these blankets, and your wife is not in good shape, either."
Frank and Cheryl Black, leaving a doctor's appointment with their 7-week-old son, Austin, added: "You don't want to play show and tell. You just want to go home and sleep."
At Metro Hair Design in Woodland Hills, the opinion was unanimous. "Why do they have to be pursued and stalked?" asked hairdresser Rick Binder. "Yes, these people are celebrities but there has to be a line drawn. They are people too."
Maybe Baldwin, who has starred in such action movies as "The Hunt for Red October" and "Malice," thought he was still acting, some theorized. But that's no excuse, according to one new mother.
"I wouldn't let my husband punch somebody," said Nancy Torres, 18, holding 18-day-old Carlos in her arms. "You just want to get home. . . . But no, I wouldn't punch somebody for it."
Perhaps the biggest surprise to some was the location of the Baldwin-Basinger abode.
"I just couldn't believe they live in Woodland Hills," said Woodland Hills hairdresser Angela Stone.