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Getting Stars and Events in the Proper Alignment

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rita Tateel is a matchmaker Hollywood-style. Her company, the Celebrity Source, helps charity, sports and corporate events find celebrity guests. Tateel, 48, began the business 11 1/2 years ago. “We have a custom-designed computer program,” Tateel explained about matching her clients with one of the 5,400 celebs on her roster. “For example, if we need to identify a golfer who’s from the Midwest, a supporter of the American Cancer Society and is African American, we can do that.”

She charges nonprofit companies $4,000 and for-profits $5,000.

Question: What prompted you to go into this business?

Answer: I have always been intrigued with the celebrity world. I grew up in Los Angeles--my playground was the front lawn of CBS Studios. And then, after 15 years working for nonprofits, it was time for a career change. I felt that perhaps my talents weren’t being used to their fullest.

Q: Which skills specifically?

A: I felt like my people skills were not being utilized enough and that my academic training was going to be put on a shelf. I have a bachelor’s degree in child development and my master’s degree in social work. All of the academic training started to pay off big time working with celebrities because, in terms of people skills, I like to take care of people.

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Q: So you feel you offer people a sense of security?

A: Celebrities tend to be the most insecure people on the planet, but there’s a good reason for it. The minute they walk out their door, 95% of the people they encounter each day want something from them. They don’t know if people are being nice because they want to use them in some way or are sincerely nice. Once I got that, I was able to figure out how to work with celebrities, to make them feel comfortable and secure, make sure that they know in advance all the details associated with an appearance.

Q: Do you think it’s because you’re a woman that you’re successful in this field?

A: There’s risk in generalizing that way but, nonetheless, I think women do have more of a natural instinct for taking care of people and nurturing. But there’s something else: I think it has to do with the way women communicate. I believe strongly in honest and open communication. The very first time we’re meeting celebrities, it’s really important to let them know we’re there to take care of them.

When I started in this business, I wasn’t aware of any women doing what I was doing. It was pretty much a male-dominated field. I think for the most part it still is, but there are more women doing similar work.

Q: How much hand-holding do you do?

A: Paula, my partner (Paula Greenfield is vice president of the company), was handling celebrities for a James Bond film festival in Jamaica. Ursula Andress insisted that Paula be the one to escort her to her room every night, and Grace Jones didn’t want to come out of her room until she talked to Paula about the press.

Q: How do you handle problem celebrities? Canceling at the last minute, for example?

A: If we have celebrities attending an event, they’re less likely to cancel on us just on a whim than they are a faceless name on the other end of the phone. Not only because we have a relationship, but they also know that if they cancel on us three times, we’re not going to use them again.

Whatever Works runs every Monday. Send e-mail to socalliving@latimes.com.

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