MIDWAY: Paparazzi poison

The media is used to accusations of dumbing down. But there’s cruelty and viciousness too. A thousand assorted New Yorkers turned out to mourn Claudia Cohen last week. Calvin Klein delivered a eulogy. Her super-billionaire of an ex-husband, and the senator who once called a press meet to say that he loved her, were both on hand.

Claudia who? you ask. Try Claudia Benchmark instead. Her column, for a while, was modestly entitled “I, Claudia”, and 30 years ago she defined celebrity gossip. Claudia, a rich girl from New Jersey, got a job on the New York Post in 1977 and rapidly became editor of its notorious Page Six, where brutal things happened. Her speciality was the cellulite or piled-on poundage sneer. Was Elizabeth Taylor letting herself go again? “Lay off the malted milk balls, Liz.” Or, as spring turned to summer: “These are depressing times for chubettes who ate too much pasta over the winter ... Take Faye Dunaway.”

Claudia Cohen was cruel in her day, but she’d seem like Mother Teresa now. Take Lindsay Lohan: she has made one or two accomplished movies — from The Parent Trap on — and she comes from a virulently broken home. So there is booze and cocaine and paparazzi, and her career appears near the brink of extinction. Finished before she’s 21 (next week). Take Britney Spears, put a pop career in place of a Hollywood one, and the answer’s the same (at 25).

Or take Ms Hilton, famous only for her family name and haplessly starring in a jerky sex video, poised to come out of clink to pick up million-dollar interview fees from competing television networks for repeating banalities like “I just can’t wait to see my family and have a nice meal and be in my own bed...”. At 26.

Claudia Cohen has a 16-year-old daughter who spoke at the funeral, too. Mum “told me right before she died that, even though that life will always be there for me, you don’t want to define yourself by going to parties”, she said. “You want to have a job. You want to have humbleness. You don’t want to define yourself by just parading around.” That sounds, 30 years on, like a kind of wisdom and some kind of kindliness. Time for us, too, to choke on our poisonous parade. Time to remember, like Claudia, that we’re human.