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Taming the wildest Hollywood beasts

When stars go wild, who keeps them in line? Their publicists.

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One of the high points of Howard Bragman's career as a Hollywood publicist came at this year's Oscars, when his client, "Crash" producer Cathy Shulman, accepted the award for Best Picture.

Mr. Bragman not only coached Ms. Shulman on her speech and red-carpet etiquette, he helped her pick out a black Michael Kors gown and made sure she appeared at the right postceremony parties. "That's about as fun as it gets when you're the publicist for a client who wins an Oscar," he says.

On the other hand, Bragman's 25-year tenure as a founding partner of Bragman, Nyman, and Cafarelli, a publicity firm that has represented celebrities such as Cameron Diaz, has included more lows than he cares to count. Among the worst was watching an up-and-coming actress spiral out of control with a substance-abuse problem, despite his pleas with her that she was damaging her career.

In a month when the antics of Mel Gibson and Lindsay Lohan are the talk of tabloid magazines, TV news channels, and dinner tables everywhere, Hollywood publicists say it's harder than ever to shape the images of their clients. For one thing, the market for tabloid media has become saturated with global demand for celebrity stories. Furthermore, publicists complain that they no longer have control over coverage as cellphone cameras and websites such as TMZ.com and Perezhilton.com foster an "anything goes" environment.

"There is an element to our job now that's protecting as opposed to publicizing," says Leslee Dart, whose clients include Tom Hanks and Woody Allen. "Information is spread like wildfire in a matter of a minute or two, and back in the good old days it was at least 24 hours. It requires you to think more quickly, react more quickly, and respond more quickly."

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