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On a different stage, two passionate performances

London magazine's 'sleazy' photos sullied wedding, Douglases testify

Tuesday, February 11, 2003


LONDON -- Hollywood actor-director Michael Douglas told a hushed London court yesterday that plain old-fashioned vengeance was behind a celebrity magazine's move to publish "stolen" photos of his wedding to Catherine Zeta-Jones.

The actors brought a rare touch of glamour to the staid High Court after suing Hello! magazine for printing a series of blurry, unauthorized shots -- three days before rival OK! published official photos in a million-pound ($1.63 million) deal with the pair.

"We believed Hello! was exacting revenge on us because we had decided to provide the rights to publish photographs of our wedding to their competitor. The whole thing felt spiteful," an impassioned Douglas said in his testimony.

His pregnant wife said she felt violated after learning photographers had crashed the lavish 2000 wedding at New York's Plaza Hotel, despite huge security precautions.

"They were poor quality, sleazy, unflattering and looked like they had been stolen -- as indeed they had," she said.

She was particularly distressed at shots showing her being fed cake, saying it made it look like all she did was eat.

"I did not want my husband shoving a spoon down my throat to be photographed. ... It is offensive."

Douglas, 58, and Zeta-Jones, 33, claim their privacy was breached and are suing Hello! for 500,000 pounds ($815,650) for loss of income, stress and damage to their careers.

When quizzed about the size of the claim, Douglas said:

"The distress that we have gone through is irreparable. I consider it a pittance compared, two-and-a-half years later, to what we have gone through."

The couple claim Hello's proprietor, Eduardo Sanchez Junco, plotted with paparazzi to infiltrate the reception.

But the defense says the couple forfeited any right to privacy by actively seeking publicity for the event via OK!.

Defense lawyer James Price said the couple allowed the OK! photos to be syndicated to 20 other magazines around the world.

The couple said money was not their motivation in selling the shots to OK!, but a way of allowing fans a glimpse of their happiness while exercising some control.

At one point, Zeta-Jones, diamonds glittering at her ears, throat and hands, said that while a million pounds ($1.63 million) might be a lot to some people in the room, it was "not that much for us."

Although calm and self-assured under cross-examination, Zeta-Jones occasionally indulged in a fiery retort.

On one occasion, defense attorney Price said he could not expect to earn a million pounds ($1.63 million) for his wedding photos -- earning a sharp "I can understand that" in reply.

When comparing pictures of her kissing her husband in Hello! to an official picture of the couple in OK!, Price pointed out that there was embracing in both shots.

"There is embracing -- and there is embracing," she replied with heavy emphasis, prompting laughter from the packed gallery.

Douglas told how, as the son of famous movie star Kirk Douglas, he was used to media interest from a young age, but now viewed paparazzi as bounty hunters and themselves as hunted animals.

However, Price asked the actor if he could seriously compare the damage he had suffered with the suffering of the maimed and disfigured people who often came to the court seeking damages.

"I find your comparison highly offensive," Douglas replied.

"Is it trivial in comparison to losing an arm? Certainly. But I am here two-and-a-half years later, still dealing with this issue," he added.

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