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Zero tolerance for Zeta

March 15, 2004
The Sun-Herald

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Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Wales loves her, now Catherine Zeta-Jones has to convince the rest of the world to feel the same way, Brett Thomas writes.

She has been pilloried in a manner that few other Hollywood stars of her calibre have endured. Catherine Eater Jones, the British tabloids call her. Or, sometimes, when it's not about her weight, she's Catherine Zeta Moans.

There are endless whispers about her highly advantageous marriage to a (very) rich, (very) powerful, (much) older man, her all-too-apparent fondness for the trappings of fame and wealth, her litigious leanings and most of all, her acting talent - or lack of it, depending upon the whisperer.

So what a relief it must have been to Swansea-born Catherine Zeta-Jones this month to learn that she was the highest-placed woman - at No. 13 - in a poll that named the 100 greatest Welsh people. "At last," she might have thought, "somebody out there actually likes me."

Swansea, though, is a long way from Hollywood, where Zeta-Jones has made the big mistake of playing the movie star game by her own rules. She is not the giggling, girlish coquette that the male-dominated movie industry expects of leading ladies, like Nicole Kidman. Nor is she particularly actorly, in the equally well-accepted manner of a Cate Blanchett.

Although she won a best supporting actress Oscar for her role in the musical Chicago and has starred in several high-profile films, notably The Mask Of Zorro, Traffic, Entrapment, America's Sweethearts and her latest, Intolerable Cruelty, there aren't many in Hollywood or elsewhere who rave about her acting abilities.

Indeed, the general perception about Zeta-Jones is that she makes up for a lack of genuine talent with a single-minded manipulativeness, manifested by her marriage to major Hollywood player Michael Douglas, 25 years her senior.

Through him she has attained great status, great wealth and no small amount of derision. The couple is often presented as Mr and Mrs Smug, lording it over the little people with their mansions and millions.

But that's not the only image problem Zeta-Jones faces. In Hollywood's now internationally accepted rules of what constitutes sexy, she can't match it with the svelte human mannequins with whom she battles for roles and red-carpet attention. She has the curves of a real woman, therefore in Hollywood terms she's fat. Catherine Eater Jones.

No wonder the scandal sheets have made so much of her alleged jealousy of Nicole Kidman's career.

"Cake-eating first lady of la-la land CZJ has ditched her agent in a foot-stamping tantrum of jealousy over ginger stalk Nic - according to Hollywood spies," began one recent report about Zeta-Jones's recent decision to change agents.

The gossip stated that Zeta-Jones dumped her long-time Hollywood agent George Freeman, of William Morris, at Douglas's suggestion because Douglas felt his wife should be getting the same kind of roles as Kidman.

"Nicole gets first look at every script, Catherine doesn't," one of those ubiquitous Hollywood insiders told the New York Post.

"Nicole and Catherine had similar careers until Nicole's divorce from Tom Cruise. Then audiences found her sympathetic. No one finds Catherine a very sympathetic character, or as likeable."

While perception and gossip may have created an image that is unfair to Zeta-Jones, she hasn't aided her own cause by her public pronouncements and actions.

She was furious when paparazzi shots of her were published just before the birth of her second child, daughter Cerys, a sister for toddler Dylan. Not only did the shots show her heavily pregnant and topless, but she also had a lit cigarette in her mouth. Not exactly an advertisement for healthy motherhood.

But nothing has damaged her more than the court case she and her husband instigated against British glossy magazine Hello! for publishing unauthorised photographs of their 2000 wedding in New York.

The media had a field day when she took to the stand in February last year to state her case, particularly when she objected to a Hello! picture that showed her new husband feeding her cake. "It looks like all I did was eat," she complained.

There was an equally outraged uproar when she suggested the 1 million ($2.4 million) the couple had negotiated from rival magazine OK! for the official wedding shots was merely loose change for people of their financial means.

"I get well compensated for my job and my husband has had a long career, financially successful, and it is a lot of money maybe to a lot of people in this room, but it is not that much to us," she told the court.

Predictably, the London tabloids loaded up their big guns and let rip.

The Daily Mirror ran a picture of Zeta-Jones with a baby's dummy attached to her mouth on its front page. "Pathetic Zeta squeals like a baby about privacy after flogging wedding for 1 million," the paper said.

The Sun, meanwhile, branded her "a pathetic whinger".

Far from being wounded by her day in court and her deflating "win" (the couple received only $34,600 for "emotional damages", a fraction of the $1.4 million they had sought, and may still face a hefty legal bill), Zeta-Jones has been putting her lawyers to good use elsewhere.

In November, just after the Hello! judgement was handed down, she decided to battle with several publications that had printed stories suggesting she had used the controversial Atkins diet to try to shed those ever-present extra kilos.

Via her attorneys, Zeta-Jones suggested the link had damaged her reputation and ability to sign future endorsement deals with health-related products.

"In essence, my client is being made to look as if she is more concerned about her outward appearance than she is with serious health concerns," said the letter, which was delivered to publications such as the New York Post and London's The Sunday Telegraph. "Nothing could be further from the truth."

Now Zeta-Jones is even risking her new-found status as official Welsh hero.

In the process of building a $2.43 million mansion in the Welsh coastal village of Mumbles, Zeta-Jones has already alienated her closest new neighbour by trying to stop him from running his telecommunications business from his garage.

Of the eight letters of objection received by Swansea Council, one came from lawyers representing Zeta-Jones's parents Dai and Pat stating that the business run by Steve Gwynn would "jeopardise the privacy and security" of his clients.

The council has allowed Mr Gwynn to keep running his business for two years. It is not known if he was one of the 85,000 people who voted Zeta-Jones into the Welsh top 100.

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