of Celebrity Skin
David Hans Schmidt, named in the Colin Farrell lawsuit, makes celebrity porn his very successful business.
By Robert W. Welkos, Times Staff Writer
If you don't know, it probably means you are (a) not an exhibitionistic celebrity or (b) not in possession of sexy images of one.
Over the last decade, Schmidt has emerged as one of the nation's leading brokers of celebrity porn, the man who negotiated the sale of Tonya Harding's wedding-night sex video; arranged for Paula Jones, the former Arkansas state employee who sued Bill Clinton for sexual harassment, to pose in the buff in Penthouse magazine; and was the behind-the-scenes wheeler-dealer who obtained topless shots of rescued U.S. Army POW Pfc. Jessica Lynch and nude photos of Amber Frey, the star prosecution witness in the Scott Peterson double murder trial, and then tried to peddle them to Hustler magazine's Larry Flynt.
When a cache of explicit photographs of Oscar-winning actor Jamie Foxx turned up in May — a workman claims to have found them in a Dumpster outside Foxx's Las Vegas home — guess who got ahold of them? (Schmidt later negotiated an agreement to voluntarily return them to litigator-to-the-stars Martin D. Singer, and the two sealed the deal by posing for a photograph shaking hands. Ironically, Singer is now suing Schmidt over the Farrell sex video.)
Schmidt also tried to broker a deal this year involving a pornographic video featuring musician Fred Durst, lead singer of Limp Bizkit. The video was posted on the Internet after computer hackers — who had removed the clips from Durst's computer — backed out of negotiations.
A Phoenix publicist and agent, Schmidt says he relishes his role as a peddler of Hollywood sleaze. "Somebody has to make the deals," he says. "I'm the CAA of smarm." As such, he occupies a position close to the heart of America's twin obsessions — porn and celebrity in the Internet age.
Sal Abate, owner of Phoenix-based Internet Commerce Group, which operates various porn websites like femalecelebrities.com and malecelebrities.com, calls Schmidt the "go-to guy" for deals involving celebrity sex videos and nude photos of the stars. ICG's marketing director, Paul Nash, was named as a defendant in Farrell's lawsuit along with Schmidt and Narain.
In Farrell's suit, attorney Singer calls the defendants' attempts to cash in on the screen star's private video an "outrageous attempt to capitalize on the celebrity of … Colin Farrell."
High-profile attorney Aaron Moss, who has represented such stars as Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and Dustin Hoffman, calls the trafficking in celebrity porn "not only in poor taste but also legally actionable."
"Celebrities often give up some aspects of their private lives by virtue of being public figures, but this does not mean that unscrupulous businessmen have the right to make money by exploiting a celebrity's most intimate moments," Moss said. "For celebrities who have worked very hard to cultivate a particular image, this is just plain and simply being ripped off for somebody's else's profit."
Porn website operators like Abate defend what they do, arguing that they are like any other news organizations. If a website posts photos — even nude ones — from a movie and also provides reviews or other news items about that film, he said, then that format is newsworthy and legally protected. "If you're just posting photos," Abate noted, "that is not newsworthy."
Besides, he says, not all celebrities are outraged by having their raunchy private moments splashed in public.
"When I started in the business back in 1995, there were a lot of celebrities who were concerned that the websites were making money off their names and images," Abate said. "Through the years, we've been contacted by celebrities who demanded that we remove the photos and cease and desist. But now celebrities are using nudity to further their careers. When a celebrity does a nude scene, it's amazing how many people want to see that scene.
"A perfect example is the Paris Hilton sex tape. Before the tape came out, you kind of knew there were two Hilton twins. Now, she's one of the biggest stars in Hollywood with new movies and her own television show. So celebrities now feel that this Internet thing is not hurting them. Now, if they have a nude scene, the stars are realizing [porn websites] are helping their careers."
Abate noted that his porn websites attract 250 million hits a day and between 100 and 300 people sign up as new members daily, agreeing to plunk down between $29.95 and $39.95 a month to access photo galleries for members only.
Abate said that Hollywood studios usually don't come after porn websites for posting clips of their movies because, in their own way, these websites help promote the movies.
He noted that recently there was a flurry of interest among members of his porn websites to see nude scenes of actress Christina Ricci that were taken off the DVD of her latest film, "Prozac Nation."
Hustler's Flynt said celebrity sex has mushroomed into a "multimillion-dollar business" and noted that the value of naked celebrities goes up in direct relation to the "icon status" of the person involved.
"You could sell more nude photos of the queen of England than you could of [actress-model] Cindy Crawford," Flynt said. He recalled that Hustler scored one of the biggest coups in publishing history in August 1975 when the men's magazine published revealing photos of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis shot by paparazzi while she sunbathed on a Greek island, much to the Kennedy family's embarrassment.
"We sold 3 million copies of that issue and went back to press on three different occasions after that," Flynt recalled. "If you're a public figure, you're fair game. You give up any right to privacy."
But attorney Moss said the courts have not enforced Flynt's view that all celebrities are "fair game."
"If you make movies and appear in public, that gives the paparazzi the right to take your picture on a public street, but if you have personal photographs or videotapes, you do have a sphere of privacy," he said. "As long as you keep certain things private, people will not legally be able to touch them."
publicist and agent David Hans Schmidt
Two years ago, Schmidt provided Flynt with snapshots of Jessica Lynch romping topless at Ft. Bliss, Texas, taken in the days before she shipped out to Iraq. Lynch, later captured by Iraqi soldiers and freed by fellow U.S. soldiers, returned home to a hero's welcome. Flynt ultimately decided not to run the photos, telling the Associated Press in 2003 that "you gotta do the right thing."
"Larry Flynt announced he had the pictures and we announced we were disgusted by it," recalled Stephen Goodwin, Lynch's attorney.
"Sex sells," said attorney Gloria Allred, who represents Frey, who posed for nude photos when she was 24. Those photos came back to haunt her during the Scott Peterson double-murder trial when she took the stand as a key prosecution witness. Frey's lawyers obtained a federal court injunction barring Schmidt from posting the photos on his website, arguing that she'd never consented to their release.
"So whether it's sex on a videotape or just nude photos, there's a market for it. But I would say 'Buyer beware' because I think it's really important that people in show business known that unless there is a written consent, a legitimate written consent, by a person who was able to give their consent, then they should not purchase those photos."
Tall, buff (he begins his day with a 30-minute weight lift followed by 30 minutes of swimming 25-meter sprints), with a mustache and goatee, Schmidt, 45, is an unrepentant name-dropper who several times during an interview with The Times mentioned how he hoped that director Steven Spielberg would read this story.
When a twentysomething waitress arrived to take his lunch order, Schmidt exuded the charm of a lounge lizard.
"What do you have for Chardonnay?" he asked her. Glancing at the menu and then back up at her, he added: "I want something soft and buttery. Something kind of like your soft brown eyes and golden hair. Kind of that buttery. You pick it out." He later handed her his business card and asked if she has ever considered modeling. She beamed and promised that she would get back to him.
He carries a fresh stack of business cards at all times as he does a thick billfold containing numerous business cards encased in plastic. All the private phone numbers he says he'll ever need are contained on those cards, including those of Larry Flynt; Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione; Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio; and Joe Garagiola Jr., general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team.
"Dave's kind of an interesting person," said Sheriff Arpaio. "He's been in my jails." Indeed, Schmidt spent months behind bars as a result of a custody battle he waged with the mother of his two young daughters, Kelsey and Kassidy.
Schmidt hails from Rochester, Minn., majored in philosophy and English at private Augsberg College in Minneapolis, and later moved to Arizona, where he worked briefly as a newspaper reporter before landing a job as press secretary to scandal-plagued former Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham.
Schmidt said his foray into celebrity sex began in 1992 when he was walking through a drugstore one night and noticed a photo of Gennifer Flowers staring out from the tabloid Star.
"I see her beautiful blond face and her cleavage and I remember hearing on the radio that she got $125,000 to do a kiss-and-tell story about Bill Clinton …," Schmidt recalled. Schmidt claims he contacted Flowers through her attorney and subsequently negotiated a deal for her to pose in Penthouse.
Schmidt's website, hansnews.com, touts similar deals with a bevy of celebrities, including Tonya Harding, Paula Jones and Darva Conger, who became famous overnight with her stint on the reality show "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?"
But some say Schmidt likes to thrust himself into the limelight, whether he deserves it or not.
Conger's manager, Kevin Allyn, said he, not Schmidt, negotiated the deal for Conger to take off her clothes for the June 2000 issue of Playboy.
"He contacted me and wanted to do something but we were already down the road, so there was nothing to be done," Allyn said. "I just told him, 'Thanks for the call.' "
Schmidt said his business relies on contacts who alert him to whenever a celebrity's sex video or nude photos are about to come on the market.
"I've got reporters and editors and producers kind of on, if you will, payroll," he said. "I throw them a bone. They pay me something, I throw them a bone."
"He is a character,"
attorney Singer said of Schmidt, and one that does not shy from publicity.
"When we tried to serve him [with the Farrell lawsuit], he left a
voice message that said, 'I am staying at Hotel X, in Room 0…. I
hope you find me.' "
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