by Carrie-May Siggins
Scroll through the blog Crazy Days and Nights (CDAN) and you’ll find a number of innocuous items — red carpet photos of waving actors, well-worn bits of celebrity news. It seems as if the blog is made up of information you can find repeated elsewhere ad infinitum until you come across the nuggets of gossip gold: the blind items.
The anonymous blogger behind CDAN claims to be an in-the-know entertainment lawyer living in Beverly Hills — he signs his emails “Enty.” He posts first- and second-hand gossip about celebs while withholding their names and any obvious detail that might identify them. Because they are anonymous, the stories are often more salacious and drug-fueled than what you’d find in US Magazine, and as a result are extremely popular. Although Enty would later tell me, in an emailed interview, that he doesn’t keep track of the number of hits he gets, his blog is a clear beneficiary of the booming celebrity news industry. Enty claims not to make much money off his blog’s Google ads. But if public attention is a currency, Enty is getting very rich indeed. Among celebrity newshounds, he’s become a celebrity himself.
Fueled by sites like TMZ and Radar, the celebrity news industry, The New York Times reports, generates more than $3 billion a year, and a sizeable portion of that is derived from online traffic — TMZ alone attracts 8.7 million visits a month, according to Compete.com. Within this market, the most valuable commodity is exclusivity — publications will pay big bucks for first-hand information. As noted in that same Times piece, Dawn Holland, the woman who worked at the seemingly unbreachable Betty Ford Center, was paid ten thousand dollars for Lindsay Lohan’s files by both Radar and TMZ through a secret account set up by her lawyer. In 2007, TMZ purchased stolen photos from the main production office of the Steven Spielberg movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Ultimately, they decided against publishing them, reportedly after receiving a call from a Paramount attorney. But the transaction signaled to many in the media community the kind of game TMZ was going to play.
Often, celebrities set up the tents at their own circus. Many work hand in hand with the media outlets covering them to raise their public profile. As epitomized by Kim Kardashian’s highly profitable wedding, celebrity publicists may brainstorm with editors to fabricate the controversies or relationship developments that will bring the most attention to their clients.
Blind items are the black market of this gossip economy: they operate on the fringe of mainstream celebrity news. They are unverified, unpaid and are often the jotted-down whisperings of people who work closely with the celebs. The seeming authenticity of the gossip comes from its sources’ proximity to the film industry. As CDAN’s Enty told me, he never has to pay for information, and he gets much of it from other insiders in Hollywood.
Blind gossip is becoming so popular that many older gossip mags, like the National Enquirer are adding them to their sites. And “[s]ites that do depend on traffic for business have added blind items to their sites,” said. Enty.
After five years of writing his blog, Enty has developed a large network of people who work in different areas of the film industry. “I would say 80% of the items come from someone else as there are only so many places I can be every day,” says Enty. “Of that 80%, I would say 75% is solid stuff and the other 25% is so-so on trustworthiness.”
Although it took years as an entertainment lawyer to develop the network of eyes and ears that makes CDAN possible, Enty shrugs off any suggestion that the blog requires much effort. “It is not that hard. You just have to have a network of people. The juicier bits of course require knowing someone who is really tight with a subject, but, again, it is not that hard.”
But what gives blind items their shine of authenticity is also what renders them totally unreliable. Because they are single-sourced and anonymous, there is no way of knowing if they’re simply made-up. In other words, it’s the purest, most uncut form of gossip. There are accusations against Enty that he fabricates most of his blinds, a rumor in part fueled by the disclaimer on his site that it is a work of fiction. Not so, he says. “I never fabricate blind items. The disclaimer is because in some of my posts I include a lot of satire.” But one wonders if would really matter if he did.
Credit for the invention of the blind item is given to a man named Colonial William d’Alton Mann. After becoming a Civil War hero in the battle of Gettysburg, he made a fortune licensing an invention for an equipment-hauling rig to the US and Austrian armies. In 1891, his brother, who published the New York City society paper Town Topics, vanished after he discovered he was wanted on an obscenity charge. Mann, whose long white beard and shock of white hair made him a dead ringer for Santa, took over Town Topics and transformed it into one of the most notorious gossip rags ever published.
Colonel Mann’s written contribution to the paper was a column called “Saunterings,” a sharp, sardonic weekly piece about the goings on in high society, much of which he witnessed himself. He often kept his musings nameless, as with this example from February 3, 1893:
High society has been treated to a sorry spectacle of inebriety during the last two weeks at balls and dinners, and I am glad to say that this shocking example, though unfortunately a woman, is not an American, but a specimen of British aristocracy. … If Great Britain is to send us such specimens of her boasted aristocracy, I would advise society to entertain in camera and with a bread and water diet.
Although no one was named in these items, Colonel Mann devised an easily breakable code to help tip off readers. Flip over the piece of newsprint and directly on the other side of “Saunterings” one would find a tepid write-up about an act of charity by a member of the Sykes family, or a barely news-worthy piece about William Vanderbilt. Blind item solved.
Town Topics didn’t just make its money by printing juicy gossip — its editors also had one of the most elaborate blackmail schemes in publishing history. For example, Edwin A. Wall Main Post was approached with evidence of his “white apartment,” the place where he wined and dined his mistress. He was told to pay a large sum to the paper in exchange for a glowing piece about him in one of the paper’s supplements (which never saw the light of day). If he didn’t, another piece, on the front page and far from glowing, would be printed. The paper had been using this strategy for years. But Town Topics had chosen the wrong mark in Wall. Wall approached his wife Emily Post (yes, the same Emily Post who, ten years later, would write the consummate etiquette guide) and, together, they decided to go to the police, despite the fact that it meant public disclosure of the affair.
Enty has developed his own system of hint-giving, as have other sites like Ted Casablanca’s The Awful Truth and Blindgossip.com. For example, he recently asked which actress who was “foreign born B-list actress who has been nominated for one of the big awards” was caught doing drugs in a bathroom stall by a “teenage movie actress.” Many readers, posting their thoughts in the comments section, guessed the drug user to be Carey Mulligan. Those details — foreign-born, B-list, award-nominated — are the closest he can come to publishing the information without being sued for defamation. “I have received e-mails from lawyers for celebrities,” said Enty. But despite the threats, Enty is protected. “Comments are protected by free speech and guesses are opinions which are not defamation,” he wrote. “Just because people guess the right answer does not mean someone is liable. I would have to confirm their guess as accurate and be wrong myself before I would be liable.”
Hints are also telegraphed by wording choices in many blind items. Read something that includes “midnight,” “pale” and “teeth,” you have a pretty good sense of the franchise to which the item is referring.
Online speculation about Enty’s true identity ranges in guesses from “female blogger in Calgary” to “fiction writer in LA.” But, according to Enty, there are only a few people who accurately know who he is. “I would say there are about 20–25 people who know I write the site.” And of those, he says, one only one has threatened him face-to-face, a surprisingly low number given how much hate flows his way.
Enty receives a steady stream of angry email from publicists representing both the celebs the blind items were actually about as well as those who show up in the comments section as guesses. They have reason to be concerned. Once a celeb’s name is guessed often enough, it becomes a search engine result. Take actor Jake Gyllenhaal. Five years ago, Ted Casablanca started writing about a closeted Hollywood actor he refers to as “Toothy Tile .” In these items, Toothy comes across as a sad, repressed character, skulking around shopping mall parking lots looking for male prostitutes while allowing his handlers to determine his (hetero) relationships. If you Google “Gyllenhaal,” it takes a little while to get to a link to Toothy. But Google “Toothy Tile” and the first search result is “Jake Gyllenhaal is Toothy Tile.”
But not all publicists stress about blind items. Marlan Willardson, owner of MWPR, a Los Angeles-based public relations firm specializing in the entertainment industry, thinks that blind items are preferable to the outright fabrication in which many gossip mags engage. “I think people have a love-hate relationship with Ted [Casablanca],” says Willardson, “but that’s Hollywood. He’s certainly more responsible than someone who writes an outright lie connected directly to the celebrity.”
So why does Enty do it? Why does someone spend the time to develop networks that enable him to collect intimate information about people he doesn’t know? It may be that, despite his claims to not care about traffic, Enty has his sights on becoming the next TMZ — he recently created his own CDAN YouTube Channel . So far the channel seems to consist mainly of red-carpet interviews conducted by someone named Tom, who looks to be about 13. But Enty says it’s all just for fun. “I just post as a hobby. It is just something I enjoy doing.” Why does he enjoy it? “I just do.”
Carrie-May Siggins has spent the last couple of years writing for true crime TV and is currently working on a young adult novel.