Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Hilton Family

Hard to believe now but ten years ago, the Hiltons were regarded as just another “family next door” in fashionable Southampton summertimes. Family-next-door in that part of the world is not exactly Ozzie and Harriet or Leave It To Beaver from a socio-economic point of view, although there are many points in common with the so-called all-American family summertimes – school vacations, beach club, tennis and other outdoor sports, convertibles for the lucky ones, not to mention cheeseburgers and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. More apple-pie American than media might lead one to believe.

The Hiltons California background was nevertheless present — with their occasional weekend houseguests especially. Former baseball great Steve Garvey and his wife were weekend visitors. And during the days of the OJ Simpson trial, occasionally Faye Resnick (remember Faye Resnick, intimate friend of Nicole Simpson?) was occasionally in residence, adding a little dash of Hollywood to the sniff and stiff-upperlip Southampton atmosphere.

Unlike most of their Southampton (and Manhattan) neighbors, fame, celebrity and even notoriety have always been part of the Hilton family name and legend. Rick Hilton’s father Barron Hilton is one of the most famous businessmen in America. His grandfather (great-grandfather to Nicky and Paris) Conrad Hilton was not only the most famous American hotelier of his time – both the Waldorf-Astoria and the Plaza were part of the Hilton chain) but was once married another decades-long tabloidal celebrity and glamour-puss, Zsa Zsa Gabor. Zsa’s daughter (and only child) Francesca Hilton is actually great-aunt of Paris and Nicky. Another son of Conrad, another Nicky Hilton, gained early celebrity in the early 1950s as the first husband of Elizabeth Taylor (they married when she was 18 and he was in his early 20s). He came to an untimely and tragic death at a very early age.

In retrospect, it was little less than ten years ago that the girls – Nicky and Paris, and especially Paris – began getting a toe-hold on their own celebrity (albeit locally) during those Southampton summertimes, with their early and occasional forays into the club scene where photographers were snapping and the playgirls and playboys were hard-partying big time. In those days Paris gave the impression of being just another one of those teenagers who liked the limelight – and she was only one of several. No one could have/would have predicted what followed for the sisters.

As their publicity machine gathered its phenomenal momentum in the late 1990s, however, and as Paris stepped out into the nightlife (and the limelight) more, the tongues were wagging, with few, if anyone thinking or seeing the potential of a professional career for the lithesome blonde and her equally photogenic, if somewhat more circumspect sister. Almost no one perceived the obvious — what I pointed out in television interviews (and which are still running ad nauseum) — that this was a family affair and that they were a close-knit family. Which they are. Families that play together stay together ...

All that is history now. Television ratings have taken over the dictates of what is now a budding acting career of Paris. Nicky has dyed her hair brown in an apparent effort to maintain her own individuality. Momma and Poppa, Kathy embarked on her own reality TV show. The Southampton-Manhattan life is less of a staple in their social world as they are moving closer and closer to their original L.A. roots. Rick has a prospering real estate business (which he’s had for years) out there (and here) and Kathy, once a child actress now has revived and re-invented an earlier career for herself, as well as guiding a career for Paris.

Tabloidal notoriety which has often kept the cell-phones buzzing about the Hiltons, particularly Paris, has proved to be the same old reliable that is was for the erstwhile great-step-mama Zsa Zsa and that once upon time auntie, the one and only star of all stars, Elizabeth. Meanwhile, back in Hollywood, bling-bling and ka-ching ka-ching are the sounds surrounding Southampton’s former next-door neighbors, the Hiltons.