Monday, January 28, 2008

Hollywood writers turn to Plan B: the novel

Back-burner literary projects move to the forefront as the strike continues.

Mark Haskell Smith
Writer Mark Haskell Smith, screenwriter and novelist is able to continue work on his novels during the WGA strike.

By Marc Weingarten
Special to The Times

January 28, 2008

As the writers strike drags on, there's at least one small corner of the industry that hasn't been grinding to a halt over the last months: literary departments at the major talent agencies, which are getting inundated with book proposals and story ideas for novels from out-of-work screenwriters.

"Some of our writers who have ideas but never had the time are turning to their book projects," said Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, an executive vice president of the William Morris Agency's literary department.

Lydia Wills at Paradigm agreed that "back-burner projects" are now getting more attention, noting a surge in "book pitches and novel writing" among her agency's Hollywood clientele.

But although the strike has given screenwriters who've long had novels percolating in their heads the impetus to finally get the darn things written, there's also a cruel reality: Because book fees are small change compared with the big payoff of a Hollywood script, it's a treacherous hedge, a gamble on something that might not even cover one month's rent, let alone a house note.

Most are undeterred. Screenwriter Mark Haskell Smith ("Playing God," "The Inheritance") is using the downtime as an excuse to get his fourth novel finished. There may not be a big check waiting for him, but he's content that the tome will at least find its way to bookstores. He turned to fiction, after all, because he didn't want to see another good spec script languish.

"I had an idea for a movie," he said. "I thought rather than hear an executive tell me that the writing was good but the story was too dark, I would just write a book instead. I didn't want another rejected script."

Besides, Smith said, it's not like there are any guarantees for screenwriters, strike or no strike. "The job market for screenwriters has shrunk dramatically over the last few years," he said. "I've been hot, then not, then hot again."

A fan of the novelists Donald Westlake and Ross Thomas, Smith writes in the "comic noir" genre. "Moist," the story of an employee in a pathology lab who falls in love with a woman on the tattoo of a severed arm, was published by Grove Press in 2001, and he's had two subsequent novels, also published by Grove.

"The Writers Guild is gonna kill me for saying this, but a script is nothing more than a blueprint for a film," he said. "It's a road map and can't stand on its own; it needs others to make it a movie. Books are more holistic. They're less about plot and more about character, emotions, nuance. It's refreshing to just write about people for a change."

Screenwriter Wesley Strick ("Doom," "Arachnophobia") is using the strike to work on his second novel. "I write in the morning and picket in the afternoon," he said. Although his scripts pay the bills, he enjoys the process of writing fiction, the discursive nature of the storytelling.

"As a screenwriter, you're always looking for things to cut," Strick said. "Scripts are all about economy and forward momentum, whereas novels can be big, baggy receptacles for a story. When I go back to screenwriting, I feel like I've been put back in my cage."

A former advertising copy writer, Jim Jennewein has written the films "Richie Rich," "The Flintstones" and "Getting Even With Dad" with his partner Tom S. Parker. But even for a successful writer like Jennewein, the "spin cycle" of endless story meetings, dumb notes and production green lights that turn to red has taken its toll on his muse.

"The process is less than satisfying," said Jennewein, who grew up loving the adventure stories of Jack London. "You get tired and burned out, and I always wanted to write novels anyway." So Jennewein and Parker are focusing on a trilogy of books for the young-adult market. Tentatively titled "Rune Warriors," the series, which will be published by HarperCollins, is a Viking saga that Jennewein describes as a mix of Harry Potter and "The Princess Bride," "with a little 'Python' thrown in."

Like Smith's "Moist," "Rune Warriors" was plucked from an old script idea that Jennewein and Parker had. Since the strike started, they've hunkered down to finish the second and possibly third volumes.

"Authorial ownership of the words just doesn't happen with screenwriters," Jennewein said. "Everyone treats it [the script] as a suggestion, while writing fiction is a pure form of expression. There's no one to interpret the words from the writer to the reader."

Still, the transition from writing action slug lines to smooth literary prose can be bumpier than a jump-cut in a Tarantino film. According to book agent Mary Evans, the fact that a screenwriter has written a manuscript has no bearing on whether his or her book will have even a modicum of writerly competence.

"Oftentimes, you shudder when a screenwriter sends you a novel, because they tend to be strong with dialogue but crappy with context, and novels are all about creating the proper context for the story," said Evans, whose clients include Smith and Michael Chabon. "Screenwriters are attracted to novel writing because they can let their freak flag fly and just write what they want, but the truly talented novelist-slash-screenwriter is very rare."

Then there's the money, which is generally lousy, with a few exceptions (such as Tom Wolfe's recently announced $7-million advance). Smith was paid what can be charitably called a low five-figure advance for his first novel, and his payout has hovered around that level since. "If your previous novel didn't sell, the publisher isn't inclined to give you a bigger advance."

To pay the bills, he's been teaching and helping edit a custom-published magazine. There are also occasional copy-writing gigs.

"I feel really lucky that I have a book agent and a publisher who believe in me and I can still keep writing the stories I want to tell, even if it means I have to pick up other jobs to supplement my income," Smith said. "But it's not easy. That's the truth."

There's also the small matter of time. Scripts can gestate quickly, sometimes within weeks. A novel can take years to write, and even then it may only be a first draft. "It takes me two years just to get the manuscript into good enough shape for my agent and editor to look at," Smith said.

The hope is the books will eventually find a large audience, and Smith, Jennewein, Strick and their like will make a decent living from that sweat equity. "My editor tells me that it took Carl Hiaasen six books before he hit, and Elmore Leonard waited 30 books into his career," Smith said.

In the end it may be Hollywood that helps him sell books -- a couple of producers have optioned "Moist" for Barry Sonnenfeld to direct. "You don't make a lot of money in publishing unless you're wildly successful," Jennewein said. "But it's freed us of the shackles of one medium and opened up another."

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Publisher Defends Tom Cruise Biographer Andrew Morton
January 19, 2008

New York, NY - The publisher of Tom Cruise's unauthorized biographer , Andrew Morton, is backing him up. St. Martin's Press think the Top Gun actor and Scientology's lawsuit against the author is "unfortunate."

"In the two years that we have worked with Andrew Morton on this book, we have been deeply impressed by his commitment to going beyond the rumors to get the facts that would enable him to paint a balanced and accurate portrait of such an enigmatic public figure," the publishing company tells

Cruise has threatened to file a $100 million lawsuit against the publisher and Morton, who claims in his book, Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography, that Cruise's wife, Katie Holmes, had "auditioned" for the position of being his girlfriend, beating out Jessica Alba, Scarlett Johansson, and Kate Bosworth.

The book also claims that Holmes had signed a $3-million pre-nup agreement among other assertions.

"It is unfortunate that lawyers for both Mr. Cruise and Scientology have felt the need to threaten us with legal action at every step of the way," the publisher continues.

"While the book has been variously accused of being too scandalous and not scandalous enough, we believe that those who take the time to read it will find a consistently fair - and consistently fascinating - portrait of the real Tom Cruise.

Tom Cruise's United Front
By Natalie Finn
Fri, 18 Jan 2008

Who wouldn't want Paula Wagner in his camp?

Tom Cruise's United Artists partner lashed out Friday at Andrew Morton and the author's new Unauthorized Biography of her longtime friend, which is supposedly riddled with falsehoods about Cruise and Scientology, calling the tome a "disgraceful piece of gossipmongering."

Morton's book is "filled with distortions and outright lies that no sensible person will take seriously," Wagner said in a statement. "I am not a Scientologist, nor are most of the people Tom and I work with, but that doesn't mean I can sit by silently while he is attacked for his religious beliefs.

"As a filmmaker and an American, I feel strongly that an individual's religion should have no bearing on their professional life."

Thanks to the previous controversy that has swirled around Cruise's involvement with Scientology for the past couple of years, Morton's tell-all has been garnering all sorts of attention—especially from Cruise's legal camp, which is standing by.

The Jerry Maguire star's attorney, Bert Fields, called the work "a bunch of tired old lies about Tom and his religion." He characterized passages about the conception of Cruise and Katie Holmes' daughter Suri as "sick and bizarre."

And while Morton's publisher, St. Martin's Press, said it stood by the author and his book, the Church of Scientology wasted little time alerting the public that Morton conducted his research without its help.

"For the last two years, the Church of Scientology requested to be interviewed or be presented with any allegations so we could respond," read a statement released Wednesday. "Morton refused despite our insistence in offering our cooperation. At no time did he request interviews nor did he attempt to get any information from us."

Morton, meanwhile, has pointed out pages in his book that refer directly to attempts to contact the Church, a possible protection if any lawsuit arises.

And Morton's book isn't the only Scientology-related ephemera out there that have Cruise's camp in a tizzy.

Wagner's shout-out comes a few days after a video shot in 2004, depicting Cruise discussing the ins and outs of Scientology, hit Defamer and Gawker, providing instant ammunition for those looking to take comical aim at Cruise's M.O.

"I have always believed that Americans celebrated these differences, and to see the vitriol that has been directed toward my friend is truly discouraging," Wagner's statement continued. "It's easy to mock an out-of-context video, but that doesn't change the fact that Tom Cruise is one of the hardest working and nicest human beings I have ever known."

In the video, in which the Mission: Impossible theme plays in the background, Cruise says that Scientology, which is "something you have to earn," can "create new and better realities and improve conditions."

While that's just a sampling of the insight Cruise provides, he may have provided an explanation as to why there was a period a few years ago during which there seemed to be a glut of news reports featuring Cruise saving someone from being trampled in a crowd or otherwise harmed.

Superhero? Not exactly.

"Being a Scientologist, when you drive past an accident, it's not like everyone else," Cruise says on the tape. "If you drive past, you know you have to do something about it, because you know you're the only one that can really help. That's what drives me, is that I know we have an opportunity to really help for the first time and effectively change people's lives.

"I'm absolutely, uncompromisingly dedicated to that."

And the Church of Scientology is now absolutely dedicated to making sure this video is excommunicated.

In a letter to and requesting that the video be taken down, the Church's legal camp writes that Cruise's tape was recorded for educational purposes only and meant for Church business and activities alone.

The tape was stolen from the Church, and Gawker's use of the video amounts to copyright infringement and receipt of stolen property, wrote an attorney for the Church.

The Website, meanwhile, maintains it has broken no laws and is fully within its rights as a news disseminator and has refused to yank the video, which was originally posted on YouTube.

"We are using this video in the context of news reporting and critical commentary, which are uses that may not be authorized by your client, but which serve the public interest," an attorney for Gawker Media wrote. "For this, and other reasons, we believe our use is fair."

Their legal exchange is handily posted on
Wendy McCaw, the film

creditThe documentary "Citizen McCaw" bills itself as "the story of an epic struggle for the soul of journalism."

It will debut in Santa Barbara on March 7, assuming it isn't blocked by lawyers for News-Press owner Wendy McCaw.

The film's producers — five Santa Barbara residents with film experience — have received four letters from McCaw lawyers and an attempt at a subpoena of all raw footage, a demand that was rejected by a judge.

The producers hope to raise funds through the premiere to pay for production costs and, I'd guess, lawyers.

The evening includes a Q&A with the filmmakers.

Tickets go on sale Friday.

The poster is available for download at the film's website.

From the flackage:

The film chronicles events since July 2006, when editor Jerry Roberts and five of his colleagues quit the Santa Barbara News-Press, citing owner and Co-publisher Wendy McCaw's abandonment of journalistic ethics, which McCaw denied. Since then, McCaw and dozens of her former staffers have been engaged in a fierce clash of wills that raises important national questions of journalistic ethics and media ownership.

McCaw’s attorneys assert that she alone can decide how news is covered. The other side, represented by journalists and community leaders, says that journalism is a public trust, asserting that the publisher must keep out of the news operation.

The film chronicles the twists and turns of community protests, legal maneuverings, a union vote, child pornography charges, a 25% decline in circulation, a noticeable drop in the paper's coverage of local news and issues, and numerous other events, including a surprise ruling in early January 2008, when a federal labor law judge found that McCaw's paper had violated federal law by firing six of her reporters for pro union activities.

The paper is appealing the ruling.

Citizen McCaw Premieres March 7, 2008 at 7:30PM at the Arlington Theatre, Santa Barbara, California. 805.963.4408

Dolly Parton Celebrates Another Year of Growth

The fab Dolly Parton turned 62 (!) today.

No report, however, on how old her breasts are.

They don't look a day over 30.

Gene Simmons fired from Celebrity Apprentice

Gene SimmonsKiss frontman Gene Simmons has got the boot from The US Celebrity Apprentice. Businessman Donald Trump fired the rock star after he took over as leader of the women’s team - and failed to help them win the weekly challenge.

The singer showed no emotion as Trump told him to pack his bags and simply said: “I respect your decision.” But he blasted the female Apprentice team and claimed they stood no chance of winning the competition.

“In their present form the ladies don’t stand a popcorn fart chance of even shining the guys’ shoes,” he snorted. Simmons, 58, took over the girls’ side after they went 2-0 down in the weekly tasks. The two teams were told to come up with a way of marketing Kodak’s Easy Share printer - and sell the equipment to the general public. The ladies looked to have it in the bag after the men spilt a cup of coffee onto a computer and lost all their artwork. The mishap occurred as Lennox Lewis, Tito

Ortiz and Stephen Baldwin climbed down from a table and accidentally tipped the furniture up in the air.

But Kodak executives were less than impressed with Simmons’ selling strategy and named the boys’ team the winner. After the singer close Jennie Finch and Carol Alt to face the chop with him, Trump said he had no choice but to fire Simmons.

There's A Mike Ovitz Sucker Born Every Minute

So now Michael Ovitz is bringing his "I see into the future" carnival act to the digital crowd who, unbelievable as it sounds, is still impressed with his one-time moniker as "The Most Powerful Man in Hollywood."

You have to wonder if these prospective partners (see invitation below) know that most of Ovitz's past partners from Hollywood, Broadway, Wall Street, Madison Avenue and sports (to name just a few areas) despise him now.

Or that billionaire Ron Burkle is suing Ovitz for refusing to live up to his financial obligations in various Internet ventures. I guess there's a sucker born every minute where Mike is concerned:

I would like to invite you to a VIP event that is being hosted by Michael Ovitz at his office in Santa Monica.

Here's the deal: I'm helping to create a new network in LA, alongside Dealmaker Media, one of Silicon Valley's most connected networks.

We are focused on linking L.A.'s key industry dealmakers with the venture community and the most promising technology startups in Southern California.

You probably know that L.A. is now 2nd in the nation in technology investment to Silicon Valley. But unlike Silicon Valley, we simply don't have the community and cohesion that has churned out some of the most prolific technology companies in the world.

We've got all the elements of becoming a regional powerhouse: capital, talent, innovation, and commitment: the only thing we're missing is a strong insider network that spawns deal flow.

Put January 23rd, 2008, on your calendar and RSVP below to kick-off Dealmaker Media L.A.,our newest and most exciting technology network.

Join our generous host Michael Ovitz along with:

Mike Jones, Userplane/AOL
Peter Pham, Photobucket
Nicole Jordan, Rubicon Project
Debbie Landa, Dealmaker Media
Hale Boggs, Manatt Phelps and Phillips
William Quigley, Clearstone Venture Partners
Mark Suster, GRP Partners
Dana Settle, Greycroft Partners
Tim Chang, Norwest Venture Partners
Jeff Yapp, MTV Networks
Brian Solis, FutureWorks PR

Thank you to our founding sponsors: Clearstone Venture Partners, Manatt Phelps and Phillips, and GRP Partners for making this network possible. And thank you to Michael Ovitz and his restaurant Hamasaku for supplying the space and catering.

The Art Of The 'To' Line

Picture 94

People, use the bcc field of an email window so recipients can't see everybody else's address.

Unless, like Susan Estrich, one of Fox News' token liberal commentators, you need to display connections.

She just sent out a personal press release to about 200 friends, TV pundits, celebrities, and neglected to hide their email addresses.

Ah, I get it now: this is the old people's version of a showy friends list on Facebook.

Sycophantic touch, by the way, putting Roger Ailes, her boss at Fox News, at the top of the list.

Does Estrich have any idea of the contempt with which the former Nixon aide regards those crippled liberals he puts up to debate to their death the cable news network's right-wing gladiators?

USC law prof joins Quinn Emanuel

Sestrich LOS ANGELES — Susan Estrich, law and political science professor at the University of Southern California, will join Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges as of counsel in its Los Angeles office.

Estrich, who is a legal and political analyst for the Fox News Channel, was appointed to serve on the National Holocaust Council and Los Angeles' City Ethics Commission. A frequent opinion columnist, Estrich is the author of several books, including "Sex and Power" and, more recently, "The Case for Hillary Clinton."

She was the first woman president of the Harvard Law Review and, as the campaign manager of then-Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis' 1988 presidential bid, the first woman to head a national presidential campaign.

Estrich is a former Harvard colleague of Kathleen Sullivan, the former dean of Stanford Law School and a partner in the New York and Silicon Valley offices of Los Angeles-based Quinn Emanuel.

Magazine says AP working on Britney obit
‘We are not wishing it ... we would have to be prepared,’ editor says

MSNBC News Services
Fri., Jan. 18, 2008 is reporting that The Associated Press has begun preparing Britney Spears’ obituary.

“We are not wishing it, but if Britney passed away, it’s easily one of the biggest stories in a long time,” AP entertainment editor Jesse Washington tells the magazine.

“I think one would agree that Britney seems at risk right now,” Washington says. “Of course, we would never wish any type of misfortune on anybody and hope that we would never have to use it until 50 years from now ... but if something were to happen, we would have to be prepared.”

Washington also tells Us that the AP has a “pretty extensive obituary operation,” and that staffers are “constantly adding people.”

It’s not uncommon for news organizations to have obituaries prepared for celebrities and other high-profile individuals, but they are generally much older than the 26-year-old Spears.


Tom Cruise is GOD !!!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Paparazzi are their focus

After some high-profile incidents, law enforcement agencies are cracking down on celebrity photographers.

Media surround a black SUV carrying Britney Spears outside the Los Angeles County Superior courthouse Jan. 14.

By Andrew Blankstein
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

January 18, 2008

As paparazzi become ever more competitive in their quest for the perfect tabloid photo, complaints about their tactics are intensifying. regularly places stationary video cameras in front of celebrity hot spots such as the Urth Caffe and the Ivy, streaming live on the Internet in hopes of catching the comings and goings of stars.

Paparazzi who follow Britney Spears 24/7 got into a high-speed chase with the pop star late Wednesday night in the San Fernando Valley, prompting police to arrest four photographers on suspicion of reckless driving.

And when Spears was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center two weeks ago, so many photographers, celebrity reporters and onlookers crowded the hospital entrance that patients and hospital staff had trouble getting through.

In response, Los Angeles law enforcement officials are beginning to crack down.

"Their numbers -- and aggressiveness -- have grown exponentially," said Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore, who cited a case this week in which West Hollywood sheriff's deputies were called to a gym after paparazzi brought traffic on Melrose Avenue to a standstill as they jostled to photograph Jessica Alba.

Both the Sheriff's Department and the Los Angeles Police Department have begun keeping a running record of complaints about paparazzi, including names and the agencies that employ problem photographers. The Sheriff's Department has even started photographing some celebrity photographers, hoping to document bad behavior.

The LAPD is developing its own "zero tolerance" policy, using the state vehicle code and traffic and loitering laws to cite photographers who block traffic and lay siege to neighborhoods.

LAPD commanders are also planning to use undercover officers to stake out popular paparazzi hangouts -- such as restaurants and nightclubs -- documenting what goes on and building cases against photographers who break the law. The violations could be minor, such as having illegally tinted windows or not having license plates (a tactic some photographers use to avoid being identified).

On Monday, the LAPD warned celebrity photo agencies that officers would be out in force at Spears' custody hearing at the downtown civil courthouse, promising to arrest anyone who disrupted traffic, blocked sidewalks or interfered with court business.

Law enforcement officials have long expressed concerns about paparazzi, particularly a newer breed of highly aggressive photographers who follow some big stars wherever they go. The market for such photos has increased significantly in recent years as Internet gossip sites have come on the scene, competing for images with the traditional tabloids and celebrity magazines.

Two years ago, the West Hollywood sheriff's station would usually receive one complaint about paparazzi a week. Now, Whitmore said, it sometimes receives several complaints a day -- not just from celebrities but also from business owners, residents and others who feel trampled by the crush of photographers.

"Eventually, someone is going to get hurt. I want to throw a rubber mannequin at them one day just to freak them out," said Liseth Wesley, manager of the Paige boutique on celebrity-filled Robertson Boulevard.

Some celebrity outlets are finding creative new ways to get ahead of the paparazzi swarm. Whitmore said the Sheriff's Department recently learned that was placing a Web camera on a tripod across the street from the Urth Caffe, where celebrities are known to hang out at outdoor tables on Melrose Avenue.

Harvey Levin, executive producer at, said that any suggestion that TMZ was invading privacy by placing a camera on a sidewalk was "absurd." "We're on the sidewalk shooting in a public area, the way 100 other media outlets do. We never invade privacy."

Sheriff's officials said they told the website needed to pay a $35 fee to place the camera on the street.

Urth Caffe founder Shallom Berkman strongly supports the crackdown, saying his restaurant has become overrun with photographers.

"They run right through the cafe," he said. "It's like we're invisible. It hurts our business and makes it uncomfortable for celebrities and patrons to enjoy."

Berkman said his employees noticed the TMZ camera across the street and immediately called sheriff's deputies, saying it was an invasion of his customers' privacy. "They did it without permission," he said. "It really shocked me -- the lack of respect."

Deputy Police Chief Kenneth Garner said he was alarmed by the scene outside Cedars-Sinai Medical Center when Spears arrived there two weeks ago.

A group of paparazzi chased the ambulance from Spears' home in Studio City, and within an hour photographers and reporters were camped at the hospital's entrance. Similar scenes have occurred in recent weeks, including after actor Dennis Quaid's twin babies were given an overdose of the drug heparin.

Garner vowed there would be no repeats of the chaos. Once paparazzi step over the line -- onto private property at hospitals or businesses -- they will be subject to arrest on trespassing or loitering charges.

"At the end of the day, it's a hospital, not a filming studio," Garner said.

Francois Navarre, co-owner of the X-17 online photo agency, said he agreed the paparazzi scene was getting wilder but stressed that many photographers try to obey the rules.

"It's a circus, and some people don't know what to expect and what to do," he said. "There are so many cameras around here that there are no more scoops to get."

Navarre also noted that it's not just celebrity photographers who are creating the maelstrom.

"We are covering news stories now at the courts, the hospitals and restaurants when 60 people were photographing" Spears, he said. "It's not just paparazzi; it's news agencies like Reuters, AP, KABC and even fans with cameras."

Frank Griffin, a paparazzo and co-owner of the Bauer-Griffin Agency, said he thought police should crack down on those breaking the law -- but that the rules need to apply both to the celebrity agencies and the mainstream press.

"Are they going to selectively enforce the law, or are they going to go after everyone, including the mainstream news gatherers who are part of the same feeding frenzy?" Griffin asked.

Tom Cruise Uncut: The Freedom Medal Award Ceremony

Yesterday's ten minutes of Tom Cruise madness? Tip of the proverbial iceberg, SPs. The entire hour-long video, as the boss pointed out, has been passing between journos and Scientology critics for a while now. And someone sent us the whole director's cut. Attached, a couple clips from the ceremony honoring Tom Cruise's official Freedom Medal Of Valor (for Achievement in the Field of Excellence). Tom Cruise, as you'll see, destroyed the field of psychiatry itself, fought government oppression, and spread incomprehensible jargon across the entire world. Go ahead and cancel the Oscars, we'll happily watch this.

"If a Scientologist is a street sweeper, it is his responsibility to apply Scientology to his zone, and whoever he may interact with, and no, it's not an option," Scientology head David Miscavige explains. "When you stepped on the path and had your first cognition, you also stepped on the path to carry it forth."

"Every move translates to countless impressions," the movie trailer voice-over guy insists in his Tom Cruise intro. Did you know that every time you catch a minute of Mission Impossible on basic cable, you are being indoctrinated? It's true! Or at least the Church of Scientology rather wishes it was true.

You needn't watch all of the attached clips, but each one contains its own brilliant mixture of nonsensical jargon and discomfiting examples of the reach, power, and money of these legitimized Raelians.

Tom Cruise rescued America after 9/11. He saved all the firefighters with 9/11 cough! And he didn't ask permission.

Then, with the help of the Education Department's chief of staff and the FDA, Tom Cruise got Paxil banned. All by himself. And his embarrassing media tour where everyone learned that Cruise would like all the psychologists in the world jailed? That was good: 50 million people were made aware of the crimes of psychology. 5,000 people hear his word of Scientology every hour.

The video makes a damn good case for Tom Cruise being, if not Scientology's "number 2", definitely its most important emissary.

"So whattya say, should we clean this place up," Tom asks of the crowd in his acceptance speech. After watching the worshipful praise bestowed upon 2004's proud recipient of the IAS Freedom Medal of Valor, some of the claims in Andrew Morton's controversial biography seem a bit more believable. What's a field of freshly planted wildflowers for the man who does more than anyone else for raising consciousness of Scientology across the world? Even if Suri Cruise wasn't created with the frozen sperm of Scientology's founder, we can certainly understand why some of the philosophy's more devout adherents might think this man's offspring is the second coming of a prophet.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Writers strike turning into incubator for Web start-ups
By Joseph Menn
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

January 12, 2008

Few online entertainment ventures today make money. Yet that has not deterred striking Hollywood writers, eager to bypass the studio system, from forming start-ups to distribute their work on the Web.

At least three start-ups, each with a different business approach, are unveiling their corporate monikers and the names of their founders as they intensify the search for venture capital and top management. With names such as Hollywood Disrupted and Virtual Artists Inc., these new ventures have lured investors such as the Oscar-winning writer of "Rain Man" and the Emmy-winning scribe behind "Homicide," along with prominent software developers and technology executives.

These new ventures are incubating in the fiery glow of the 2-month-old strike by the Writers Guild of America. The work stoppage has affected about 10,000 union members, who are seeking higher pay when their movies and TV shows are shown on the Internet. Their studio employers have pushed back, contending that the economics of the Internet are too uncertain for them to ratchet up writers' online pay.

Some writers are now taking matters into their own hands, using their downtime to meet with venture backers, other writers and technologists.

"We should show the studios some gratitude for getting us together," said "Rain Man" coauthor Ron Bass, a member of the WGA's negotiating committee and an investor and director of Virtual Artists. "This is not just an Internet play, but the beginning of what the future is going to look like."

About 20 entertainment and software writers are investing an average of $10,000 for a chunk of Virtual Artists. Co-founded by Aaron Mendelsohn, a screenwriter who created "Air Bud," Virtual Artists plans to fund projects as varied as shorts and feature-length movies. Its other investors include star television writer Tom Fontana of "Homicide" and "Oz"; "Hotel Rwanda" co-writer and director Terry George; "Chicken Run" screenplay author Karey Kirkpatrick; and John Logan, writer of "Sweeney Todd" and "The Aviator." Susannah Grant, who wrote "Erin Brockovich," and Warren Leight, who runs the TV show "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," also have agreed to invest.

More surprising is the participation of major contributors to the movement for free software, who see the writers' fight as a kindred rebellion against corporate control.

"The biggest resonating point was removing the barriers between the writers and their audiences," said Henri Poole, a Virtual Artists director who also sits on the board of the Free Software Foundation.

Advocates of free software believe that collective wisdom can do a better job than big private companies in developing software. Some of the movement's best-known projects include the Web browser Firefox and the Linux computer operating system.

Entertainment online is still in an experimental mode. It's unclear what sort of new venture will find the most success on the Internet -- the broad-based efforts of many artists or the initiatives of a few big-name writers and actors who have set out on their own.

"It will take time for the business form of it all to come together," said entertainment attorney Kevin Morris, who negotiated a landmark deal last year giving the creators of Comedy Central's "South Park" a major share of the digital profit from that franchise. "It has obviously been a limiting factor that there's not any money there yet for artists' going straight to digital, but what better way to force people to try to come up with new business models than to take away their main gig?"

Details of these new online ventures are only now emerging. Hollywood Disrupted co-founder and "Waterworld" coauthor Peter Rader said his company would function as a marketplace for the creative community as well as a launching pad for completed work. He said participants would describe projects they were working on and offer pay or partial ownership to those who wanted to contribute.

Rader said big-name writers were supporting the venture, but declined to identify them. He described the site, which is seeking investors, as part private Hollywood networking site and part professional YouTube.

On the networking side, members of any Hollywood guild can post material and solicit co-workers, then rate their performance. The lesser known are likely to take on projects for less compensation while they build up a reputation within the network, Rader said.

"Quentin Tarantino is not going to be the next Quentin Tarantino," he said. "The people who are going to crack the Internet are the ones who have to be thinking outside the box."

The website's members would vote on whether finished material was worthy of posting publicly. Creators of the material would be free to take it elsewhere, with the company and its eventual investors keeping a 10% ownership stake.

A third venture, Founders Media Group, plans to form a series of companies with writers and other creators. Each venture would zero in on a particular niche audience on the Web.

Initial backers of the company include former AOL Chief Creative Officer Michael Wolfson, who produced the Web-broadcast benefit concert Live 8, and Writers Guild members Tom Smuts and Nina Sadowsky. Smuts has produced and written for TV shows including "Close to Home," and he has worked as a law professor, investment banker and new-media executive. Sadowsky has written screenplays and served as a production executive. They have been joined by three former senior managers of AOL.

"The goal of Founders Media Group is to make the emergence of talent-owned, 'Internet-first' content companies possible," Smuts said, referring to projects that debut on the Web but could build to the point where they merit more profitable forms of distribution. "For meaningful ownership, talent needs to found companies, not just create shows."

Virtual Artists is an outgrowth of the frustration with the studios that Mendelsohn and Bass experienced as a result of their membership on the WGA's negotiating committee. "While we were waiting for them to come back with the latest ridiculous offer, we were looking at each other and wondering why we were fighting over pennies when it's our work that created their empires," Mendelsohn said.

At around the same time, Mendelsohn received an e-mail from a friend, entertainment media entrepreneur Brad Burkhart, who had once run a small production company with Mendelsohn. Burkhart mentioned that his friend Poole, the software developer, had some ideas. That led to a brainstorming session with marquee writers in Hollywood. Another meeting took place in Silicon Valley with key figures in the distribution of free software.

Poole brought in his acquaintance Brian Behlendorf, a lead developer of the free Apache Web Server, the world's most popular software for delivering Web pages.

About 50 well-known writers have already agreed to work for less than they usually charge in exchange for a larger ownership stake in their work, Mendelsohn said, adding that these creators also could have a role in managing the studio.

Internet distribution probably will include a mix of ad-supported and subscription offerings. Works that catch on will have the best chance for more lucrative theatrical or DVD deals with mainstream studios.

Poole and Behlendorf said that although some striking writers were interested in making deals with the likes of Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc., they wanted to make sure that such Web giants don't become what they called "the new intermediaries," profiting by becoming gatekeepers between the creators and their audience.

Mendelsohn said the financial plans would depend on the results of a search for a chief executive and on what alliances were formed with advertising and technology firms. He said the venture would be profitable as long as it avoided the bubble-era overspending of such firms as, which put up premium content but also employed more than 100 people, some with big salaries.

Icebox narrowly avoided filing for bankruptcy protection and now has only one full-time staffer, Tal Vigderson, who said available Internet ad revenue for original content remained much smaller than writers might imagine.

Icebox has survived largely by working on sponsored projects, such as an animated version of "24" for Fox.

Vigderson said shows produced on a budget and good enough to generate viewers who return every week could change the economics. "It's going to take a Howard Stern or a 'Sopranos,' " he said, a hit that establishes a new medium as viable.

"Once the revenue is proved, more will follow," Vigderson said. "This is the future of entertainment -- that's why we've hung on so long."

At Least 19 Bald Eagles Die in Alaska

Eagles await transfer to a warm U.S. Fish and Wildlife warehouse after being rescued from the cold

KODIAK, Alaska (AP) — At least 19 bald eagles died Friday after gorging themselves on a truck full of fish waste outside a processing plant.

Fifty or more eagles swarmed into the truck, whose retractable fabric cover was open, after the truck was moved outside the plant, said Brandon Saito, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who coordinated the recovery operation.

The birds became too soiled to fly or clean themselves, and with temperatures in the mid-teens, began to succumb to the cold. Some birds became so weak they sank into the fish slime and were crushed.

The truck's contents had to be dumped onto the floor of the Ocean Beauty Seafoods plant so the birds could be retrieved. Some tried to scatter, but since they couldn't fly, wildlife officers soon retrieved them. The eagles were then cleaned with dish soap in tubs of warm water to remove the oily slime and warm them.

The survivors were taken to a heated fish and wildlife warehouse to recover, though some were in critical condition. Saito said they would be released as soon as they were dry and strong enough.

Brandon Saito, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, carries an eagle that survived to a waiting truck

The dead birds will be shipped to a U.S. Department of Interior clearinghouse, where Native American groups could apply to be given the birds or their feathers for ceremonial purposes.

Requests for interviews from Ocean Beauty officials were not returned.

Commercial fishing is the main industry in Kodiak, a city of about 6,000 on Kodiak Island on the south coast of Alaska.

Buddy Holly's Widow Threatens to Sue 'Peggy Sue' Over Book

Friday , January 11, 2008
LUBBOCK, Texas —

Buddy Holly's widow is trying to keep the woman whose name was made famous by the hit song "Peggy Sue" from selling a book about her friendship with the late rock 'n' roll star.

Maria Elena Holly said Friday that Peggy Sue Gerron's "Whatever Happened to Peggy Sue?" is unauthorized and will harm Holly's name, her reputation and that of her company, Holly Properties.

"It's very interesting that this woman makes up all these stories," Maria Elena Holly said from her home in Dallas. "He never, never considered Peggy Sue a friend."

Gerron, who lives in Lubbock and wrote the 283 page-book in the past year with another woman from West Texas, said she wrote the book because 2008 is the 50th anniversary of the release of "Peggy Sue." Holly also recorded "Peggy Sue Got Married."

Gerron said material for the book came from about 150 diary entries she made during the time she knew Holly.

"I wanted to give him his voice. It's my book, my memoirs," she said from Tyler where her publishing company held a news conference Friday defending Gerron's right to write her biography. "We were very, very good friends. He was probably one of the best friends I ever had."

Maria Elena Holly said she will sue if the excerpts she's read are in the book, which is available online and will be in bookstores soon.

"I don't understand why people do that, especially when she knows that people know the truth," she said.

Gerron said a potential lawsuit is "just another matter."

"I feel I have every right to write my book. That's why we live in America." she said. A lawsuit "won't taint the book."

Earlier this week, Maria Elena Holly's attorney in Dallas, Richard Wallace, sent a cease-and-desist letter to TogiEntertainment Inc., an Oklahoma City-based publishing house. Wallace declined to comment Friday.

Holly was killed Feb. 3, 1959, in a plane crash that also claimed singers Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. Holly was 22.

Maria Elena Holly, who married Holly in August 1958, has for years owned the rights to her husband's name, image and related trademarks, and other intellectual properties, the letter said.

No one involved in the book's publication asked for consent to use Holly's name or image — "his likeness will be featured prominently" on the book's cover and the subtitle reads, "Memoirs of Buddy Holly's Peggy Sue," the letter said.

"Confusion and tarnishment of Buddy Holly's name and Ms. Holly's reputation are likely to result from this unauthorized book," the letter states.

The letter demands the ceasing of promotion and sale of the book, removal of the subtitle and cancellation of all book orders. It also asks for refunds on any deposits for the book and for an accounting of revenues from any sales.

Mark Faulk, chief executive officer of TogiEntertainment, said the threat of a lawsuit won't deter Gerron or his company.

Buddy Holly's brother, Larry Holley, said "Peggy Sue" was not the original lyric in the song of the same name. The name Holly originally intended to use was Cindy Lou, Holly's niece, Larry Holley said.

Maria Elena said her husband changed the name to Peggy Sue after Crickets drummer Jerry Allison, the man who married Gerron in July 1958, asked him to because he had a crush on Gerron at the time.

The New York Times

January 12, 2008

Big Waves Mean No Small Preparation for Surfers

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. — The image of the quintessential American surfer — a bronzed slacker in board shorts — may be firmly entrenched. But that surfer dude bears little resemblance to the athletes known as big-wave surfers, a small community composed of men and women who often become amateur oceanographers and experts in wave dynamics in order to ride waves that can be more than 50 feet high.

On Saturday, this community will gather here for the Super Bowl of big-wave surfing: the Mavericks Surf Contest, which pits 24 surfers against one another — and against some of the most treacherous surfing conditions in the world.

An underwater rock formation is partly responsible for the spectacular breaks that can result in towering walls of water, which can deliver harsh punishment to the surfers if they wipe out. Mark Foo, a legendary big-wave surfer from Hawaii, died while trying to surf Mavericks in 1994. So big-wave surfers must do more than wax their boards and wait for waves.

In addition to maintaining a supreme level of physical fitness, they study weather patterns, listen to radio broadcasts by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and do whatever else it takes to understand the water’s movements.

Grant Washburn, 40, has challenged towering swells here for 14 years and is in the field for Saturday’s contest. At 6 feet 5 inches and 225 pounds, Washburn has the physical requirements. But he also does his homework. His color-coded logbooks show swell height and characteristics for every surf season since he arrived.

With that diary, and having spent many hours online recently tracking weather patterns moving over the Pacific Ocean, Washburn described the conditions he expected Saturday: the west-northwest groundswell would arrive with a basal height of 8 to 10 feet at 15- to 17-second intervals; the wind would blow from the north at only 10 knots or less; and midsize Mavericks wave faces would stand 20 to 30 feet tall.

“I’m confident there will be big waves without the long lulls that even bigger waves have,” Washburn said Thursday. “Later, it looks like the jet stream will bend back down, roughing things up.”

Mark Sponsler, 50, a regular here since 1995, helps decide the date of the competition each year. This year, the decision was made Thursday, giving surfers around the world less than two days to find their way to Mavericks.

Sponsler, a technology projects manager for a health-care organization, gathers data from an array of sophisticated government satellites and offshore buoys and feeds the information into programs he designed. These models of swell generation and propagation are instrumental in selecting the date of the contest.

“We search for a big storm way off in the North Pacific, out past the international date line,” Sponsler said. “That’s the best cradle for a Mavericks swell. Waves start their lives as wind. The longer and stronger gales blow in the same direction, the larger and more powerful the seas that result.”

Surfers want evidence that a wave-generating storm will play “crack-the-whip,” veering northward to bring wind and rain into Oregon and Washington while sending waves on to California — precisely what seems to have occurred this year.

Sponsler, self-taught in oceanography, said wave prediction was far less accurate 10 years ago. Using a dial-up connection, he had to try to glean cryptic data from Department of Defense weather Web sites. “We had no good way for us to peer down into open-ocean storms, get an idea what was going on inside,” he said.

Big-wave surfers rely on data from QuikScat and Jason-1, satellites with the Ocean Surface Topography Mission for NASA and its international partners. Jason-1 uses radar to scan undulations on the sea, providing average readings accurate within 3.3 centimeters from a vantage point 860 miles above.

Jason-1 also uses microwaves to measure water vapor, G.P.S. to pinpoint locations, and lasers to communicate with ground stations.

QuikScat measures direction and speed of ocean winds by analyzing microwaves scattered by the ocean surface. More information-collecting devices are plopped on the sea surface: the N.O.A.A. weather buoys, which measure swells as they tilt and ride over them and capture wind speed, gust strength and direction.

Because of such data streams, surf-prediction Web sites like, and can thrive.

But once the surfers are out on the water, they are detached from all the sophisticated analysis. They have only their knowledge of how the ocean water moves.

“Wave physics are extremely complicated,” said Dr. William O’Reilly of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. “Some parts are not well understood by anyone.”

At Mavericks, the wave’s angle of approach is key. If the swell arrives from the north-northwest, it will be broken up by the Cordell Bank, the Farallon Islands and the sprawling sandbars of Four Fathom Bank. But if the swell shoots in from a west-northwest angle, it hits a near-perfect launch ramp of steadily shallowing water.

About 900 yards from the ocean’s edge at Pillar Point, the swell hits the underwater rock formation and is forcefully driven forward and upward.

Jeff Clark, who pioneered the Mavericks break in 1975 and organizes the contest, and the local surfer Matt Ambrose have dived to this reef when the ocean was calm to examine and better understand its structure.

It is at this spot that the surfers line up, lying on their boards and waiting for the right wave. They will have followed the storm since its generation on the North Pacific five days earlier, studied the three-day predictions on various Web sites, observed the buoy reports with growing excitement Friday, and then hit the Pillar Point parking lot by dawn.

On Saturday, they will be joined by 30,000 spectators.

Depending on the size, shape and direction of the swell, a surfer will maneuver in a small zone with about a 50-foot radius. Once a swell passes, he has roughly seven seconds to assess whether the next one is the one he wants to ride, three to five seconds to shift his position in, out, left or right, and two seconds to make a go/no-go decision. Then he must start paddling — sometimes for his life.

“When the science is said and done, experience has a say,” Clark said. “What’s the feel? Is my spider sense tingling? You don’t want to let a solid swell go by. At the end of the season, I don’t want to look down and see some ‘should’ stuck on my boot.”

After committing to a wave, the surfer must confront the sheer tonnage of hurtling water and hit a 10-foot-wide slot of the best spot to launch a ride with pinpoint timing, a maneuver that Washburn has described as akin to “trying to place a Dixie cup on the horn of a charging rhino.”

If he makes it, he carves down a tall, glittering wave face at speeds in excess of 30 miles an hour while the lip crashes behind him with a rumble.

If the surfer is lucky and skilled, the ride can last for a half-mile — a thrilling 45-second payoff for all the hours of studying the competition.

Hannah Montana caught using body double

NEW YORK (AP) — It was ever so brief, but the use of a body double by Miley Cyrus on her best-selling "Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus 'Best of Both Worlds'" tour is creating plenty of buzz.

A video posted on YouTube shows the 15-year-old entertainer as "Hannah" dancing onstage with a group of dancers and the Jonas Brothers, also on the tour. During the song, someone ushers her offstage via a trap door. Immediately, another girl dressed like the character "Hannah" in the same pink trench coat with blonde hair covering her faces dances around, runs up the stage set, and then quickly leaves.

While the double is holding a microphone for her less than a minute, the girl motions like she is singing. However, a rep for Miley said the switch was only for costume purposes.

"To help speed the transition from Hannah to Miley, there is a production element during the performance of We Got the Party incorporating a body double for Miley," according to statement Friday from the public relations firm PMK.

"After Hannah has completed the featured verse on the duet with the Jonas Brothers, a body double appears approximately one to two minutes prior to the end of the song in order to allow Miley to remove the Hannah wig and costume and transform into Miley for her solo set. Other than during this very brief transitional moment in the show, Miley performs live during the entirety of both the Hannah and Miley segments of the concert."

Miley's "Hannah Montana" tour is one of the nation's hottest tours, selling out within minutes when tickets went on sale last fall. Some people have been reselling tickets for thousands of dollars. Miley has released two albums under the "Hannah Montana" brand, both of which have sold more than two million copies.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Strike Hits Hollywood Hard

Working Stiffs Take An $80 Million Beating In Golden Globes Cancellation

Hollywood's blue-collar infrastructure is going to take a beating this weekend.

With the Golden Globes, the town's famously party-hearty awards show, now reduced to a glorified news conference because of the writers strike, the couriers who deliver elaborate floral displays to winners, the waiters who keep their glasses filled with champagne, and the drivers who shepherd the drunks home after late-night parties will be sitting idly by - on what is ordinarily one of their most lucrative nights.

"Business has dropped. Dramatically," said Chris Heltai, owner of Home James, a service that drives celebrities and Hollywood executives home from events after they've had too much to drink.

He said his company had signed contracts this year with the sponsors of six major after-parties Sunday night.

"They all got canceled," Heltai said, adding he will have just a skeleton crew working on what is normally one of his two busiest nights of the year (the other is Academy Awards night). He expects to lose as much as $10,000.

Last year, half the cast of NBC's "Heroes" waited in line for an hour to get into the InStyle Warner Bros. bash, which attracted more than 1,000 people. Once inside, guests slurped up Godiva chocolate martinis and sampled other exotic fare.

InStyle Warner Bros., Fox Searchlight, E! Entertainment, HBO, NBC Universal-Focus Features and the Weinstein Co. announced this week they have all canceled their soirees.

HBO said its party, to have been catered by the Beverly Hilton Hotel, would have employed about 170 people.

Sunday won't be the first time that caterers, restaurateurs, party planners and others have suffered a financial sting since the strike, which began Nov. 5, doused Hollywood's party spirit with cold water.

Now that the walkout has claimed the first star-studded event of the town's awards season, the cold water could hit tidal-wave proportions. Many Hollywood denizens are wondering whether Academy Awards on Feb. 24 could be the next victim.

At The Woods Exquisite Flowers, workers are normally busy this week preparing elaborate floral arrangements that studios ship to the hotel rooms of Globe nominees. Even more elaborate displays are readied for the eventual winners.

Not this year.

"I would say it will probably affect us to the extent that we'll be down about 40 to 50 percent," said owner George Woods.

Meanwhile, Hollywood's fashionista brigade, those armies of hair stylists, makeup artists, dress designers and others, have no one to fuss over.

With no fancy awards show, studios aren't spending their usual small fortunes to dress their stars in the latest, most expensive styles.

"It really affects everybody," said Phillip Bloch, one of Hollywood's best-known stylists.

He had planned to dress Keisha Whitaker, wife of Oscar winner Forest Whitaker, for this year's Globes ceremony. But now that she and her husband are staying home, so is Bloch.

Veteran celebrity photographer Jim Ruymen says he will attend the news conference because the winners are still news.

But he won't be able to snap any photos of nominees such as Cate Blanchett, Johnny Depp, Ellen Page or Nikki Blonsky on the red carpet - shots he says are typically "money in the bank" for a photographer.

"You can go to the well many times with what you shoot at awards shows," he said. "Not just domestically but internationally too. You can sell them on five continents."

Taking one of the biggest hits is the swanky Beverly Hilton Hotel, the longtime site of the awards show.

"The Beverly Hilton serves as the venue for some 175 red carpet events a year. The Golden Globes awards show, which has called the Beverly Hilton home for the last 34 consecutive years, is certainly the highlight," hotel spokeswoman Lynda Simonetti said.

Canceling the show is expected to cost the Los Angeles area economy about $80 million, according to Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp.

And Kyser estimates that some $1.4 billion in wages alone have been lost in the region since the strike began.

Those losses have become the talk of the town, said caterer Michael Brooks, adding that the Globes have brought greater attention to the situation from people outside the industry.

Things have gotten so tight, Brooks said, that his dog walker recently inquired about opportunities in the catering business, since it seems striking writers and idled actors are walking their own dogs these days.
BBC News
Everest hero Edmund Hillary dies
Sir Edmund Hillary in the Antarctic in January 2007
Sir Edmund Hillary was made an honorary Nepalese citizen

Sir Edmund Hillary, the first climber to scale the world's highest peak, Mount Everest, has died aged 88.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark described the explorer as a heroic figure and said all New Zealanders would deeply mourn his passing.

Sir Edmund's health had reportedly been in decline since April, when he suffered a fall while visiting Nepal.

He was the first man to climb the 8,850m (29,035ft) peak, with Tenzing Norgay, on 29 May 1953.

Returning to Everest's South Col camp, he famously greeted another member of the British expedition group with the words: "Well, George, we've knocked the bastard off."

He was an heroic figure who not only 'knocked off' Everest but lived a life of determination, humility and generosity
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark

After the ascent, Sir Edmund led a number of expeditions to the South Pole and devoted his life to helping the ethnic Sherpas of Nepal's Khumbu region.

His Himalayan Trust has helped build hospitals, clinics, bridges, airstrips and nearly 30 schools. He was made an honorary Nepalese citizen in 2003.

Prayer ceremonies are being held in Nepal to pay tribute to Sir Edmund, the charity says.

'Quintessential Kiwi'

Announcing Sir Edmund's death in Auckland after a brief illness, New Zealand's prime minister described him as a "heroic figure who not only 'knocked off' Everest but lived a life of determination, humility and generosity".

Map showing location of Everest in Nepal, plus annotated image of mountain showing 1953 ascent route
Before reaching base camp, ascent team walked 175 miles (282km) from Kathmandu and spent three weeks acclimatising
On May 26 initial attempt came within 300ft (91m) of summit, with final bid two days later
Five man team helped Hillary and Norgay to precarious point high up mountain where pair spent night in tent
Next morning they set out at 0630, reaching summit 1130
Source: Royal Geographical Society

"The legendary mountaineer, adventurer, and philanthropist is the best-known New Zealander ever to have lived," Ms Clark said in a statement.

"But most of all he was a quintessential Kiwi."

"He was ours - from his craggy appearance to laconic style to his directness and honesty. All New Zealanders will deeply mourn his passing."

Ms Clark said Sir Edmund's exploits would "continue to inspire new generations of New Zealanders, as they have for more than half a century already".

The BBC's Greg Ward in Auckland says Sir Edmund was arguably the most respected man in New Zealand.

His death has prompted an immediate outpouring of sympathy, with messages of condolences flooding in from around the globe, our correspondent says.

Tenzing Norgay's son called the death a great loss for humanity.

Race to the summit

The British adventurer and environmentalist, Pen Hadow, said Sir Edmund's death "closes one of the great chapters of planetary exploration".

"He was physically and metaphorically at the pinnacle of high adventure," the Dartmoor-based Arctic and Antarctic explorer told the Press Association.

Born in Auckland 19 July 1919, Sir Edmund began climbing mountains in his native country as a teenager and soon earned renown as an ice climber.

Edmund Hillary (L) and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay (R)
To my great delight I realised we were on top of Mount Everest and that the whole world spread out below us
Sir Edmund Hillary

By the time he attempted his ascent of Everest in 1953 as part of an expedition led by the British climber, Sir John Hunt, seven previous expeditions to the top of the mountain had failed.

After a gruelling climb up the southern face, battling the effects of high altitude and bad weather, Sir Edmund and Tenzing Norgay managed to reach the peak at 1130 local time on 29 May.

"I continued hacking steps along the ridge and then up a few more to the right... to my great delight I realised we were on top of Mount Everest and that the whole world spread out below us," Sir Edmund said.

The two men hugged each other with relief and joy but only stayed on the summit for 15 minutes because they were low on oxygen.

Sir Edmund took several photographs of the scenery and of Tenzing waving flags of Britain, Nepal, the UN and India.

News of the conquest of Everest did not reach the outside world until 2 June, the eve of the Queen Elizabeth II's coronation.

He was knighted by the Queen for his achievement in 1953, and 42 years later was awarded her highest award for chivalry - the Order of the Garter.