On April 10, 2007, there didn't seem to be a camera in the country that wasn't pointed at Larry Birkhead's grinning, ruddy-cheeked mug after a Bahamian court ruled that DNA testing proved him to be the father of Dannielynn, the daughter of Anna Nicole Smith. At a press conference on the courthouse steps, the blond-streaked erstwhile boy toy gave the thumbs-up and gushed about his joy in being vindicated ("I hate to be the one to say this, but I told you so!") and his pride in claiming Dannielynn. "I'm going to the toy store," he quipped when asked what he would do next.
In fact, what Birkhead did next guaranteed that he'd be able to buy quite a few toys for the tot. He started working the phones to sell the rights to Dannielynn's first published photos. According to an editor at a celebrity weekly, Birkheada sometime professional photographer himselftold him that OK! magazine was offering $2 million and asked if he could beat it. Birkhead eventually sealed the deal with OK!, and just eight days after his courthouse victory, he and his seven-month-old were beaming from newsstands across the world.
For most people, the birth of a new baby marks the arrival of a bundle of joy. But for celebrities, it has become a business opportunity. As glossy gossip weeklies like OK!, People and Us Weekly compete for newsstand salesthe Birkhead cover led to an extra 100,000 copies being sold, OK! claimsthe race for baby photos means celebrity parents can walk off with a deal worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more. (Whether $2 million was the actual offer on the table remains unclear. OK! says the fee was much lower but will not reveal the specific amount, and Birkhead has said he put the proceeds into a trust for his daughter. Birkhead's attorney did not respond to requests for an interview.) The high-water mark, of course, is the reported $4 million People paid for the first pictures of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's baby Shiloh.
Celebrities have long benefited from the public's interest in their offspring. The difference is that in the past, publicity was the commodity celebrities sought as a way to profit elsewhere. Back in 1953 Lucille Ball scheduled the cesarean delivery of Desi Jr. for the same day her fictional character would give birth to Little Ricky on I Love Lucy. The art-imitating-life promotion helped the episode become one of the most watched moments in TV's young history and launched an entire merchandising line of Little Ricky dolls, aprons and nursery sets. That same year, the very first issue of TV Guide featured Desi Jr. on its cover, dubbing him LUCY'S $50,000,000 BABY.
"To take a picture of your baby and to have the world see it is not a new trend," says Roxanne Motamedi, who produces and packages baby pictures for the photo agency Getty Images, which brokered the Shiloh photos. "But all of a sudden, for the past year or so, you see more and more covers of magazines with celebrities with their babies."