Hilton's new contrition could work, experts say
EmptyOne day Paris Hilton is screaming for her mommy as she is cuffed and taken to the pokey in a reckless driving case. The next, she's the model of magnanimity, saying she wouldn't appeal her 45-day sentence and that she is "learning and growing" from her time behind bars.
An insincere buffing of an image scuffed like a pair last season's Jimmy Choos? Maybe. Effective? Probably, say veteran Hollywood image-makers.
"Based on the way the story has been playing out, this is a good move for her," said Michael Levine, who has served as publicist for dozens of celebrities, including Michael Jackson, Barbara Streisand and Bill O'Reilly. "Experience has taught me that celebrities respect wisdom but obey pain. What I mean by that is that when they feel the heat they see the light."
If Levine were working with the celebutante, he would recommend she show she has learned from the experience by fading from the party scene for awhile and getting behind sympathetic causes like Angelina Jolie, who traded her bad girl credentials to become a mother and a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations.
"When you're in a hole, it's generally a good idea to stop digging ... from doing the same idiotic stuff that got you in trouble in the first place," Levine said.
Hilton's publicist, Elliott Mintz, did not immediately return e-mail or phone messages.
Hilton was at a maximum-security detention center Sunday, where an AP photographer saw her sister Nicky Hilton and ex-boyfriend Stavros Niarchos go in on one of two days during the week that inmates are allowed visitors.
She has been at the downtown facility since Friday, when Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer ordered her back to jail. Sheriff Lee Baca had released her to house arrest the day before for undisclosed health reasons. Hilton was taken from Sauer's courtroom in tears and calling for her mother.
Hilton's lawyers had sought to have her released on grounds that the 26-year-old was suffering an unspecified medical condition. But Sauer suggested that could be taken care of at jail medical facilities.
Hilton was expected to serve only 23 days because of a state law that requires shorter sentences for good behavior.
"Being in jail is by far the hardest thing I have ever done," she said in a statement Saturday. "During the past several days, I have had a lot of time to think and I believe that I am learning and growing from this experience."
She also said she was "shocked" by the attention her case has received and suggested the public and media focus on "more important things like the men and women serving our country in Iraq."
Media image consultant Michael Sands said Hilton's only hope at selling her new found humility is a genuine change of behavior.
"Showing is doing," he said. "If Paris is really concerned about the media paying attention to the men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan, then why didn't she sign autographs at military bases and hospitals?"
This would be a big deviation for Hilton, who is more famous for where she parties and who she parties with than her philanthropy -- or talent as a singer and actor, said celebrity publicist David Brokaw.
"I think that the public this time is disgusted with her and probably asking themselves why they even bother," he said. "So she's on the brink of becoming a caricature or a person. And I think she does have that choice. The next step is hopefully to reveal by her words and actions that she has taken responsibility for being an adult."
Hilton's path to jail began Sept. 7, when she failed a sobriety test after police saw her weaving down a street in her Mercedes-Benz on what she said was a late-night run to a hamburger stand. She pleaded no contest to reckless driving and was sentenced to 36 months' probation, alcohol education and $1,500 in fines.
In the months that followed, she was stopped twice by officers who discovered her driving on a suspended license. The second stop landed her in Sauer's courtroom, where he sentenced her to jail.
Sands describes Hilton's change of heart as "media ploy." But unlike actor/director Mel Gibson -- who remains on the fringes after he launched an anti-Semitic tirade at the police officer who arrested him for drunken driving last summer -- Hilton will emerge smelling as sweet as her namesake perfume, he said.
"She will become a real Hollywood star from this experience," he said. "If she handles it like a famous person and goes to a military base, visits Walter Reed, then Hollywood will embrace her. It's very forgiving. It's not like she insulted the Jews."