Nation becomes obsessed with celebrity babies

Shiloh, Suri, Violet and Kingston get almost as much attention as their parents

Celebrity babies are hot, hot, hot.

With bidding for exclusive photos of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's unborn twins reaching a reported $15 million, gossip magazines running the latest news on their daughter Shiloh's potty training and temper tantrums (Nanny tells all!), People granting cover-story status to new moms ranging from the famously thin (Nicole Richie) to the downright obscure ("Full House's" Jodie Sweetin), and blogs such as Celebrity Baby Scoop and Babyrazzi delivering the latest in milestone moments, we're a nation on a first-name basis with the offspring of the rich and famous.

"Celebrities are much bigger than they were three years ago, so (interest in) every aspect of their lives has increased, and along with that is babies," says Dina Sansing, entertainment director of Us Weekly.

All of which raises an obvious question: Why?

Part of the story is the star power of the parents. The publicity firestorm over the April 2006 birth of Suri Cruise, the daughter of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise, had yet to die down when we got the first photos of Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, courtesy of her parents.

Before that we had the birth of Julia Roberts' twins, the adoption of Zahara Jolie-Pitt and the arrival of Britney Spears' first son, Sean Preston Federline, all in 2005.

"You've seen a lot of big babies in the last couple of years," says Sansing.

But experts and observers also point to broader issues: cultural, economic and psychological.

Hard times

"Looking through the morning paper, you want to push past bad news about the economy, and the gas prices, and the war, and all these things and — ah! — you can read about the celebrities," says Joanne Koch, co-author of "Good Parenting for Hard Times" and a professor of English at National-Louis University. "And what is more hopeful and promising than a baby? I think it's part of that hard-times mentality of escaping that drove people in the really hard times to the movies in the first place."

During the Great Depression, Americans flocked to glamorous, optimistic movies that offered a reprieve from hardship, Koch says. In light of the current interest in babies, it may be worth noting that while Joan Crawford and Clark Gable were big stars at the time, so was little Shirley Temple.

"Shirley Temple was a child (and) in the '30s, especially in the height of the Depression, she was huge. And the fact that she was a child added to that whole (idea that), she's so cute, and she's so young, and that's so hopeful that a happy child is going to lead us out of these hard times," Koch says.

The rise of the modern celebrity baby story can be seen in archives of People magazine, which once granted cover-story status only to the offspring of royalty and A-list stars.

The magazine's first baby cover, complete with a photo of the happy parents and big sister — went to Cher and Gregg Allman in September 1976, although Goldie Hawn has some claim to the title, as a story focusing in part on her pregnancy with her son Oliver Hudson ran in May of that year.

Cover stories

In the 1980s, Princess Diana, Princess Caroline and Sarah Ferguson scored baby covers, as did Lisa Marie Presley, Cybill Shepherd and Chevy Chase, but the total number of baby covers per year mostly hovered between 0 and 3.

By 2005, Britney Spears alone was scoring three baby covers in one year.

In 2006, People had a total of six celebrity baby covers, not counting a People Extra titled Babies of the Year. In 2007 there were seven covers, and in the first six months of this year, there have been five, including two obvious choices, Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey, and three who were more mysterious: Sweetin, Christina Aguilera and Nicole Richie.

"Having a baby can elevate someone's level of stardom," says Sansing of Us Weekly.

"For someone like Nicole Richie, she had gone through all these weight struggles — everyone thought she was too thin — and then she's having a baby. And therefore her life becomes more interesting."

Aguilera reportedly got as much as $2 million for her People photo exclusive, Richie $1 million. Katie Caperton, a deputy editor at OK! magazine, recently told the New York Daily News that "we ... do tremendously well on the newsstand" with celebrity baby covers.

At Celebrity Baby Scoop, a blog that gets over a million page views a month, owner Lisa Weber says babies may be benefiting from trickle-down fame.

"I think (the interest) stems from the celebrity moms," she says. "We're just fascinated with them, and it definitely is relatable; a lot of my readers are moms. They're pregnant, and they like seeing these celebrities are just like them in lots of ways."

Learning about moms

Chicago marriage and family therapist Pamela Brand agrees that the moms and our desire to know more about them are central to the celebrity baby story.

"It takes these young, beautiful, almost perfect-appearing women, and brings them to a different level. They open up their lives. And they're not all that open, and you can't really understand all that much about them when you see them in pictures. They're hard to read. You just see them as these beautiful beings.

"When they have children and are willing to show their children and their families, you can read a little bit more into what's going on."

Beyond the Jolie-Pitt and Holmes-Cruise progeny, the list of top babies includes Garner and Ben Affleck's daughter, Violet, and, somewhat mysteriously, Kingston Rossdale, son of musicians Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale.

"You either know (Stefani's) music or you don't, but I think everybody knows her, just her look. She has created her own niche, and her son Kingston is a little star himself. The way he dresses, it's just amazing," Weber says.

Also sought-after by the paparazzi are Gwyneth Paltrow's kids, Apple and Moses Martin, and Courteney Cox Arquette's daughter, Coco.

Even aging celebrity babies are feeling the heat. Sarah Jessica Parker recently told New York magazine that photographers have been more aggressively pursuing the children of stars "over the last four years (and) even more so (in) the last 24 months."

Her son, James Broderick, is still a target at the ripe old age of 5.

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