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Sex tapes: Celebs' claim to fame

In a Hollywood museum specializing in erotica is a grainy tape of a woman having sex with a man on a couch.

india Updated: Jan 28, 2006 18:12 IST

In a Hollywood museum specializing in erotica is a grainy tape of a woman having sex with a man on a couch. The museum says it's widely believed, though denied by her estate, that the woman is Marilyn Monroe, circa 1948.

Fast-forward some 60 years, past Rob Lowe, Pamela Anderson and Paris Hilton. The latest celebrity sex tape contains 14 minutes of seriously hard-core action between actor Colin Farrell and a former Playboy Playmate, punctuated by dialogue like: "Where's the zoom on this?"

But like his predecessors in the genre, Farrell's career is not likely to be harmed at all. In fact, it could even get bigger. It seems what we expect from our celebrities is radically different from what we expect from, say, our politicians. Or ourselves. "The public is very forgiving," says Kate White, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan. "And very intrigued. It's not like, 'Oh no, Colin, not you!"'

"It makes him more interesting," she says. "It gets his name out there. Now, if you or I had our own sex tape released ... we'd be in deep doo-doo."

It wasn't always thus. In the old days, Hollywood studios worked hard to suppress behavior they didn't like. Celebrities under contract had to sign morals clauses, says Jonathan Kuntz, a film professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who specializes in Hollywood history.

Kuntz is not familiar with the sex film thought by Hollywood's Erotic Museum to be that of Monroe. But he says he wouldn't be surprised. "Back then, she was a starlet just trying to make her way," he says.

But the celebrity sex tape really emerged decades later, along with cheap and accessible home video equipment. In the late 1980s during the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, Rob Lowe became infamous for a videotaped encounter with two women, one a minor, in his hotel room. But the Brat Pack actor climbed back; he later got the plum role of presidential aide Sam Seaborn in The West Wing.

A decade later, Baywatch star Pamela Anderson and her rocker husband Tommy Lee were subjects of a sex tape that was stolen from their home and distributed on the Internet. It became an instant classic. Anderson, who was later involved in yet another sex video with another man, went on to launch her own TV series, "V.I.P.," which ran for four years. She now stars in the sitcom "Stacked." All this is but a prelude, of course, to the story of Paris Hilton.