SHOW BUSINESS STRATEGIES



Woman Hacks Her
Way Into Hollywood
'In A Town Of Liars, Cheats & Thieves, It's Small
Wonder She's Been Welcomed'

By Xeni Jardin, posted by Anita Sands Hernandez at "HOW TO BREAK INTO SHOW BIZ" WEBPAGE.
Wired News
4-29-4

 
LOS ANGELES -- An America Online customer service rep illicitly surfs the company's customer database, ferrets out private data on celebrity members and then hunts them down online under a false identity, seeking fame and fortune in Hollywood. 
 
Sound like a prelude to prison? Not in the case of Heather Robinson. The former AOL employee managed to parlay privacy violations into useful contacts in Hollywood. With the help of those contacts, Robinson, 25, landed a movie deal, and she's using her toehold in the industry to advance another. 
 
Later this week, Universal Pictures will start filming Robinson's first movie, The Perfect Man, a romantic comedy staring Hillary Duff and Heather Locklear. The film is about a teenage daughter who tries to create a "nonexistent boyfriend for her dejected mother," Robinson said. The story is based on another of her youthful indiscretions when she was 16 -- this one involving a stolen credit card and thousands of dollars of purchases. 
 
Some would say it takes Robinson's level of moxie to succeed in Hollywood. In fact, the favorite legend in the movie business is that of a hard-working kid who starts in the mail room and through ambition, flexible ethical standards and political skill becomes a mogul. Judging by her exploits so far, Robinson is well on her way. 
 
"Although she's, at best, a scam artist, you have to grudgingly admire this young woman," said Mark Ebner, co-author of Hollywood, Interrupted, a book in which Robinson's exploits get a chapter. "In a town of liars, cheats and thieves, it's small wonder she's been welcomed." 
 
Hired by AOL in 1997, her $6-an-hour job involved answering subscriber questions, resetting lost passwords and solving billing problems. With access to screen names, phone numbers, addresses and credit card numbers through AOL's customer database, she gathered information on politicians and movie industry power brokers to pursue her career dreams. 
 
During about a year and a half of employment at AOL, the woman, known by the AOL screen name "HooterR," contacted or struck up online relationships with Goldie Hawn, Carrie Fisher, Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, producer Lauren Shuler Donner and the late comedian Chris Farley, according to Robinson and Ebner. 
 
"I asked my AOL supervisor, 'Are we allowed to contact people?' -- and the answer was yes, as long as I followed specific policies," Robinson said. "It's hard to get into the entertainment industry. If I weren't a good person they would have told me to go away." 
 
She baited celebrities into online conversations by using private information she had collected about them without their knowledge, sometimes assuming false identities -- for instance, that of a lonely female airline pilot. 
 
Some of these online encounters led to sexually explicit chat sessions. Robinson said she even had a real-world rendezvous with an influential Hollywood producer that resulted in a back-seat sexual assault. She claims to have evidence locked away in Arizona: a stained shirt, la Lewinsky. 
 
AOL declined to discuss details of Robinson's employment, but spokesman Andrew Weinstein said activities described in Hollywood, Interrupted and a subsequent New York Observer interview would constitute a violation of current and former company policy. 
 
A document obtained by Wired News shows that Robinson was disciplined at least once at AOL for inappropriate use of customer data. A "Corrective Action Business Conduct" letter addressed to Robinson three months after she was hired placed her on a 90-day probation after a customer complained about repeated misuse of confidential account information. 
 
Weinstein said internal security is tighter seven years later. He declined to state whether the company will pursue legal action against Robinson, but said AOL's legal department is currently reviewing the matter. 
 
The one-time AOL employee may also have broken state privacy laws. 
 
"There could be a variety of legal complaints under state law, and the celebrities themselves could potentially bring tort claims under various state laws," said Pam Dixon of the World Privacy Forum. "She's essentially an electronic stalker. It's unfair, unethical and in some states, probably illegal." 
 
Those issues aside, Robinson is attempting to turn the online snooping into her second movie deal within a year. She's now shopping a new semi-autobiographical feature film called E-Girl. A press release promises the movie "will only depict the clever, amazing and heart-rending aspects" of her "cyber subterfuge with major personalities and power players." 
 
Robinson had a colorful past even before she started at AOL. The Perfect Man chronicles some of it. The movie is a sugarcoated retelling of an episode in Robinson's teen years that resulted in felony charges of fraud, theft and forgery, according to Tucson Police Department documents. 
 
In late 1994, Robinson teamed up with a high-school friend and concocted a scam to assume the identity of an imaginary Air Force colonel to romance Robinson's single mother, Janet Robinson. 
 
Heather obtained access to an Air Force base near her Tucson home and sent her mother photographs and love letters from a fictional Col. Cunningham, duping the recent divorced parent into believing she was carrying on a virtual affair with an officer. Heather perpetrated the fake affair for three months. She went so far as to send her mom a marriage proposal consecrated with the delivery of a ring, which she bought with a stolen credit card and altered ID swiped from an employee at the Air Force base. 
 
The girls were arrested Feb. 10, 1995, and confessed to having used stolen credit cards to make more than $4,000 worth of attempted purchases. Because Robinson had no prior criminal record, charges were later reduced from felony to misdemeanor, resulting in a 120-hour community service sentence. 
 
"We were 16 years old, and I wanted to do something good for my mom," Robinson said. "After the court stuff was done, my mom put her arm around me and said, 'I understand why you did it and maybe some day they'll make a movie about it.'"

  Why such a smart and spiritual MOM couldn't hustle up a BF at MANY FISH in the SEA.com is the new mystery.

And they are. Perfect Man is slated for release in 2005. 
 
Copyright 2004, Lycos, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 
 
http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,63147,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_1

  

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