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Behind Hollywood's velvet ropes

by Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent

It was a perfectly sunny L.A. afternoon, a charming curb-side restaurant right there in the sweet spot of the Sunset strip, lunch with a couple of members of an extremely exclusive club.

And one of them popped up and was across the place — and back — before I quite understood what was up.

"______," she told me, sitting down again.  "He was the guy in the Paris video..."  THAT Paris video.

A friend of hers, apparently.  Or was he?  As we had been discovering, the tight little world inhabited by the people who show up week after week on the covers of tabloid magazines is not quite the bright wonderland lots of us like to imagine.

Behind those velvet ropes, our lunch companions told us, it's a sometimes dangerous world, inhabited not just by the famous or the wanna-be famous, but by dark characters, bottom feeders and bad boys intent on making use of those very faces you see on the tabloids.

Our purpose, when we started, was to look into a terrifying home invasion robbery way up in the nosebleed section of Bel Air. I mean, way up.  Nancy Reagan's neighborhood. Homes so expensive you can't even see them, in there behind their hand built gates, up their hedge-lined private driveways. 

The victim of this robbery is a celebrity himself:  Joe Francis, the man behind a ridiculously profitable moral quagmire called "Girls Gone Wild."  Joe has been flogging his videos - college girls lifting their tops for the camera, playing sex games with each other, etc, etc - long enough to have built a boy's dream of a lifestyle. 

Here is a partial list of Joe's toys:  private jets (two), Bentley, Ferrari, the really nice house, other big house across the country, a place in the Caribbean.... and... friendships with people who are famous.

Like Paris Hilton.  Who says, the second Joe's name comes up, "He's NOT my ex-boyfriend."

To match feature People-Paris

But did she know who got into his house one night, tied him up, threatened to kill him, forced him to make a video apparently aimed at making him look gay?

And thus, from our curiosity about a robbery, we found ourselves drawn into the bizarre world of Hollywood night life.

We listened to Paris call herself "like, not that smart." We heard her memory improve remarkably...  after a sandwich.

What's it like behind those Hollywood velvet ropes?

Next time you find yourself in a check-out line and your eye is drawn to some ultra-famous party girl — or boy — splashed on a tabloid cover and you wonder, just for a second, how cool it must be to live in that world... you might remember this simple definition of celebrity life, from an L.A. County prosecutor named Hoon Chun: "Its a jet-set version of high school."

The Paris Hilton tapes previously aired on Dateline in September of 2006. An update of the report is supposed to air this Sunday, March 4, 7 p.m.