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Secret Agent

LOS ANGELES — In a city that boasts more celebrities per capita than any other, there is another set of celebrated types who reside just off the general radar, widely known among the members of the elite, but not to the public at large. They are...

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LOS ANGELES — In a city that boasts more celebrities per capita than any other, there is another set of celebrated types who reside just off the general radar, widely known among the members of the elite, but not to the public at large. They are the celebrities’ celebrities, or "secret celebrities" as writer Carol Wolper calls them.

Wolper’s second novel, "Secret Celebrity," (Riverhead Books) tracks Christine Chase, a 35-year-old, recently divorced filmmaker trying to break out of her professional and personal slump as she shoots a documentary on a cult artist — or secret celeb. Of course, she also collects a band of collaborators along the way, and all of them provide varying degrees of insight into today’s celebrity-obsessed culture.

Given Wolper’s background, it’s easy to imagine an HBO version. Wolper has carved her own secret-celeb status as a screenwriter of action flicks such as "Bad Boys," thanks to genre-defining mentor Don Simpson. After a decade in film, Wolper put out a first novel, in 1999, "Cigarette Girl," which met with mixed reviews. Critics loved it or chided it for its look at L.A.’s colorful characters and its straight-shooting dialog. She’ll complete the trilogy with a third novel her publisher expects by the spring of 2003.

But besides offering up some pretty clever and ruthless insights, Wolper’s books also make great insider travel guides. She notes the killer margaritas at El Carman, retail therapy at Tracey Ross and the fantastic chopped salads at La Scala, but disses Mr. Chow, championing the service at Ago instead. "I’ll probably never get a table there again," she muses.

Wolper stops short of calling her book autobiographical. Of course, the people and places she knows turn up. But driving to her apartment building near Hancock Park, it’s clear that Wolper and Chase live in the same place. They share similar pasts, similar career paths, an ex-husband and even bold-faced friends. At one point, Wolper offhandedly offers that "it’s especially easy writing in the first person."

She’s also introduced an alphabet code so cool it’s bound to enter the pop lexicon: A "B" stands for bitter; the "H-and-D" women are social climbers who hint at the famous guy they’re involved with, then deny all revealing guesses. And "P.D.P." describes those public displays of privacy by celebs who don the clichéd baseball hat and sunglasses while seated at a busy Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf cafe.
"My books are targets for people who want to hate L.A. But you can bust a place and still love it. That’s a healthy relationship," she says. "New York — the media based there — is much more guilty of celebrating the celebrity culture and the superficiality of Hollywood than the people here."