At one point, it would have been hard to define Paris Hilton. "Career heiress" doesn't cut it; nor does "party girl" or "high-ranking socialite-cum-model-cum-actress," and "American royalty" was arguably too dramatic a label for a woman whose true breakout role cost less to film than a night in a budget room at the neighborhood Hilton hotel. Luckily, as lackluster economies are wont to do, the early 2000s looked toward the financial elite and borrowed heavily from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous in hopes of creating a new rush of money envy. Enter MTV Cribs, The Osbournes, Rich Girls, VH1's The Fabulous Life, and Paris Hilton, celebutante.
Heiress of hotel guru Conrad Hilton, Paris became famous for possessing the ingredients of fame, albeit minus the resumé. As she grew skinnier, blonder, wilder, and richer, society joyfully embraced her as gossip fodder and allowed her to adopt a movie-star mystique while waiving the irksome requirement of having starred in an actual movie. This is not to say Hilton has no film credits to her name; in 2001, she landed a cameo role as herself in Ben Stiller's Zoolander and later stretched her acting chops to play a rowdy clubber in The Cat in the Hat (2003). Unfortunately for Hilton, her small role in James Cox's crime thriller Wonderland that same year was overshadowed by a larger role in an explicit homemade sex video, which her ex-boyfriend promptly sold to the salivating Internet hoards. Interestingly enough, the ensuing lawsuit and barrage of negative publicity did nothing but bolster the ratings of The Simple Life, a reality show starring Hilton and fellow heiress Nicole Richie. The series chronicled Hilton and Richie's reactions to the pitfalls of "simple" living, such as holding a job and shopping in outlets that don't stock haute couture. While the show could never quite decide who the novelty was -- the ridiculous rich girls or "hayseed" townsfolk -- The Simple Life was, nonetheless, a huge success.
Still basking in the warmth of paparazzi camera flashes across the globe, Paris Hilton continued looking to further her acting career. She took on her biggest role at the time in Nine Lives, a straight-to-video supernatural thriller directed by newcomer Andrew Green. Attempts at horror and comedy followed, with, respectively, House of Wax (whose publicity proudly offered the opportunity to "See Paris die!") and the straight-to-video National Lampoon's Pledge This! Luckily for Hilton, she could fall back on a successful, prefab pop album (2006's Paris) and further seasons of The Simple Life, despite her falling out with Richie. In 2007, Hilton geared up for what would no doubt be the most challenging project of her young life, as she was sentenced to a short jail stay for driving with a suspended license. The media, predictably, anticipated the event with the fervor of a Roman audience waiting for a Christian to be thrown to hungry lions. ~ Tracie Cooper, Rovi