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Pauley Perrette becomes a real Babe for CBS photo shoot


If a glammed-up Pauley Perrette is rare, so is the chance for her to bring a piece of high society back to life.

Thanks to one of the world's top fashion photographers and a fast-working team of wardrobe, hair and makeup experts, the co-star of CBS' Tuesday hit "NCIS" recently was transformed into someone who was part of the network's storied past. The reason: a photo shoot for the upcoming September/October issue of the CBS-published entertainment magazine Watch!

Barbara "Babe" Paley was a glamorous New York socialite and the wife of William S. Paley, the legendary founder of the Columbia Broadcasting System. The couple's weekday residence was the posh St. Regis Hotel, the site of Perrette's photo session with Patrick Demarchelier, the globally renowned French lensman whose previous subjects for Watch! have included Kaley Cuoco ("The Big Bang Theory") and the "Blue Bloods" cast encompassing Tom Selleck and Bridget Moynahan.

"We are having such a wonderful time," the hugely friendly Perrette tells this writer at the St. Regis while "playing" Paley in much fancier attire than she wears as self-styled "NCIS" forensics whiz Abby Sciuto. "It's been really exciting to talk about and plan it, and it's been a dream shoot. All the clothes are vintage pieces by designers of that era, and it's just been a bit of magic for everything to come together."

Babe Paley died the day after she turned 63 in 1978, and Perrette did considerable research on her before literally posing as her. "I was sent a folder of material on her, and I was instantly mesmerized. She had such a specific way about her, and it wasn't only what she wore; it also was how she stood and held herself. There was a certain something to her Babe Paley 'thing.' "

Well-traveled photographer Demarchelier also studied up on Paley, and he had no worries about Perrette meeting the needs of his assignment. Long known for working quickly and confidently, he says he usually finds that anyone in front of his lens also comes in ready: "Once the camera starts going, there is no problem. Everyone knows what they are there to do, and everyone is a professional."

Demarchelier knows instantly whether he's gotten what he's after visually, since he doesn't wait to review the shots. "I look at them right away," he confirms, "and if I see that we have what we need, then that's it. We're finished with that, and we move on."

That approach helped the shoot keep moving efficiently on a Sunday in New York, with St. Regis locations from the King Cole Bar to the restaurant Adour and even the East 55th Street sidewalk immediately outside the hotel utilized over the course of approximately nine hours.

The Pauley-as-Paley idea came from Watch! editor-in-chief Jeremy Murphy, who explains he's "kind of been fascinated" by Paley "ever since coming to CBS." Sigourney Weaver portrayed her in the 2006 movie "Infamous," which starred Toby Jones as Truman Capote. "She's been played by a couple of other actresses," Murphy notes of Paley, "so I thought the time was right to do an homage to her.

"She's such a part of the history of CBS, and apart from that, she's this iconic figure of fashion involving big-name labels and photographers. It was almost a perfect storm; it just seemed like a great combination of factors."

Perrette also worked last year with the Watch! staff on what she recalls as "just a whirlwind week in Paris. All of us are so sentimental about it. We had such an amazing time, and for the same group to be together again ... we have a really good flow, everybody's on the same page, and we are definitely in love with what we're doing."

Having modeled before, Perrette reasons "it's the same thing as being an actor in a way. You get into the personality of the character, even if it's not a real person. Being able to get outside yourself and become someone else, that's also part of the game of a photo shoot."

Perrette's ties to New York have gotten tighter lately: With two friends, she has opened Donna Bell's Bake Shop, named for her late mother. Add that to such other activities as the Watch! shoot and Perrette's role last winter as CBS' backstage and online source on the Grammy Awards, and the impact of the longevity and success of "NCIS" on her life and career is evident.

"It's been coming for a while," she reflects as the show nears the start of its ninth season Sept. 20. "Definitely for the last few years, my life has been extraordinarily full. There's never a dull moment, and never a quiet one, really. I also do work for something like 30 charities (the American Red Cross and animal rescue efforts among them), so I'm always helping them.

"I've been doing my thing for a while, but the series just keeps getting bigger and bigger, and my character is so beloved around the world. For everyone out there who's in love with Abby, I'm one of them, too. She never ceases to fascinate me, and I'm forever curious about her. And the fact that I get to play her is a gift. I have such an amazing job."

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