Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thoughts on Fame

I've been thinking recently about fame, because it's a strange characteristic, not linked to human survival. Why do some people have a need to be famous? Why do other people go ga-ga over a person because he or she is famous? What, exactly, is the point of fame?

What got me thinking about this was observing my grandchildren. I have Meghan and Lizzie, equally talented. Meghan enjoys showing off her singing and Irish dance skills. Lizzie hates to perform or be noticed. And then I have Mary Clare, who is a born star. She comes into a room and she's the immediate center of attention. . She interacts with strangers everywhere she goes. She gets the lead in the kindergarten play. Is this just a case of introvert versus extrovert or is there really some kind of fame gene? Haven't we all been to plays and there is one person on stage we can't stop looking at? Not always the most handsome person or the best actor but they just have something that fascinates us.

I was a movie buff as a child. I remember standing for hours in a crowd in London for a chance to glimpse Joan Crawford. She was an awful old woman in those days with make-up caked like a mask and false eyelashes a mile long, but I was so thrilled that I really saw her--it was almost a religious experience, as if she was a reincarnation of the Buddha or something.

I have to confess that when I was a child, I dreamed of being a movie star. I loved to perform. I still enjoy speaking in front of a crowd. So that fame gene has to be there, doesn't it? On the other hand, I am intensely embarrassed when fans come up to me and stammer and gush over me. I never know what to say. So I don't want fame to be adored. That's obvious. So what do I want? Why do I keep plugging away at my writing, hoping for the bestseller one day? It's not the money--although a few million would be nice. Is to know that I'm good at what I do? That I'm close to the top of my chosen profession? that I've achieved my goal in life?

Why do people like us keep striving while others are content to accept a paycheck and desire nothing more than no stress, a quiet life, a few beers and a godo retirement at the end?

The whole fan culture is strange to me. Some musicians whip fans into a frenzy and yet they are not as good technically as lesser known musicians. Some of the best actors never make it to the top. So what defines star quality?

I'd appreciate any enlightenment on this subject. Also I'd be curious to know: who is the most famous person you have met? With me it's a toss between the Queen, The Pope and the Beatles.

HALLIE: What I've observed is that when people get really famous, then they become a lightning rod for sneers. Others take great glee in knocking them down a peg. That famous I don't need to be.

Most famous person I ever met? Gotta be Marilyn Monroe. My parents were screenwriters and six-year-old me got to go on the set at 20th Century Fox while they were shooting the Heatwave number ("We're havin' a heatwave, a tropical heatwave. The temperature's risin', it isn't surprisin', she certainly can can-can") for NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS. Marilyn danced and sang -- you can see the amazing results on YouTube

Afterward Marilyn came out looking like nobody wearing black pedal-pushers, a white blouse, sunglasses, and a scarf tied around her head. I also met Danny Kaye (my parents wrote a movie he was in called On the Riviera), Katharine Hepburn (Desk Set), and Fred Astaire (Daddy Long Legs). Groucho Marx once came from the house and smoked a cigar. I got the very strong impression that he didn't like kids. And I once answered the front door and there was Ray Bolger singing "Once in Love with Amy" to me (my sister's name is Amy.)

RHYS: Hallie, you definitely have an unfair advantage! I would have been in heaven if I'd met Danny Kaye or Fred Astaire.

HANK: Rhys, you met the Queen, The Pope and The Beatles?? And people stammer and gush over you? Yikes. You win. :-) But Hallie, you're in another name-dropping league altogether.

I interviewed Prince Charles. (Very cute. And truly charming.) And I did long interviews with President Carter, and Warren Beatty and Cybill Shepherd and Dustin Hofffman and Ansel Adams, and I worked closely with (and toured with) Hunter Thompson and Richard Avedon.

Fame. Yeah, I sometimes wonder it's what happens to kids when their parents don't praise them enough. Or when the kids think they don't. If they say--"watch me dive!" and the parents don't.

RHYS: This is no measly list either, Hank. Do you find that being a TV personality makes you visible when you're out in public? Do people treat you differently because "you're on TV?" Does it interfere with your normal life?

JAN: I met Patty Duke once. She'd been famous since childhood and you could tell. There was this protective shell around her. It was as if there were a couple of feet of celebrity shield between her and the humanity around her. Not that I blame her, but I think it would be a burden. I think when I was young, I dreamed of being famous. But to tell you the truth, I don't think I could live that way. It even makes uncomfortable when people think its a big deal I'm a mystery writer. I keep wanting to set them straight.

ROBERTA: I was going to say that Hallie was the most famous person I've met:) but my husband reminded me that George W, George Sr, and Jeb Bush once played through us on the golf course. While we waited for them to finish the hole, Barbara Bush came up to watch. I introduced myself and my mother-in-law to her and offered condolences about Millie the dog. I said we'd recently lost a beloved guinea pig so we understood the loss. She was gracious but not certain at all that a rodent could be compared to her Millie.

RO: I would hate to be famous. I can't imagine people going through my garbage or staking out my home hoping to catch me in an unguarded or unmadeup moment.

Famous people I've met...I've bumped into a number of famous people at parties and great meeting of the minds - and no one's ever sung to me (like Ray Bolger...very cool.)Okay, included with the soap opera, classic movie stars, athletes, wrestling and porn stars I knew in the video business there were three first ladies, two presidents, and one olympic gold medalist, Brian Boitano, whose thighs were as big as Emmett Smith's. William Hurt, Christopher Walken, Ron Jeremy and Governor Hugh Carey all, um, chatted me up (in my younger days)and I sat in the back of a limo with Frank Gifford who let me try on his Hall of Fame ring. I did shake hands with the Mick - Mantle, not Jagger. But no one made my heart beat faster than Bryan Brown, who must have thought I was a complete stalker when I met him at a party at the Australian consulate.

I haven't mentioned any women by name..that's terrible. I did meet Jeanne Moreau once. She was extremely cool.

RHYS: Hey, between us we've pretty much covered famous people in the latter half of the Twentieth Century, haven't we? My observation has always been that the really famous people, those who have made it to the top, are extremely nice, but those who have just brushed with fame--new stars, new wannabe stars, are objectionable. But of course we six Jungle Red babes have remained humble and loveable.
And nobody has enlightened me on why we crave fame. Is it as the song says, "I want to live forever?" Are our books just a quest for immortality?


  1. I like the idea of Lee-Child-famous, which is famous in a certain circle, but not generally famous.

  2. Lee's certainly not affected by fame. He's one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet! Ditto Mike Connelly, Harlan Coben, Sue Grafton, Mary Higgins Clark etc. We have some terrific people in our genre.

  3. That last comment was from Rhys. Sorry, becoming so famous that I have to remain anonymous!

  4. I ran into Caroline Kennedy on top of a pyramid in Mexico. And I sold Ingrid Bergmann a truly ugly shirt in a London department store.

  5. I grew up just outside Beverly Hills. I bumped into a lot of famous people. I once waited on Elizabeth Montgomery at a department store when she was taking her daughter shopping. Bob Denver (when he was Maynard G. Krebs) lived up the street; Robert Culp and France Nuyen lived across the street. Liza Minelli sat in front of me in Science class for 3 weeks. Jayne Mansfield's daughter rode our school bus.

    I never really thought of these folks as 'special.' And right now, living in Orlando, I'm fed up with the media's pursuit of the 'famous' -- you can be sure if I drove into a fire hydrant and hit a tree at 3 AM, nobody would care.

  6. Yeah, what's with Tiger anyway? Can't wait to hear the spin on that story.

    And Sheila, you sold an ugly shirt to Ingrid Bergman?? did you pick it out or she?

  7. Boy, what a collection. I pumped Buddy Ebsen's gas in 1974 in Newport Beach, California. That's about it (unless you count a former beau who is now Quentin Tarantino's handyman...). What I brag about these days is knowing Hank!


  8. Aw, Edith, that's so funny. (But I do love it...)

    Carloine Kennedy was my intern when I worked on Capitol Hill,I forgot about that...she was about--16? And already quite charming.

    And yes, Rhys, in answer to your question, people do recognize me. Especially when I have on red lipstick, hilariously enough. Does it bother me? Well, I'll admit it bothers me more..when they don't. :-)

  9. Really, the only legitimate way to become famous is to build a system that generates fans of your brand. Read "The Web Marketing Universe" for more information.

    Also, if you would like to write for Fame Foundry we'd love to hear from you!


  10. You met the Queen, The Pope and The Beatles, Rhys? I met Prince Phillip once.

  11. Jayne Mansfield's daughter! (Small world! I think I went to Camp Tocaloma with her.) That would be a seriously heavy burden of fame to grow up with.

  12. I'm with Terry on fame. What makes me crazy is that the media idolizes people just because they are on television. I'm not talking about people with real roles and talent (like Hank),but people who are famous JUST because of their exposure on TV. (Think reality TV. Think Octomom) Anyone with enough exposure. And then kids look up to and emulate these people.