I’ve wondered for years why everybody is so enchanted with celebrities. I include myself in that vast number. One could say, quite within reason, that a celebrity is merely someone who has acquired a football trophy, an agent, a hot mate, a multi-million deal in some category, or maybe instead to be a person of real talent ranging from tiny to gigantic who captivates audiences.
You could also claim that we Americans are obsessed with someone’s fame, whatever category they fall into. A bonafide movie star, certainly; a rock star perhaps even moreso depending on your age. For example, I have no idea who the Foo Fighters rock group is, but I can go pretty goofy over Brad Pitt. Anything Kardashian leaves me cold.
The reasons for the common neurosis (sometimes psychosis) of celebrity lust are obvious: We think we’re less fascinating than they, our lives more plebian, our experiences more drab. We assume they are happier than we are. Stepping into their shoes for a moment by reading PEOPLE MAGAZINE may alter our sense of inferiority, but only temporarily. If we get to know a star, their loftiness or fame rubs off on us a bit.
Or conversely, maybe we feel more worldly and significant than we really are and interacting with a celeb confirms that.
It might begin early in life, as a teenager when the basketball captain suddenly hugs you hard behind the chem lab and you are catapulted into a beauty you never felt before. You don’t experience it as an assault, an insult, but rather a compliment. After all, he’s the basketball superstar. And when you tell your girlfriends, they look at you with a new respect and perhaps awe. You are no longer the klutzy kid with the nose that’s too wide. You are reborn into a special and desirable 15-year-old. That might be when your celebrity addiction is born.
You need more and more as you grow up, your smallish ego needs to be fed on a regular basis. You look for any connection with the famous stars you adore. You lust for connection with power folks and heroes.
If you go to a Broadway theatre, notice that after the performance dozens of autograph geeks gather at the stage door, sometimes waiting an hour, for the chance of a moment with the actors who are leaving the premises after the show. You might say that collecting a mere signature will remind the crowd of the pleasant experience they’ve just had. But the weird truth is that frequently the crowd hasn’t even been inside the theatre for the show; they’ve just come for the autograph.
Once I was writing a piece for the Washington Post on Woody Allen, who was starring on Broadway in his own play, PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM. The plan was that I would see the show, meet Woody backstage, and cross the street to Sardis for the interview and late dinner. When we opened the stage door, he freaked out. There were at least fifty autograph crazies waiting for him. He grabbed my arm, burrowed his little body next to mine and pulled me fast across the street, while the crowd followed, at one point surrounding us, making it difficult to move forward. When we got to Sardis, we bolted inside and the bouncers dispersed the crowd. We were both upset, of course, and downed a few strong drinks. “Does this happen after every performance?” I asked him as we both calmed down. “Yes,” he answered in a throaty whisper. “Usually, I stay in my dressing room, sometimes for an hour, until they all leave.”
I once met Richard Nixon, whose politics and sweaty upper lip I loathed. I was writing a cover story for the exalted LIFE MAGAZINE about his daughter Tricia’s wedding to some average guy whose name I can’t recall. Tricky Dick as he was nicknamed was President at the time. The White House that day – yes, it is the most glamorous and overwhelming building in America – was filled with all the notables that you can imagine while reading this. I won’t name names but if you can remember that year, 1971, you will have heard of at least 300 of them.
The press was huddled behind barriers so that we could do our work but not mingle with the luminaries. Photography was forbidden. Yet we could see them and they us, and occasionally some publicity-starved, somewhat renowned guest would wave to us. I pretended to be too jaded to care when the vice-president, Spiro Agnew, shook my hand as I was on my way to the ladies’ room.
I would love to meet President Biden, Adam Schiff, Nancy Pelosi, Senator Schumer, Elizabeth Warren at the Capital. I might have to stifle myself from regaling each of them with what a remarkable job they’re doing in these impossible times. But I certainly would not ask for their autographs. Or follow them across the halls of Congress. Would my sense of who I am expand or deepen if I had a conversation with Liz Cheney?
I have never asked a celebrity for his or her autograph. I’ve never approached a star in the shoe department of Saks Fifth Avenue to tell her how much I cherish her work. I did have sex once with a movie star who was staying at the same hotel as I in Madrid. But that’s another story for another time….
Check out my recent memoir MY MOTHER WOULD HATE THIS BOOK. It is now available in hardcover, paperback & eBook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or order through your local bookstore. https://www.amazon.com/Mother-Would-Hate-This-Book