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This Day in My History

2000:  MUST the Show Go On?
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2004Something's Gotta Give

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"South Pacific"

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"Thank You #7"

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30 July 2006

My mother and I had lunch with Alan Alda a few years ago.

It was at the Spinnaker restaurant in Sausalito, a wonderful place which juts out into San Francisco Bay and has a beautiful view of the city.

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I don't remember, now, why we were there, but it must have been a birthday or something, because that's where we frequently go on special occasions. 

The back section of the restaurant was totally empty and all the tables toward the front (that would be the left side of the photo above) were filled.  Suddenly there was Alda and several friends standing in the doorway.  He was quickly whisked to the back of the restaurant, while a few heads turned and a soft buzz went across the room.  "Look—it's Alan Alda!" He sat with his back to the restaurant and, to everybody's credit (since this is kind of a classy joint), nobody bothered him.  He was still sitting there when we left, but since we were in the group of tables closest to the empty part of the restaurant, we've always talked about the day we had lunch with Alan Alda.

I've thought a lot about Alan Alda since that day.  I've thought about the price of celebrity and the unreasonable demands that we often make on this country's "royalty."  (It's hard to think of Britney Spears as American royalty, but she really is, if you think about it.)

We had a very small taste of what it's like to live with celebrity during the Lawsuit days.  Paul had his teeny bopper fans.   And we live just a couple of blocks from the high school.  High school girls found out what kind of car he drove and if his car was parked in the driveway, giggling girls would end up ringing the doorbell hoping for a glimpse of Paul.  He started parking his car two blocks away, where it was hidden, so as not to have to deal with them.

When he began doing that, I started thinking about what happens to the people whose job it is to entertain us.  Yes, they make gazillions of dollars, but what, really, do they owe to the public?  They owe them as good a performance as they can give, some public appearances to promote their movie / play / concert / whatever and really that's it.  They don't owe the public entrée to every single private thing about their lives, unless, like Jessica Simpson or Ozzie Osborne, they invite cameras into their homes to record their every waking moment for a gazillion dollars (in which case, whatever you get, you asked for and are being paid to tolerate).

Think about what a big star gives up.   Think of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie running away to Africa because it was the only place where they knew that they could have some privacy to give birth to their child.

Think of celebrities who get married.  The most special day in a couple's life.  A day filled with love and friendship and, if you are a celebrity, helicopters flying overhead and photographers with telephoto lenses trying to catch a glimpse of your wedding to splash across the pages of tabloids for fans hungry for any hint of an insider look at a star's private life.

And if a star gets testy when s/he is approached for an autograph, headlines blare that they are unfair to fans, or that they are "difficult" or that they are not very nice people.

I so admire celebrities who are able to balance private life with public life and who somehow have won the respect of (most of) the press, who don't hound them to death.

If you are a celebrity you can never go on vacation.  My sister-in-law reads tabloids and she brought one of them to our 4th of July weekend.  The front page was filled with pictures of headless women in bikinis.   To find out which body belonged to which bikini, you had to read inside.

Now look.  There are some people who have bikini bodies, and some  who don't.  You may be the world greatest actress with a body that isn't meant for a Playboy layout.  But maybe you like to sunbathe in your back yard, or on a beach, in a bikini.  You may never ever appear in anything provocative in your movies, but some guy with a telephoto lens gets a photo showing some flab or cellulite and it doesn't make a difference how talented you are, all of your worst features are spread across the front pages and people are clucking about how terrible you look in a bikini.

I'm not a Martha Stewart fan, but why do I have to know that Martha Stewart has cellulite lumps?  Does that affect the quality of her quiche, or the color of the sheets she sells at Target?  Why does the public need to know this?

Another favorite thing to publish in tabloids is women without make-up.  Listen, folks, 1940s Hollywood glamour movies aside, NOBODY goes to bed in full make up, or wakes up with every hair in place.  So why do we need to laugh at what someone looks like without her make-up?  (It's why I don't wear makeup at all — I left my natural beauty shine through in all its glory.)

What is it about us?  Why do we need to feel close to celebrities (or to make fun of them when we find out they aren't so different from us after all)?

I did the same thing — but I was 18 at the time — when I waited in the hotel lobby for 2 days so I could get Judy Garland's autograph and then when her car approached the theatre the next night for her touring Carnegie Hall concert, I was in the crowd of idiots racing after the car, so I could say that I got a brief glimpse of my idol, with her hair in curlers. 

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Which brings me back to Alan Alda.  Walt and I can go to any restaurant we want, sit at any table we want, enjoy our meal, and leave.  Alan Alda needs to plan ahead and sit off by himself, his back to the rest of the diners in order to keep the nice meal he wants to have with his friends from turning into a stream of fans coming up and demanding an autograph.

I'm wondering how many of our current big name stars, if they had known ahead of time the baggage that came with celebrity, would still have chosen to follow that path.  I'll bet that at least some of them would be working in some other field now if they had been able to make an informed decision.   I suspect that what once sounded like a really great deal — being worshipped by millions — gets real old real quick, when the flashes go off in your face when you're at your most vulnerable.

A scene from A Star Is Born always comes to mind when I think of this.  The heroine, Vickie Lester, is emerging from a memorial service for her husband, who committed suicide.  She can barely walk and she's wearing a widow's hat, with a heavy veil.  She is immediately mobbed by fans and one grabs the veil and says "Come on, Sweetie, just give us one look." and rips the veil off of her head.

That, to me, is the epitome of celebrity.   That and the paparrazi chasing Princess Diana to her death in that tunnel in France.

There is no amount of money that is worth that.


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