the lawyer writer

sometimes legal                     sometimes literary                     sometimes not

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Celebrity Gossip

This is a long entry. But it's about celebrities, so maybe it won't matter

Living in New York, you see celebrities everywhere. There is really only one way to respond to a celebrity sighting, which is to roll your eyes and ignore the celebrity entirely. Sometimes this is easy, like when they're shooting a bad television show on your block and all those trailers and hangers-on means you have to go the long way with your groceries. That's just plain annoying. But in a bar, with the celebrity right there, it's important to keep your cool and ignore them as much as possible, unless, by some ridiculous fluke, they are actually talking directly to you.

Why? Because when you try to meet a celebrity, there are only three possible things that you really want to say:

1. "I really love your work," which is like commenting on elevator music.
2. "Please take an interest in me and my work, and make me famous/rich."
3. "Hang out with me so I can be cool and get into cool clubs and talk about you to my friends in the morning."

All these are tempting, but I resolutely stick to spotting celebrities like they are distant, colorful birds. ("Look, there's David Byrne with a motorcycle helmet" or "Look, there's Candice Bergen screaming into a cell phone.")

This lesson was hard won. Witness the following story.

I was invited to a small gathering for the birthday of professional magician JB Benn (of the A&E television show "Mondo Magic") Like most magicians, he planned on being the entertainment at his own party. The party included an absurdly famous and funny movie star we shall call "Mr. M," and his wife "Mrs. M." There was also a stunning Broadway actor who is not relevant to this story, except I kept fluttering my lashes at him and he paid no attention. And there was "Richard" another ridiculously famous celebrity known for left-wing politial causes, with his angelically pretty ladyfriend.

It is difficult to sit through 2 hours worth of magic, even when it is mind-boggling. It is even more difficult when your audience is made up of people who are used to being on center stage. The magic was constantly interupted by jokes and one-upmanship, and during the chaos, "Richard's" very cool ladyfriend and I hit it off and became friends.

I started hanging with the Ladyfriend and never really expected to see "Richard," but he showed up once. I was resolved never, ever to be some annoying fan around him, even though I was a huge fan. But when Ladyfriend went to the bathroom, "Richard" asked me what I did, and I told him about The Street Law Handbook. He thought it was a great idea, and said the magic words "Call me, I'd love to help."

When a celebrity says this, it could mean one of two things:
1. They are bored and looking for a new, hot project to work on.
2. They are being polite.

I assumed the former. I was on creative overdrive. I came up with plans and schemes and asked "Richard" for advice on all of them. I asked him about publicity. I gave him one of my galleys.

As I was doing this, two things started to happen. First, while "Richard" did write to tell me he loved the book, he never got more involved other than to send me the occasional monosyllabic email and to tell me to get a good publicist. Second, I started to feel like the worst kind of parasitic syncophant. I imagined him having a hunted look every time I walked into the room. I had become one of those people--who Wants Something From The Celebrity. I stopped writing. Eventually, the Ladyfriend and "Richard" cooled off, and I haven't seen him in a while.

I learned my lesson. A friend said that he never should have offered, but I think I should have been more cautious. The basic truth is that a celebrity sighting is just the sighting of a stranger. If you are meant to talk, you will, and the best thing to do is ask for nothing, not even their company, unless they are absolutely determined to give it to you, come hell or high water.

Now, there's only one question. Exactly how do I keep to this particular rule, and still lure celebrities to talk on my television show?

Ack.

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I have noticed a fourth mode of behavior in the company of celebrities. There are those, driven by insecurity or envy, who take it upon themselves to be rude to the celebrities, perhaps by bashing a particular project or character or by resurrecting old gossip about them. I am not sure of the purpose of this approach, other than to advance an anti-celebrity tackiness and make one's self feel better about one's non-celebrity status.

An acquaintance once recounted his running into one of the Baldwins at a Las Vegas casino. Rather than taking your sound advice and ignoring said Baldwin, this fellow remarked (in one of those loud voices which is meant to attract the attention of all in the immediate vicinity) that [insert name of forgotten film] was a terrible, terrible waste of celluloid. In retelling this story, the acquaintance almost burst with pride. But why?

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because, Defeatist, it is socially acceptable to name-drop during the telling of the story ONLY if you say something really terrible about the person. It proves you're above all that Hollywood stuff by still reaping the benefits of name-dropping.

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