January 11, 2005

Celebrity Journalism

A good friend of mine once told me I should read a particular magazine, because it has "great celeb photos." I considered saying, I guess I still want to be your friend.

Celeb photos. This person, when he recognizes an actor or other performer on the street, actually stops to talk to them. I mean, he isn't obnoxious about it or anything, but unless I have a special feel for someone's work I can't imagine speaking to them. I usually just give a little half-smile as our eyes meet.

And, no—I can't imagine putting together a list of actors I've seen in person, even throwing out the events I've gone to on my husband's arm (which included a tribute to Steven Spielberg—as you might imagine, there were a lot of "names" in the room that night). We just see people in L.A., and most of us don't want to risk "bugging" them unless we have something significant to say.

I'll tell you the first, though: It was Peter Falk. I was in an ice cream parlor in Westwood Village (part of the Swensen's chain, IIRC). I was maybe 12 years old, and Falk had clearly been filming an episode of Columbo (the ones in the 70s—remember, I'm old), because he had his trenchcoat on and makeup on his face to make his complexion just a bit deeper. I was eating my ice cream and looked up suddenly to see a face I knew intimately. I think the shock registered on my face, and Falk smiled at me. Then he ordered his own ice cream. I've always hoped that I regained my wits and smiled back at him, but I don't remember for sure.

Five years later I got to know some friends who were making a short super-8 film that was a Columbo parody. Fifteen years or so after that, one of those same friends found himself to be a new business owner due to a chain of events that involved Peter Falk.

My point is that in L.A. (and New York, to some degree) the cult of celebrity is like oxygen: just in the air. I've been thinking about this as I consider getting involved in one or more projects that involve reporting on celebrities. At first blush, my nerdly indifference to these matters other people are so concerned with might appear to be a liability. Once I thought it through, however, I realized the fact that I don't succomb to any kind of hero-worship could actually help me in covering some of the entertainment figures around town.

After Peter Falk smiled at me, it was all over. I saw behind the veil.

At my Publishing Group meeting tonight the one of the celeb magazines had some staffers on hand discussing how they handled the "Brad and Jennifer" issue, which had to be rushed into print in a matter of days. One of the discussions that went into that cover story was a brainstorming session in which staffers sat around considering what ordinary Americans might be curious about regarding the breakup.

"Like, what sorts of questions might your mother ask?" one of the editors enquired of the others in the group.

And when this was quoted in our meeting I thought, "my mother? She'd want to know, Brad and Jennifer who? And why should I care?"

So I'm a second-generation nerd. The difference being, I can snap out of it at will.

You all be good. Think twice about wishing for fame and fortune: fortune alone is handier and safer. It also leads to less social awkwardness: you aren't followed by hordes of people on photo safari, and no one approaches you on the street, apropos of nothing, and just starts talking.

Posted by Attila at January 11, 2005 11:56 PM

1. Being 12 during the 70s does NOT make a person old...I personally know this to be true.

2. Brad & Jen: My question is why does the "breakup" surprise anyone? From everything I heard they were never in it FOREVER, through thick and thin, in good times and bad, for better or for worse. I've heard multiple recounts of interviews (Oprah to name one) and vague memories of my own that they oddly (in my opinion) avoided the we're-together-forever concept and stated that they were together for as long as their love lasts type of thing. That's not marriage...that's dating! While Oprah and other interviewers would fawn all over them and tell them that their attitude was so wonderful and refreshing....*vomit*. And the whole kids thing...something about one wanted but the other didn't...hello?...what freaking about-to-get-married-moron doesn't work that out in excruciating detail before the wedding? Only a complete brain dead idiot or someone not serious about the marriage...and I don't know which or if both apply.

3. You reporting on celebrities: you're so much better than that. Hold out if you can.

Posted by: Don at January 12, 2005 01:09 AM

"This person, when he recognizes an actor or other performer on the street, actually stops to talk to them. I mean, he isn't obnoxious about it or anything, but unless I have a special feel for someone's work I can't imagine speaking to them. I usually just give a little half-smile as our eyes meet."

My reflex if I see someone I recognize, is to give them more of a greeting than someone I don't. And on occasion this has resulted in my greeting someone I've never met, but seen on TV or other media, as if we know each other.

Fortunately, I'm not real big on stopping to chat with people I do know, so it's not all that embarrassing.

Posted by: McGehee at January 12, 2005 11:20 AM

3. Sure. OTOH, sometimes there's nothing better than paying the bills. Maybe taking that job can help folks hold out for the better one, since they're freed from financial pressure while they look and wait. I think any reasonably decent job is worth doing and worth doing well. Celeb stuff included.

Posted by: k at January 12, 2005 12:09 PM

I met Buck Owens son at the county fair in Bakersfield, does that count?

David Edelstein, the NPR/Slate movie critic, wrote me a nasty email because I made fun of him. Does that count?

Posted by: jeff at January 12, 2005 02:54 PM

God bless you Atilla, I get so sick and tired of people coming up to me on the street.....Pile is that you Pile....it is you isn't it.....I love your work....you're my inspiration......that post you wrote on flatuphobia touched me deeply.....can I have your childr.....er......autograph?

Posted by: Pile On® at January 12, 2005 07:53 PM

Being 12 during the 70s does NOT make a person old...I personally know this to be true.

Absolutely. Now, if you weren't 12 sometime during the 70s, then you are either old or a child, but if you turned 12 in the 70s you're just right. :)

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