Monday, September 19, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Frenzy of Renown

by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Monday's Frenzy of Renown: Taylor Swift ... Lupita Nyong'o ... Bruce Springsteen ... Chevy Chase ... The Statue of Liberty and Criterion's Remastered "Valley of The Dolls."

"NOT EVERYONE can be famous. But much of our daily experience tells us that we should if we possibly can, because it is the best, perhaps the only way to be.
"Fifteen hundred years ago, St. Augustine, turning himself against Roman public life, argued that the emptiness that comes from living exclusively in the eye of others could be filled by God. But even he wrestled with the desire to be praised openly for his denial of worldly values."
That is Leo Braudy's Introduction to his massive 1986 book, "The Frenzy of Renown."

Click to order "The Frenzy of Renown."
This is a brilliant treatise on fame through the ages. I came across the book recently in yet another attempted clutter-clearing. Paperback, dog-eared and musty, I was initially going to donate it to The Strand. Then I noticed many underlined sections, particularly in the introduction. The 1997 Afterword was also heavily marked-up. I decided to sit with it again.

This is not an easy book. Running 600-plus pages, "The Frenzy of Renown" thickly, artfully ruminates on the fame of individual men, of dramatists, emperors; of imagery, faith and politics. And of course, on the then-current popular culture of films, television; celebrities of that moment. While the entire book is densely fascinating, it is Braudy's intro and afterword that speak with amazing clarity and prescience to what we are embroiled in today.

In 1986, "social media" was unknown. Ten years later, the Internet had already changed the world, but not quite conquered it. Yet, to read Braudy here is to anticipate our near-total breakdown of privacy and modesty and reasonable behavior and reaction. He writes: "The dream of fame in Western society has been inseparable from the ideal of personal freedom ... To be famous for yourself, for what you are without talent or premeditation, means you have come into your rightful inheritance."
Many of the aspects of and longing for fame are unchanging — the push/pull, the giddy elevation and inevitable animal delight in tearing down idols. But I don't think even the brilliant Mr. Braudy could have anticipated the reckless entitlement, stupidity, cruelty that Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc, has wrought. Nor, the total bastardization of "fame" and "stardom" — words that mean literally nothing now.

Andy Warhol's dreamy declaration "everybody will be famous for 15 minutes" came true and then morphed into the collective wondering when somebody's "15 minutes were up?" The thing is, now, nobody's fifteen minutes are ever up. Our technology makes that impossible. As does the hard-wiring of the current generation, who have grown up over-sharing and also witness to increasingly debased forms of garnering attention.

If you are interested in how we got to where we are, how fame — ancient and modern — was/is disseminated, objectified, worshipped and reviled (before we were all connected, all the time), read "The Frenzy of Renown."

Block out a weekend. Or two. Choose the most comfortable chair. Don't say you're not interested. (Did you arrive today at this column because you wanted to hear all about somebody unknown?)

As author Braudy declares in the very first sentence of his book: "We live in a society bound together by the talk of fame."
SPEAKING OF fame: "You've got to climb Mount Everest to reach the Valley of the Dolls. It's a brutal climb to reach that peak. You stand there. Waiting for the rush of exhilaration; but it doesn't come. You're alone, and the feeling of loneliness is overpowering."

Those were Barbara Parkins' first lines in the 1967 movie version of Jackie Susann's bestselling novel about movie stars, Broadway legends, models with great cheekbones, "booze and dope." (Those two words were never the same after Susan Hayward got through with them!)
"You've got to climb Mount Everest...." Luckily, Barbara Parkins (aka Anne Welles) didn't have to exert herself too much, as the great peak was nearby, on her head.
"VOTD" has always been the bad movie so many people loved to watch with friends with benefits. (Those benefits being, well — booze and dope.) But it's just as good/bad in a sober state. By the time Patty Duke, as an ersatz Judy Garland is being restrained in a sanatorium, you'll feel buzzed.
Now, our friends at Criterion DVD are releasing a spanking new edition of the movie — in "regular" DVD and Blu-ray. Not only has it been all cleaned up and digitally refreshed, it's full of extras — udio commentary from some of the actors ... footage of the world premiere ... trailers, TV spots and promotional featurettes ... new video essays and most amusingly, portions of Patty Duke's appearance at a 2009 San Francisco tribute, "Sparkle, Neely, Sparkle."
Duke, who received the lion's share of negative reviews when the film came out, was also the one who eventually came to fully embrace the camp of her nakedly over-the-top performance.
In this vein, I'd love to see Elizabeth Berkley — a wonderful girl and actress — eventually arrive at a similarly relaxed point regarding her own strenuous efforts in 1995's cult-classic, "Showgirls." But perhaps this can never be. Patty Duke — already an Oscar-winner — still had the support of her studio and the industry after "VOTD." Berkley, in her first major role in what was only her second feature film, was more or less abandoned by everybody connected with "Showgirls." It was a bitter thing.

Still, a screening of "Showgirls," titled "Maybe YOU are a whore, Cristal, but I'm not!" presided over by Berkley, would be fun. And even profitable for one of the many animal rights organizations she supports.
Berkley is happily married, a mother, and still a regularly working actress. "Showgirls" didn't kill her. The last time I saw Elizabeth, she remained a bit raw on the subject of "Showgirls" but we got past that bonding over the unconditional love of animals.
THIS AND THAT:
Best-looking magazine covers of the month: Bruce Springsteen, still hot as hell, on Vanity Fair and Lupita Nyong'o decorating Vogue (this is Lupita's third Vogue cover.) Bruce is pumping up his coming memoir, "Born to Run" and Ms. Nyong'o has the highly-anticipated "Queen of Katwe" movie, about Ugandan chess champion, Nakku Harriet.
... IF YOU'VE ever felt a lump in your throat contemplating The Statue of Liberty, I urge you to read Ian Frazier's fascinating article, "Patina" in The New Yorker. This tells the history of Lady Liberty's distinctive color. (Did you know that in 1906, after her copper shell had pigmented to green, there was a push to paint her?! Thankfully, that horror never occurred.)
ILLUSTRATION BY BEN WISEMAN
... GOOD LUCK to Chevy Chase. The actor recently admitted himself into rehab, with no fuss or attempted evasion. He referred to it as a "tune up." Perhaps with age — Chevy is 72 — comes the wisdom of realizing it's better to tune up than tune out, permanently.
... "LIE AWAY, two faced, but in my heart I understand." Those lyrics, from the new song by DJ and singer Calvin Harris, are said to refer to Calvin's ex, Taylor Swift. Those who don't like Swift say she's getting hers, now. (She has bitingly referenced past relationships in her own music.)
Others are joking that Harris has reached out to Taylor's most recent fallen boyfriend, Tom Hiddleston, to chew the fat over Taylor. This, for the purpose of further musical "tributes." Not likely. (Kanye and Kim, the scorched earth of pointless celebrity, probably started that rumor.) I think Hiddleston wants to forget all about it. He looked somewhat shell-shocked during the run of their summer lovin'.
As for Taylor, I'm side-eyeing the latest that has her hooking up with Zac Efron. We're not dismissing it, however. In fact, go ahead, kids. We need mindless distraction until November 8th.
Zac Efron knows the value of eating his Wheaties — strength is vital during a bout of Taylor Swift.
ONE of out favorites here, broadcaster William O'Shaughnessy is inviting us to the Sept. 26th kick-off for his book on the late Governor Mario Cuomo of New York. This loving tome is titled "Remembrances of a Remarkable Man." The Jesuit University Press is co-hosting this event and the invite reads "P.S. you won't be surprised by the venue. Of course, at Le Cirque, 6 to 8."

Contact Liz here.