When we were young, celebrity often was confused with popularity. We thought the cheerleaders, the Homecoming Queens, the class officers and anyone who felt privileged to become caught up in their sphere of influence and visibility were the reigning local celebs. Based on our geographic location and social status, being a debutante was considered another form of celebrity. Now, a "coming out" event is not necessarily regarded as a plus, depending on who is "coming out" and why. After all, Rock Hudson was a romantic super star, so imagine our shock and amazement to learn that he was not of a sexual orientation we had assumed. In fact, with the global shrinkage that has taken place for the last couple of decades, weíve had a good many illusions shattered.
We read "fan" magazines like Photoplay and Silver Screen and probably fantasized more than a little about the lives of people like Betty Grable, Lana Turner, and Rita Hayworth. Their worlds looked perfect and ours, drab by comparison. The all-American girl next door qualities of people like Debbie Reynolds, who was a mere 17 years old when she starred in "Singing in the Rain," and Doris Day who probably was only in her 20ís when she appeared in "Pillow Talk," further fueled our misguided notions of someday being "discovered."
The entertainment world is where most of the folks we considered celebrities resided. When Frank Sinatra sang, we swooned. When Elvis Presley sang AND gyrated, we squealed. More than a few of us were quite put out when each of those fellows married teenagers. Mia Farrow was younger than some of us when she and Frank "got hitched." And Priscilla Presley--well, she was also drop dead gorgeous which made that a bit easier to endure. "He was blinded by her beauty," we told ourselves. Then, along came the Beatles and the world has never been the same. We looked to Ed Sullivan for "star power" which he provided and presided over for 20 years. Barbra Streisand had a "helmet" like hair do and such dark eye shadow and liner, it gave her the appearance of a raccoon. But, when she opened her mouth and started to sing, it was pure magic. Donít we all love it that she looks better in her 50ís than she ever did in her 20ís?
Some of us took dancing lessons or learned to play the piano. Didnít we sit around at slumber parties and amuse one another by holding a hair brush in front of our mouths and lip synching a tune or two? We had extremely grandiose notions of what the "life of a celebrity" was like. And, almost all of us thought nothing could be so wonderful as having the sort of attention and privilege that seemed to go with the title.
Only as we matured did we discover that celebrity can put people in the spotlight, between a rock and a hard place. When we attended our high school reunions it became clear that popularity in grades 9 through 12 did not necessarily have a long "shelf life." In fact, as adults, we realized, it may have nothing to do with anything. In a 1975 interview, Doris Day said, "If so many people love me, how come Iím alone?" She has become an animal rights activist, probably taking to heart the axiom, if you want a true blue friend who will give you unconditional devotion--buy a dog. When Julie Andrews was asked in 1966 how it feels to be a star, she answered, "I suck my thumb a lot."
When celebrity comes knocking, it may bring along a nasty bunch of baggage and some unwelcome paraphernalia that people donít notice until itís too late to slam the door shut. Take a peek inside that Samsonite and low and behold you may find notoriety. Fame may look tempting but it could be hanging in a closet right next to, "all washed up." Comebacks might be exhilarating but waiting for them to arrive can be brutal. Billie Holiday had a great line in "Lady Sings the Blues" in 1956: "Some damn body is always trying to embalm me. Iím always making a comeback, but nobody ever tells me where Iíve been." One of the "popular" high school girls, wrote the book, Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen. Alix Kates Schulman lamented, "If, as girls always said, itís never too early to think about whom to marry, then it could certainly not be too early to think about who to be. Being somebody could get a much better husband than nobody." YIKES! Back to the husband as the "holy grail" days!
Jane Powell once said, "A celebrity is one who works all his life to become well-known and then goes through back streets wearing dark glasses so he wonít be recognized." Harrison Ford was recently quoted as saying he wished he could buy back his anonymity. HELLO, Harrison, we would be more than happy to give you some of ours--if that means we can have a conversation with you!
When all is said and done, now that weíve reached a "certain age" we have reality on our team and thatís what makes us all winners. Yes, weíre willing to concede the point that celebrity was never all it was purported to be. But, weíre not exactly willing to "throw out the baby with the bath water." What does that mean? Simply, that we know the word celebrity is first cousin to celebration and at this mid point in our lives we make no apologies for celebrating ourselves, for liking ourselves and for being delighted with where we are and who we are. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, "Thatís all we have to say about that!"