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    Ricky, and Danny, and Terry, and Jim / Dean lasted six months–don’t forget him

    Alice has a post about Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston that manages to make a simple, unadorned point. (I mean, I say “manages” because what’s unusual is that a post about those two has a point, not that a post by Alice has a point.)

    Perhaps Jennifer Anniston is a career-crazed egotist. Perhaps she suffered in silence for years and is still acting more honorably than many people would expect, despite the media calling her a career-crazed egotist as a result. The Beckhams dealt with rumours about David Beckham’s liasons with other women by restating their mutual trust in public, and having a third child. Who knows how things will work out for them. Private life in the public eye seems doomed these days, but life out of the public eye fares little better.

    No, the point isn’t new, but it does need to be made repeatedly. It used to be that people like Zsa Zsa Gabor, Mickey Rooney, or Elizabeth Taylor got married seven or eight times. They had grand, lusty, capricious personalities that fed their art (or, in Gabor’s case, her celebrity), they got the attention of millions, and the tradeoff was that the hunger that made it all possible also made their personal lives a wreck. Because everyone knew they weren’t like ordinary people, they were presented differently. One of my favorite bars–well, half the gay bars in the world, but only one I’m thinking of–is lined with pictures of stars from the Studio Era onward: Bette Davis, Ginger Rogers, Cary Grant. The literal halos aren’t there as you move forward, but the poses are still frankly sculptural and larger-than-life.

    Nowadays (I don’t think I have many gay readers, but for anyone who’s inclined to have a spaz attack at the way I’m treating stardom from the dawn of the talkie up to the early 1960s as one soupy, undifferentiated era–I know, I know; the line I’m drawing is crude, but I think it makes a genuine distinction easier to see), celebrity life and ordinary life have become closer together, and they’ve both suffered.

    Everyday people who just want to live responsible, happy lives think they can do so by imitating Elizabeth Taylor. No, of course, no one actually sits there consciously emulating her, but the idea that commitment isn’t really commitment if someone who wanders by strikes your fancy is clearly abroad in the land. Also, it’s no longer just actresses who are attended to by expensive psychotherapist quacks; self-help for every Borders shopper is a huge industry.

    That’s not a new complaint, and neither is the one in the opposite direction: namely, that the obsession with making celebrities seem “real” has made them boring. In a way, the change is a moving reminder of the way regular folks have come up in the world. Most people can’t afford live-in nannies or drivers, but even people of modest means play golf or go to health spas and what have you. We have unprecedented riches, to the point that movie-star life basically can’t be as different from just-folks life as it used to be.

    For the most part, though, it just means that stars look as schlumpy as the rest of us. Page through Vogue magazine to see what I mean–they’ll try to cover for it by calling referring to it as “relaxed chic” or “bohemian glamour with a modern edge,” but it’s really just slovenliness of costume and demeanor. I have nothing against Renee Zellweger or Gwyneth Paltrow, but whenever I see one of them referred to as today’s Grace Kelly, it makes me want to scream. There was something unassailable about Kelly; despite her composure, there’s nothing unassailable about Paltrow, and that goes double for the gosh-it’s-nice-that-people-like-my-movies Zellweger. I’m obviously not going to say that the loss of worship-worthy stars is at the same level of tragedy as the loss of the ability to value homely satisfactions. You can always reach into the past to watch Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but you can’t reach into the past and un-screw up your life. I think the issues are related, though.

    3 Responses to “Ricky, and Danny, and Terry, and Jim / Dean lasted six months–don’t forget him”

    1. Alice says:

      You are so right about the solvenliness. I watched “Gentlemen prefer blondes” again the other day. The clothes blew me away. Why is it that these days people spend fortunes for Oscar gowns that still don’t look fractionally as elegant or dazzling as any one of the hundred outfits in a single old movie like that one? It’s just plain weird.
      And it’s not just about the clothes, it represents something meaningful. Must blog further about this :-)

    2. Bud says:

      Forget Grace Kelly. The more urgent task is to identify the modern day Peter Sellers.

    3. Sean Kinsell says:

      I think people are settling for Ben Stiller today, Bud. *Sigh* On the other hand, these things are cyclical; movie-making has been ripping off techniques from MTV videos for over ten years. Now that music videos themselves have become boring and repetitious, people who really want to be inspired might start a revival of…well, just about anything will do. But whatever it is, it will almost certainly have to run counter to the current practice of using editing to substitute for performances. Someone who needs to stretch out so the laughs (or emotional effects) are earned could flourish. I might actually see the inside of a movie theater again if that happened.
      Alice, do blog further about it, obviously. (Try to be nicer to American clothes than you are to our housewares, of course. Actually, don’t bother; we need the undiluted guidance.) It’s interesting that you mention that because–how this didn’t make it onto the blog, I’ll never know–a few months back, they showed an episode of Columbo in which the murderer was a has-been actress played by Ann Baxter. Well, hello? Of course, I had to watch it. But the best was yet to come: she took Columbo to the costume department, and I heard her say something or other about “Miss Head’s office.” It made me chuckle; I thought it was just the power of suggestion, but she’d really said, like, “the head’s office.”
      And then, they’re in the office, and in walks Edith Head.
      Kaboom! I nearly knocked myself out on the corner of the coffee table flinging myself down and salaaming. I mean, what’s more pleasurable to the eye than a movie costumed by Edith Head? And you’re right, it’s not just the stars, and it’s not because the outfits draw attention to themselves. It’s that old-fashioned emphasis on material and cut and color. It makes everyone down to the bit parts look memorable. The event clothes now work so damned hard to be distinctive that there’s nothing distinguished about them.