April 27, 2012

J. Alfred Prufrock never had it so good

An average looking young nobody and a few confederates who explain to onlookers that he is "Thomas Elliott" and was either in The Hunger Games or will be in a Spider-Man movie make the day of various young women at a mall. The video isn't really that amazing -- the title cards rather overplay it. But, yeah ...

Much of the job of being a celebrity is mustering up the energy to make your fans' day. Taylor Swift is famous for this. It looks easy to do on your own schedule, but could you do it all the time on the public's incessant schedules? John F. Kennedy Jr. apparently figured out at some point that his main talent and thus his calling in life was Making People's Day (or, considering the dynastic psycho-energies random people invested in him, Making People's Week). He became a gracious figure to all the people he rode in elevators with as he went about his business in NYC, which helps explain some of the bizarre media outpouring when he died in a plane crash in 1999. In New York media circles, everybody had at least one friend who had once met JFK Jr. and he'd been like a prince to them.

One interesting converse of this is that talented actors can use their acting skills to go about their daily business unnoticed and live like normal people when they feel like it. For example, my wife and I were at the crowded L.A. Auto Show in 2001, looking at some zillion dollar car, and she asked me a technical question about it to which I had no idea what the answer was. The lady standing next to her chimed in and explained to us the engine was a V16 and so forth and so on. When she walked away after a couple of minutes of technical conversation, my wife said, "That was Tom Hanks' wife." 

So, I started looking around for Hanks, who was at that point still about the biggest movie star in the world. And sure enough, there was Tom Hanks nearby, wandering around like everybody else, looking at exotic cars that, out of the thousands of people all around him, only he could afford. No bodyguard or personal assistant. He had a baseball cap pulled down low, but he's tall enough to stand out in a crowd, except that he'd set his body language and facial expression so that he'd look completely uninteresting. It was like that Jedi mind control scene in Star Wars: "This is not the Forrest Gump / astronaut Jim Lovell / Capt. John H. Miller / Woody the Talking Cowboy Toy you're looking for." I watched dozens of people walk by him, with only a few doing doubletakes after they'd passed him by and realized, "Hey, that nobody looked just like Tom Hanks, if only Tom Hanks weren't Tom Hanks!"

There's a famous story about Marilyn Monroe and a friend walking down the street in New York City unnoticed, when the star stops and announces she's now going to switch from Normal Jean mode to Marilyn mode. With minutes, traffic is gridlocked.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

One interesting converse of this...

Do you mean "corollary"?

Anonymous said...

Lived in Glendale a couple years as a young child. Saw Danny Devito along w/ wife and kids at the train museum on the north side of Griffith Park. My parents subtlety pointed him out to us kids.

Sort of like dark matter-- he very conspicuously stood out by his lack of standing out.

Anonymous said...

I still think Rita Hayworth left marilyn in the dust.Keep your marilyn.I'll stick with the sexiest pin-up girl in the history of the US Military. Joe

Karen said...

The Marilyn Monroe story is in the memoirs of Susan Strasberg, some time actress and daughter of Method acting guru Lee Strasberg. The two of them used to go around New York together when Marilyn studied at The Actor's Studio. At one point, after taking a cab in which the cabbie told Marilyn "you're prettier than Jayne Mansfield," Monroe turned to Strasberg and said "do you want to see me do HER?" Monroe then became the movie star and stopped traffic.

Anonymous said...

Well Tom Hanks is an "everyman" type, not like Arnold or something.

Bro said...

Very cool story

Reg Cæsar said...

I still think Rita Hayworth left marilyn in the dust.Keep your marilyn.I'll stick with the sexiest pin-up girl in the history of the US Military. --Joe

Joe is really showing his age. Say, can I bum a Lucky from ya? LSMFT.

Anonymous said...

Swift is a master at it, something you probably can't learn. She's told a story about how she saw some fan with a Swift bumper sticker or something, turned her car around and followed the girl until she stopped. Then Swift got out and introduced herself and the girl broke down in tears after explaining she and her mom drove all the way from the sticks to see Swift in concert. Even if it's bogus, it's a great story, the opposite of Dylan's famous "Just because you like my music doesn't mean I owe you anything."

Now, Dylan's one who doesn't stand out, as his accidental arrest for vagrancy in Atlantic City shows.

Anonymous said...


There's a famous story about Marilyn Monroe and a friend walking down the street in New York City unnoticed, when the star stops and announces she's now going to switch from Normal Jean mode to Marilyn mode. With minutes, traffic is gridlocked.


In her salad days Debbie Harry could do it too. Madonna never could and she worked at it. I was told this by Larry Shaw, late son of the late Sam Shaw, who knew all three women. He said Madge tended to come off like a female impersonator any time she tried to consciously "be Madonna".

Anonymous said...

To appreciate the fun of this you have to realize that I'm a bit of an ugly duckling, nothing special to look at.

But I live in southern California and the sunlight hurts my eyes, so I wear shades nearly all the time. Also my hair is thinning so I wear a hat a lot.

The combination, even though it's merely practical, apparently tends to make me look like I'm trying to disguise something. So when I walk down the street, even though I'm nothing special to see, people constantly squint and look back at me, assuming there's someone noticeable hidden underneath.

Which of course there isn't, but it is good for a laugh.

beowulf said...

I heard a story about a tourist and his wife in Dublin last year eating in a secluded restaurant booth when, in media res, the restaurant told them they had to switch tables. It seems that booth was Bono's favorite spot and he'd just called to say he was coming in. Said tourist grumbled but complied and shortly thereafter sees Bono walks in with some random American guy. A few minutes later the tourist goes outside for a smoke break, runs into Bono's buddy and bitches about what happened.
The buddy apologized and said no no, Bono's a nice guy and had no idea the restaurant had put someone out like that.

Not surprisingly then, at the end of the meal, the waiter comes over to tell the couple that their meal was already paid for.
"Oh, Bono just bought us dinner?"
"No, his friend Bruce Springsteen did".

True story (or at least the tourist said it was 3 days later). The only suspicious part is no T-Paw cameo.

Anonymous said...

"Joe is really showing his age. Say, can I bum a Lucky from ya? LSMFT."

If ya ever catch the old shows on TCM, A&E, etc., you'll learn you don't have to be an old "stiff" to be entranced by the charms of Rita, Marilyn, Debbie Reynolds, Doris Day, Terry Moore, Natalie Wood, or Lana Turner.

Hollywood back then gave us women who could get us all worked up even when fully clothed from stem to stern; women who managed to be chaste and steamy all at once.

tcm viewer said...

"In her salad days Debbie Harry could do it too. Madonna never could and she worked at it. I was told this by Larry Shaw, late son of the late Sam Shaw, who knew all three women. He said Madge tended to come off like a female impersonator any time she tried to consciously "be Madonna"."

What Marilyn did, as "Marilyn", was a traditional Hollywood (where she was raised, after all) leading lady with a extra dose of sex appeal. She had a certain inexplicable something, a charisma, that others such as Jayne Mansfield, did not have. Her type went back to Jean Harlow, Mae West, and god knows who before them. They had to get their schtick from somewhere.
Madonna, otoh, started and ended as an act. She really was a female impersonator, partly because that kind of Marilyn Monroe sexuality was just not done anymore by the 90s. Probably feminism and skinny models are to blame.
Could you really imagine that Madonna act as a real person? People could imagine Marilyn as real, just with some of the mannerisms toned down.

Robert said...

"Normal" Jean! I like that. Steve comes up with quotables even when he doesn't know he's doing it!

Anonymous said...

TO: RegCeasar and Anonymous @ 12:27
You're both correct and sure,you can bum one. Help yourself to a drink. Keep your voices down,I'm watching "HighNoon" with Grace Kelly...one of the most gorgeous blonds..../ Joe

Campion said...

I was having coffee at a Starbucks in Van Nuys with a group of friends and was in a particularly animated mood, doing send ups of various films and TV shows. Chris Noth, of Law and Order and sex in the City, (not a huge star, I know)was sitting at a table next to ours. I didn't pick up on the fact it was him until the end of my "performance". It was ironic because I actually mentioned Noth in one of my riffs.

He nodded at me, apparently entertained by the comedy.

guest007 said...

Steve,

In Washington, DC, the locals take a "don't feed the bears" attitude. It is nothing to end up in a restaurant or store next to a politician, media wonk, or author.

Most people just ignore them and most tourist are not enough into current events to be able to spot them.

Chris said...

When I was about 12, I had a very strange experience: while visiting Mount Rushmore with my family, I was stopped by about 10-15 young adults around my age who claimed that I was a TV actor I had never heard of. They insisted on having their photos taken with me and whatnot. I have never been able to figure out what was going on--perhaps an elaborate and unfunny practical joke.

Anonymous said...

Back in the 70's I was at the Eggery restaurant in Hollywood about 2:am having breakfast with my girlfriend, when in came James Coburn with a group of folks, about 10 in all. They were seated diagonally from us with JC at the head of their table. We were so close we may as well have been at their table, too. And for the next hour or so, JC kept everyone laughing with inside anecdotes concerning Hollywood notables. Tried to keep from laughing ourselves as it would make our eavesdropping obvious. Nothing malicious was said, just about human foibles. He picked up the tab, and the group left in as cheery a mood as when they arrived. Could he have hidden his charisma under a bushel basket like these others? It seemed to be just who he was.

The best illustration of anonymity by a superstar has to be Harold Lloyd, though. Removed his "glassless glasses" and presto-change-o... Mr. Anybody.

[enter username here] said...

Elvis Costello without glasses is quite unrecognizable (might work for Drew Carey if he had hair)

Anonymous said...

Elvis Costello without glasses is quite unrecognizable (might work for Drew Carey if he had hair)

It also helps that he is the dullest man in rock. And the most humourless. That and the lack of charm and charisma see off all but the hardiest fans I'll wager.

Gene Berman said...

Reg Caesar:

The last time you could've bummed a Lucky from me was the summer of 1956. Camels ever since.

Anonymous said...

Sam Shaw and his son Larry had a bizarre and often turbulent, even violent relationship. Sam is a figure Steve could probably study with interest. He looks Middle Eastern, almost black even, and his face resembles that of Ron Jeremy. What his ethnicity was I have no idea. He'll be in the news because 2012 is his centenary year and because his most faMMous photo subject will be dead fifty this August 5th.

He did film Blondie as a band for John Cassavetes, but it has never been released: Chris Stein went on a rant about him in one of the TV Party episodes. I had no idea either one knew Madonna, are you sure you are not thinking of Milton Greene, who was in the midst of suing Steven Meisel over a Madonna shoot emulating one he did of MM in the mid-80s? Greene similarly had a difficult time with his son, Joshua, who is now selling his father's photos of MM and all and sundry others.

Anonymous said...

In Washington, DC, the locals take a "don't feed the bears" attitude. It is nothing to end up in a restaurant or store next to a politician, media wonk, or author."

I've had some sightings. But one was not so expected for D.C.--actually a suburb right outside D.C. I saw Stephen King. He was sitting a table in a diner. This suburb has a writing group. Maybe he was visiting with them. Nobody bothered him. People here are not great lion hunters.