Celebrities Then and Now: Class vs. Crass

There was a time when being a celebrity was a privileged position.

Those in that category were treated like royalty and respected. They were under strict orders from the studios to exhibit and maintain morality, dress well and use proper language.They stood out for those very reasons. There was a mystique about them that made them compelling. 

Yes, there were kinky hijinks behind the cameras but they were carried out discreetly, not openly acknowledged or bragged about. In public they presented themselves well and were proper in their conduct. There were far less problems for celebrities then than now.

Of course there would be the occasional stalking problem or obsessive fan, but that too was dealt with swiftly and without much publicity. Rumors would crop up now and then, created and circulated by people who, by creating the rumor, implied that they were close to that star by having such personal information.

The bizarre stories got the attention they craved. The late Arthur Godfrey was a friend of mine. He was a guest star on The Royal Lipizzaner Stallion Show with his horse, Goldie, a show that I narrated. At that time my own recognition in show business had reached a point that I became the target of incredible rumors from people I had never heard of who claimed to know me. 

Over lunch in Florida, I asked him if he ever had this problem of people creating rumors about him. Arthur then told me a story that sums it all up. At the time this happened, television was not in full force. He was on radio and his photo was not used that much in news stories. He flew his own DC 3 plane to his various personal appearances around the country.

Landing in Miami a heavy rain storm broke, soaking everything. As he drove out of the airport he saw a woman on a bench waiting for a bus. He pulled over and asked her if she would like a ride, that he would take her wherever she wanted to go. She gratefully got in the car. As they drove and talked, the woman said, "Y'know? You really should be on the radio. "Why's that?" Arthur answered. "Because," the woman continued, "You sound just like Arthur Godfrey." He said, "Oh? Who's he?" The woman quickly responded, "Oh he's a good friend of ours but he is a terrible drunk and we have to put him in bed every night when he comes over." 

Arthur was a teetotaler--he couldn't stand alcohol. He was not a mean man, but knew he had to deal with this. So he reached into his jacket pocket and took out his pilot's license with his photo on it and handed it to her. When she saw it her mouth dropped open as she quickly handed it back and after stammering said, "Well, I guess you will put me out and I don't blame you." Arthur said in his deep resonant voice,  "No ... I will take you wherever you want to go but I have to ask you this question, WHY do people like you do such things?"

The woman couldn't answer.

Here was a case of a star who did live life correctly. Still, this woman wanted to identify with him, not knowing that she was talking to the very one she was falsely trying to identify with.

The stars of today have lost that mystique of yore and became not only LIKE everyone else, but proved to be WORSE than everyone else. The respect for them evaporated, resentments rose and like Humpty Dumpty, they came crashing down off that pedestal.

The stars had started openly flaunting their private lives, dressing sloppily, telling all of their personal secrets on TV interviews and using vulgarity, something that would have been unheard of with the stars of a classier time.

The former admiration had turned to resentment. It is like learning the secrets of the magician who dazzles us. The mystery of them kept them on a pedestal. But when those secrets began to be exposed by publicity-hungry grade B magicians who had not made it, the entire profession came down several notches. The mystery was no more. 

While the public is enchanted by what the actors do on the screen, those stars are now resisted since they have proved that there is nothing exceptional about them except a decent performance, but they were just lucky to get to that point since, it is assumed, they are "just like us-heck we could do that."

Now things have progressed to the point that, according to The Hollywood Reporter, some stars have their own armored cars (Kanye West paid $1.2 million for his), to travel in and to protect them from possible attack by gun wielding misfits.

It is too bad that the public now looks for someone to hate. And that hatred is especially directed to those who receive public recognition of any kind. The responsibility of being a celebrity is huge. Handle it properly and the rewards can surpass anything sought, even in the midst of those who try to hang onto the star, hoping to experience reflected glory.

So you want to be a celebrity? No thanks. Been there ... done that.


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