Hi Gang, and greetings from Hollywood!
I’d like to begin this month’s column by acknowledging all the kind, supportive letters I received about my son’s death. It’s been very difficult for all of us, but mostly for his nephew, Casey, to whom he was more a father than an Uncle. L.J., (short for “L’il John’, my eldest being ‘B.J. for ‘big John’) was a fine, loving, gentle young man to whom family was everything. I'm sure it pleases him to know I have such wonderful people looking out for me, as those who took the time to write and express their sympathy. God bless you all!
A few days after the sad passing of Michael Jackson, ironically the same day as my son, our esteemed publisher, Michael and I had an interesting schmoozefest, to wit, why we Americans make such a big deal over the passing of a celebrity. I mean, nu? I liked Jackson’s work as much as anyone else, especially when he was a good looking black kid; before he became a scary looking white yenta, but let’s be real…his funeral rivaled that of Pope John-Paul II!
My first reaction to Michael’s query was that here in the USA we don’t have the glamour of a royal family. Personally, I think there’s a ‘first suit’ that’s been handed down from one president to the next, the same suit since Jimmy Carter, and the result is the leader of the free world looks like any insurance salesman. But Michael countered with the fact that in Canada, their Prime Minister dresses just as boringly as our President, so that can’t be right.
He may have something there. According to a close friend of mine in London, where they have royalty out the tokhes, they not only carried Jackson’s death circus on the ‘telly’ but it was also broadcast on the huge TV screens in London usually used for advertising. Another friend of mine told me that in Italy, there was actually more attention paid to the Jackson passing than the aforementioned Pope, and his Holiness was a local!
I guess I’m the wrong person to ask. I never idolized celebrities when they were alive, because to me they’re just people who work sixteen-hour days, and get paid obscene amounts of gelt for it. If it were a celebrity I knew, worked with, or was a personal friend of like Mae West or Charles Nelson Reilly, then you’d better believe I wept buckets. And so far I’ve buried one hundred and twenty loved ones. And while, again, I did admire Michael Jackson as a performer, I have to wonder what the obsession is all about? He knocked Ed McMahon and Farrah Fawcette out of the headlines, and his death even eclipsed the passing of an icon like Walter Cronkite.
The only thing I can figure is we are so inundated with titillating tabloid trivia about these people that we come to feel as if we know them. To be sure, celebrity is the quintessential unrequited love. The star of our favorite sitcom is in our living room every week. We know them, but they have no idea we even exist. We become deluded into thinking that the person on the screen is really like that in real life. I still laugh when some middle-aged woman extols the greatness of David Cassidy, AKA Keith Partridge. I wonder if she’d be singing his praises if she knew that the guy in the red velour stage costume was, in real life a consummate hippie who chain-smoked cigarettes, and had a sexlife that would have made Caligula blush?
The reality is, those who mourn Michael Jackson, or any other celebrity, mourn an illusion. A Frankenstein’s monster wrought out of publicity, make-up, skillful photography, and the gullibility of a public who really believes that Cher still looks that good at sixty-something, and hasn’t had any work done.
When I was on the set of “Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows” in the middle of the desert, waiting for someone to fix one of the generators we needed to power the lights and cameras, Rosalind Russell was snoozing in her chair, all farpitzed in her Mother Superior’s habit. She had eaten something at lunch that hadn’t settled quite right, and the resulting…. er…expulsion could be heard for at least twenty square yards. It woke her out of a sound sleep, and when she realized what had happened, she grimaced and said, “I gotta lay off the raw fruit!”
So the next time you’re reading the tabloids in the checkout line at Safeway, think about this, Gang…these people we idolize are no different than we are when you wash away the celestial glow. They’re not the worship-worthy people their press agents want us to believe. And they most certainly aren’t worthy of three weeks (so far) of news coverage.
Michael Hanna-Fein said to me at the end of our conversation, “I hope when I die they don’t make a big thing out of it like they’re doing with Jackson.”
Don’t worry Michael…Arnold and I are going to do exactly as you’ve requested…lay you out in the coffin face down, and with no pants on, so everyone can kiss your tokhes!
Till next Month, Gang!
The Gantseh Megillah
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