I was asked an interesting question the other day. “What’s the difference
between a celebrity and a star?”
Well, that depends a lot on the context. Back when I was put under contract to
M-G-M, they trained us to be actors, but we were groomed to be ‘stars.’ For one
thing we were expected to adhere to a very strict code of conduct. You never saw
a star out in public without looking like a star. Hair coiffed, dressed
immaculately, nails manicured. We were ambassadors at large representing the
studio, and any embarrassment we caused the studio meant suspension. Suspension
was where we were put on ‘leave’ for a few weeks, and those weeks were added to
the end of our contract. Most contracts were for seven years, but stars who
caused problems could end up having to remain with the studio for much longer.
But it’s not just appearance, it’s also behavior. Not that the stars of
yesteryear were any better behaved than those of today, they were just a little
more discreet. If they slipped up, they had the studio to run interference for
them. Nobody had a clue what a monster Joan Crawford was in person because
M-G-M, and later Warner Brothers, kept her peccadilloes hidden, regardless of
the cost of buying off reporters and sometimes whole newspapers. If Hugh Grant
had been busted consorting with prostitutes back in those days, his reputation
would have been protected, and his suspension would have been severe. People
whose behavior was unconscionable, like Charlie Sheen or Robert Downey Jr. would
have been cut loose for violating the moral turpitude clause, and they most
likely would have never worked again.
Those days are, sadly, gone forever. The so-called stars run around looking like
slobs, hair dishevelled and barely recognizable. They have no idea how to deal
with the press and the paparazzi because no one ever taught them how. Today’s
stars aren’t created, they just seem to happen. Granted, there are exceptions,
most notably, John Travolta. You never see him out and about without his looking
like a star! Even when he was at his weightiest, he was always perfectly
groomed, cordial and polite. He would have fit into the old guard flawlessly.
Not so like many others who believe it’s perfectly permissible to be rude and
slovenly, leaving the image on the soundstage and revert to their Cro-Magnon
To be sure, the glamour and mystique of old Hollywood is gone forever. True,
they’ve tried to keep it alive by turning the Academy Awards into a combination
Las Vegas Revue and a fashion show, but the effort results more into a joke than
anything substantial, especially when one adds to the equation Joan Rivers and
her turning ‘haute couture’ into ‘hate couture.’ The saddest thing is, Joan is
usually right…a designer label doesn’t ‘make’ the star. In most cases it’s just
a feeble attempt to make a silken purse out of a sow’s ear.
So, to answer the original question, a ‘celebrity’ is just about anyone who has
managed to capture the public’s attention. These people need no style or talent
per se, they just have to put themselves out there, good or bad, and hope
someone with a notepad or a camera thinks they’re worthy of the attention. Paris
Hilton is a prime example. True, she’s attractive, has the ‘name’ and a
seemingly endless supply of money to finance her hijinks. But, is she a star? As
my son, Jimmy would say, “Oh, HELL no!”
A ‘Star’, on the other hand is someone who understands that it is a 24/7
proposition. That they owe it to their fan base to live up to, at all times, a
code of conduct that makes it possible to remain up on the pedestal they were so
eager to climb. These are people who understand the unrequited love that goes
with stardom. A million people might know and love a star; but how can that star
possibly know and love those million fans? They can’t. This is where the dying
concept of ‘nobless oblige’ comes in; the art of continuing to feed the fans’
images of themselves regardless of the strain or inconvenience. This is what
being a star is all about; projecting the image. Casual Friday has been extended
into the rest of the week, and civilized behavior is becoming a faint memory.
One would think, with the average salary of a leading actor in a movie being ten
million dollars, or a sit-com star making a half-million per episode, these
people would give us, the ticket-buying, TV watching public, more for our money.
After all, it was us who put them there in the first place.
Till next month, Gang!