The world’s most famous vampire has this to say about Hollywood:
“It’s like the most gnarly popularity contest in the world…You take high school and make it like in the real world…Hollywood is boring, nasty and dog-eat-dog.”
Pretty frank talk from someone who’s only recently made her reputation, and whose career is still pretty fresh. Usually, this kind of jaded talk comes from vets, retired megastars with nothing to lose.
In part she’s talking this way because she’s coming out in a Woody Allen film that is about this very reptilian aspect of Hollywood. Still, the star of the Twilight franchise pulled no punches.
“There’s definitely an undeniably-opportunistic, hungry, insane fervour that occurs,” says Stewart. “I think human beings are always clawing at each other to get on top. I think that’s true in most industries but Hollywood can have a surface nature that makes it more obvious.”
Perhaps it’s ironic that she’s talking about how rough-and-tumble her business is when she’s promoting an Allen film. Though considered a director who’s easy to work with, Woody has come under fire for some inappropriate behavior off the set that also arguably informs the subject matter of some of his films (Manhattan, most notably.)
Kristen isn’t alone is saying Hollywood is a vast spiritual wasteland. Chloë Sevigny is also talking about her bad experiences—this time of the sexual kind. Sevigny has recently recounted several directors who used auditions to hit on her, try to get her to go out “clothes shopping” with them, and engage in other extra-curricular activities.
Possibly the best line she heard from a director: “You should show your body off more. You shouldn’t wait until you’re as old as this certain actress who had just been naked in a film, you should be naked on screen now.” Whoever he was, subtlety wasn’t his forte.
In all cases, she says, she didn’t get cast, but it shows you what many young women have to go through to end up with their name in lights. It also may explain why many mediocre actresses seem to get more than their deserving share of screen time, while others who are excellent fade away quickly.
As Welsey Shaw knows, it’s a rough world out there, where looks and sexuality determine, often more than talent, who gets cast and who gets passed.
Doesn’t stop a long line of movie star-wannabes from flocking to Hollywood every year, however. The allure of fame is strong.
This one really made me laugh: turns out a LOT of people are pretending they’ve read fancy literature when they haven’t, just to impress.
I didn’t think anyone cared about this sort of thing anymore.
But yep, according to the survey, Orwell’s 1984 was, believe it or not, the book most of us lie about having read, followed by War and Peace. (That one I can understand. Just lifting it is a chore.) Instead of really cracking these works, it appears many people rely on TV and movie adaptations, Wikipedia entries, glances at book flaps, things like that.
Now, I’m the first to admit there’s a long long list of great material I still have yet to glance at. Sometimes it depresses me just how long that list is, and I’m not getting any younger. But I also have dishes to wash and teeth to brush. We all die with chores undone.
Still, it surprises (and gratifies, in a way) me that people care about this enough to lie. I thought cultural illiteracy was kind of like muffin tops: everyone knows they’re déclassé, but you see plenty of them in public anyway.
Once upon a time intellect was currency. Someone who had a broad, liberal arts education was respected and maybe even envied. Then came the great revolution of the Sixties, which fucked up education in a way from which we have still not recovered. Canons were demolished, people who studied them belittled, structural analysis was replaced by sociology, and all that mattered was your opinion of something—generally the more radical the better. This, along with the fact that the children of the boomers all considered a college degree (but not the rigors of college learning) a birthright, is how the liberal arts, in my opinion, got a bad name.
So I thought we were long past the point where anyone cared that most people, even college-“educated” people, are completely unfamiliar with Bach, Thomas Mann and Champollion. Or Sigmund Freud, Frank Lloyd Wright and Béla Bartók.
I recall a funny bit in the Woody Allen movie Zelig, about a man who wants to be accepted by his intellectual peers so much that he impersonates them—literally—by turning into them. He also lies about what he knows to impress. (Allen was shrewd enough to set the movie in the 1920s-30s, when appearing erudite carried a lot more social weight.) His therapist, played by Mia Farrow, decides to play along in order to expose him: she claims she was at a party with a bunch of smart people and pretended she’d read Moby-Dick because everyone else had. The closing crawl states that on his deathbed, Leonard Zelig, who’d since been cured of his need to pretend, had just started reading Moby-Dick and was upset about dying because now he’d never know how it ended.
But that was then. We live in a time when mastery of “the bottom line” is what matters, where your achievements are measured by understanding Benjamins, not Walter Benjamin; Picasso doesn’t matter, except as a status symbol. Of course this isn’t really new, and people will point to complaints that go back a hundred and fifty years. This is true; at the same time I do think it’s gotten worse. I think the collapse of Communism seemed to leave capitalists without any sort of moral imperative and has left all of us in the U.S.A. without a national compass.
Gone is the need, as Truman in the 1950s, Kennedy in the 1960s and to a lesser extent Reagan in the 1980s felt, to host programs of “high culture.” Kennedy never really cottoned to the stuff, daydreaming about Marilyn Monroe while Beverly Sills or Renata Tebaldi sang; he reportedly had an aid nudge him when it was time to clap. Reagan was less hypocritical: during a performance at the White House by Rudolf Serkin, he nodded off.
Now that the USSR was a proven failure there was no need to put on airs anymore. The culture wars that pitted Sviatoslav Richter against Van Cliburn or David Oistrakh against Isaac Stern (or, in a different context, Boris Spassky against Bobby Fischer) seem quaint now, if most people today remember them at all. (And I’m betting readers under 30 are scratching their heads.)
More recently, I worked with a local television news anchor who studied in Paris and would be considered by any measure well-educated, who had never heard of Isaac Stern and questioned, when he died, the wisdom of running an obit of “that obscure violinist guy” because nobody but me would care.
So I’m gratified to hear, in a way, that some people still feel that at least appearing educated is important. It shows that the arts still have some social currency, even if that’s a cockamamie way of showing it. Maybe things aren’t as bad as they seem. Oddly.
Read more about people who want to be erudite here. Or you can always just pretend you did. Who’ll know?
This post is getting rerun today because I’ve decided to make a major name change in my story. From now on my narrator, for reasons that matter only to me, will be Joe, not Daniel, Ferreira. Other, lesser, names have changed too.
“That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” — Bill Shakespeare
Believe it or not, it’s one of the hardest parts of fiction writing, at least for me: coming up with names.
If the name isn’t convincing, the character won’t be. That’s my take, anyway, which is odd because when you think about it names are actually pretty random in real life. Oh, we think there are “typical” names for people. But in reality there aren’t, unless you subscribe to the thought that our names determine what we do. Yet we’re set up to think there are “right” and “wrong” names for people: consider Yul Brynner (yes, that was his real name), or Omar Sharif (no, that wasn’t). And doesn’t Burl Ives just look like a Burl Ives? You somehow just wouldn’t buy a car or a resort timeshare from someone named Lennie Slickman, would you? But how about investing with someone named Vincent Johnson? A little easier?
I agonize over names. Really agonize. I think they’re as important to the inevitability of your characters as the sound of their dialogue or their depth, or back-story. And I keep making alterations. There are often wholesale changes as drafts go on. This applies to fictional places too–restaurants, and so forth.
For the present story I made up the name Welsey Shaw because I wanted something unique (I can’t find any evidence of any real woman currently with the name Welsey) as well as something that had a trace of “blue-blood” in it. Something that would represent a pale, blonde thespian perfectly. Gwyneth Paltrow is perfect—that’s blood bluer than a Smurf’s. But she’s already using it.
For my male protagonist, I wanted a more “meat and potatoes” name. Daniel Ferreira was originally Michael Ferreira, but I liked Daniel more. It was easy enough to change from draft one to draft two with a word processor. I think of how an editor at Macmillan decided that Margaret Mitchell’s heroine should be named Scarlet and not Pansy O’Hara, and told some lowly copy editor to change it every time it appeared in the manuscript. That must have been fun.
Back in the classic Hollywood days they were always changing actors’ names. Think of Cary Grant. Joan Crawford. John Wayne. Cary Grant sounds gracious, and there’s just no way Marion Mitchell Morrison could get all those settlers over the rugged mountains and onward to safety the way John Wayne could. How sexy is Norma Jeane Mortenson? (Not very.)
Somehow, you know Woody Allen is a comedian; Allan Stewart Konigsberg is an historian, or should be. Luke Skywalker and not Deke Starkiller is your clean-cut sci-fi hero and Scarlett and not Pansy OHara is your romantic lead. Seriously, can you picture Clark Gable (now there’s a name, and it was his) saying, “Frankly, Pansy, I don’t give a damn”?
Today it seems name-changing isn’t as prevalent as it used to be, except for rappers. (Let’s face it, Robert Matthew Van Winkle carries little street cred.) Movie and TV stars tend to keep their real names far more often, even if they’re highly unusual (Kaley Cuoco). Partly it’s because we’ve grown more comfortable with ethnically-diverse names. Once Cameron Diaz might have been unthinkable, especially for a blue-eyed “all American” blonde. Keep in mind that 1950s network executives thought it was ridiculous that Lucille Ball (another real name) would be married to Desi Arnaz in a TV show, even though they were in real life.
But the right name is still important. After all, there’s a reason Thomas Mapother IV changed his.
It’s astonishing, when you think about it, how many of our classic places for randomly meeting people, of having unpredictable and perhaps romantic experiences, have disappeared in the last five years. If they aren’t gone completely, they are in the process of becoming so rarified that they are not part of our everyday radar. This struck me the last time I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop when I had this sudden urge to wander over to the Borders bookstore that used to be nearby and browse and maybe buy something if it stimulated me. Then I realized I could no longer do this. People used to do this all the time—buy a book or magazine, wander over to Peet’s, and drink and read, think and discuss, but now, in this age of technological miracles (ie, the Internet), it was no longer possible. The fastest I can hope for is 2-day Amazon delivery for a premium, and they wouldn’t bring it to the coffee shop anyway.
Think of how many romantic scenes from Woody Allen movies are set in bookstores, where the co-stars fall in love while talking about Kierkegaard or Proust or something appropriately Woodyesque. While some town still feature off-beat used shops with shelves of dusty titles from the far and recent past, bookstores in general are about three steps removed from the Dodo bird. The only chain left is Barnes and Noble, and it’s on oxygen. Where will nerds go after a date, to lap up cappuccinos and talk about their favorite writers or the Focus Features flick they just saw?
Same with record stores. Music nerds male and female used to love debating about their favorite bands over piles of vinyl or even clattery plastic CDs cases. Now music exists as bits that flow through wires—you don’t even get cover art anymore. College kids have likely never been in a music store, never had the pleasure of asking a clerk his thoughts or arguing on behalf of their favorite music. More than that, though, as with books there’s something about leafing through the covers, reading the liner notes, or unexpectedly bumping into something that becomes your favorite, or reminds you that it used to be your favorite and you haven’t given it the time of day in a while and maybe you should. How many book or album titles did you discover just because you impulsively reached out your hand to something on a shelf. It could have been the art work, it could have been anything, but whatever it was, a thumbnail on a tiny screen isn’t as compelling.
I remember one day I went to a bookstore in my last year of high school looking for something—I have no idea what—and for some reason, was drawn to a title on the same shelf that had nothing to do with my quest. It was called Prejudices: A Philosophical Dictionary by Robert Nisbet. I had never heard of him and didn’t even really understand the point of the book at first…being young and indoctrinated with a public school “civics” education, I felt the word prejudices reflected only racial bigotry and intolerance, and was surprised that someone would name a book with that word, framing it in a positive light (A Philosophical Dictionary) at that.
On sheer impulse I bought the book, and discovered it was a collection of alphabetical essays of the author’s view on all sorts of subjects: abortion, envy, love, religion, wit, genius, intimacy. “Much in the spirit of Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary,” the forward told me—there was another title and another man I knew nothing about. Today I know a lot about both of them, and both have effected my view of life, thanks to that random encounter in a bookstore when I wasn’t even looking for it. While it’s not impossible to have something similar happen while browsing titles from a virtual bookstore on an iPad (“If you like this you’ll probably also like…”), it’s far less likely to happen with the narrowly-targeted titles borne of algorithms that just don’t reflect the wandering curiosity of, well, at least me. (No, I won’t want to buy all the Twilight books because I once googled an unrelated Kristen Stewart movie, thank you.)
Wandering down aisles in book and record stores and checking out the newest titles, these were things I did as a kid the way a generation before me rode the roller coaster at Coney Island or drank from soda fountains at drugstores. Today we turn on our screens, heads down, tuning out the real world for our synthetic one of bits and bytes.
And that’s why I think writing engaging novels is going to get harder. We’re encased in our private universes more, universes designed to feed us exactly what we ask. That’s not good for the random experiences that shake us up, which is how every story has to begin. We can still be shaken up by dinosaurs and superheroes, aliens and werewolves, but I wonder what the Woody Allens of the future will do with no bookstores, old movie houses, and coffee shops for a rainy day of contemplating, arguing, romancing. How else can Welsey and Daniel even meet?
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I buy lots of CDs online, use the net as much as anybody to find what I want, and profit from it, at least in the budgetary sense. And to some extent I’m just dragged along, kicking and screaming. I ignore the silly automated recommendations, and am a curiosity seeker. I do wander through virtual stores (as well as actual—I’m lucky that where I live there are still a relatively large number—although shrinking every day—of indie shops). I try to go out of my usual areas of exploration. I’m glad I do this even if the result is disappointing. Last night I watched a movie that was off the beaten path for me and I disliked it. But I’m still glad I watched.
We need spaces for random experiences. Environments tailored exclusively for us sound like a great idea, but they make our world smaller, because they only know as much about us as we know about ourselves—and that’s not nearly as much as most of us think. Sure we are able to skim faster and easier than ever before, but that’s not the same. There’s something about bumping right up against something new and challenging and, dare I say it, even confrontational and annoying, that’s exhilarating. We need to be randomly shaken and stirred every now and then, reminded of things we’d forgotten or gotten away from, something outside the scope of your recent past purchasing patterns and “like” clicks. When the late Roger Ebert learned that movie-watching was switching from the large-screen experience to home VCRs, he said in his book A Kiss Is Still A Kiss, “Count me in with the marauding bands.” Me too.
Most people think they’ve either never met a celebrity, or know it if they have.
They’re probably wrong.
Celebrities are masters at moving among us undetected. They can appear and disappear before you even know what happened. You may have talked to them. You may have even asked them if they were so-and-so and they said no. One celebrity is famous for lying while not actually telling a lie. If you ask her if she’s who she is, she’ll just smile and say, “I get that a lot.” She gets that a lot because that’s who she is, but she doesn’t mention that part.
They’re better at disguises than a spy. They have to be, and it’s not just because they want to slip in and out of the best clubs and restaurants undisturbed, or get the best table or courtside seats. In some dark instances, their lives literally can depend on it.
So celebs have disguises. Or rather, they just often go out into the world with their “normal” look. If you could see half your favorites with no makeup and their hair down, you’d be amazed how ordinary or even sub-par they look. (Cameron Diaz and Gwyneth Paltrow, for example, have bad skin.)
But others aren’t so lucky. Could you do anything to Jennifer Aniston where she wouldn’t look like Jennifer Aniston? Ditto, say, Tom Cruise. Or Oprah. When do you think the last time was Oprah was inside a Starbucks (just to get coffee, I mean; not on some publicity maneuver)? Maybe never, because she largely rose to prominence before the chain did. To avoid being seen in their characteristic look, many celebs dress down, and I mean way down. For others, however, this is impossible.
A really despicable internet magazine, whose name now escapes me, did a piece once where it set one of its reporters out to stalk Claire Danes. The reporter was able to get within feet of Ms. Danes, which should be expected as the actress did not know she was being stalked. Why the reporter thought this was some great achievement I do not know. At the same time later in the story when the reporter was looking for Ms. Danes right in front of her apartment, she was able to slip right past unnoticed. Score one for Claire!
Of course there are some celebrities who want to be noticed, all the while vehemently pretending they don’t. I have to wonder why the aforementioned Claire “I-Want-My-Privacy” Danes has herself listed in the New York White Pages. (Don’t believe me? Just enter her name.) Back in the 70s, Woody Allen was famous for pretending to not want to be recognized while simultaneously telling everyone how to find him: his public name, Max, was revealed in the movie Annie Hall. He drove around in a chauffeured white Rolls Royce. (“It was yellow,” he corrected a journalist in an interview once. Oh, that makes all the difference.) Still, even celebs who play fast and loose with their identity know how to draw the line. You’ll notice Claire’s address is listed, but her phone number is not.
I frequent a coffee shop not far from my home in the East Bay, near San Francisco. A while ago I was told a TV was being filmed nearby, and many of the stars were coming in for coffee. “When?” I asked. “All the time! You were just behind two of them.” I wonder how many other times the person in line with me, in the hoodie with the disheveled hair and sunglasses, was a famous celebrity. I’ll never know–and they engineered it that way.
Have you ever met any celebrities? Tell us all about it in the comments section! The person with the best story gets a free copy of Entertaining Welsey Shaw when it comes out.