I thought I was reading an interview with Welsey Shaw.
But I wasn’t. She’s Cara Delevingne, and I’m amazed I’d never heard of her before.
She’s a fashion model, and she belies all the stereotypes about such models: she’s smart, funny, curious, and a terribly articulate and searching.
And one of the things she keeps articulating is how lonely her life is, and that being famous and in the spotlight constantly doesn’t make you less alone. Just the opposite, in fact. Ms. Delevingne often says she feels terribly alone.
Like Welsey she’s had some explosive outbursts. Welsey goes off on everyone inside a Manhattan Starbucks. For Ms. Delevingne, a security search at a train station in Paris caused her to erupt and call the agents names. After being detained an hour she apologized, and was sent on her way.
No explanation why she went off. But people like her are under lots of pressure (not that that’s an excuse, but…) and often it’s the small things that do it, something Daniel Ferreira learns when he gets deeper and deeper into Welsey’s life. A casual brush could bruise a career, a slip on a late night talk show could end it. Friends become foes in the blink of an eye, people use you for who you are, and if you fail to please them you are labeled a “biiytch.” And through all this, you’re supposed to always, unfailingly smile.
Delevingne’s said she battled with depression during her school years but managed to turn her life around with the help of writing and yoga. But it hasn’t worked as well as she’d hoped, apparently. After a devastating breakup recently, she has told her family that she might end up walking away from fame. And friends say she is now depressed worse than they have ever seen before. As her mother observed, “One minute she’s surrounded by friends, the next she’s all on her own jetting across the world!”
I confess I once considered an ending for Entertaining Welsey Shaw where Welsey, miserable in her alone-ness, took her life. Just writing left an incredibly bad taste in my mouth. But a number of celebrities in the spotlight—particularly, for some reason, young women—have made this decision. I truly hope Ms. Delevingne finds her way out of her darkness, and rediscovers happiness soon. Perhaps a break from fame might have a therapeutic affect. It does for Welsey, in the ending I finally opted for for the novel.
Food, glorious food!
There’s a lot of eating in Entertaining Welsey Shaw. The last third of the novel is an orgy of meals—long, expensive meals. And there are quite a few before then, too.
Fancy meals. Meals in expensive New York City restaurants. One in Welsey’s private penthouse on Park Avenue. And several pot lucks in small-town Callicoon.
Perhaps not a novel to read if you’re on a diet.
EWS is about conversation and social interaction. And in our culture, and most others, conversation and social interaction center around eating and drinking. Especially eating.
Eating says a lot about who we are. It’s one of the best ways a writer can define character, geography and social status.
I thought of this the other day after coming across a discussion of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary in the context of its many feasts. Food plays a major role in that novel, and not just as background. Flaubert’s characters are frequently eating, and the way they eat reveals their characters. Charles’s bad table manners demonstrate his lowly class, something that repulses Emma. But Emma herself sucks her fingers and licks the bottom of a glass, betraying her pretensions of sophistication and her more base side. And when Emma goes to the ball, the table manners of the nobles and the expensive foods in the scene signify their sophistication.
But aside from social refinement, food manifests class. The types of food, of course, signify this, but the fact that, say, Rouault sends Charles a turkey every year defines his character. For the lower class, food is a form of love, as it could be argued, it is in Entertaining Welsey Shaw for Anne, who is constantly worried about how and what Joseph eats. She is constantly meddling in his nutrition, reading the labels on the frozen packages in his refrigerator. Joseph begins sneaking junk food the way a smoker sneaks cigs, tossing the wrappers in a neighbor’s can. With Welsey, he has fun eating. Although Welsey is an actress and has to worry about her weight and her appearance, she seems to be one of these women who truly can eat anything (or at least many things) and not worry too much about how it sticks to her. I hate these types—don’t you?
I searched the web extensively, planning elaborate meals, usually off the actual menus at the real restaurants, both named and unnamed in the novel, that the characters visit. Of course, I don’t know if these items were on the menus back in 2008. When I couldn’t completely visualize I went to online videos to contemplate appetizers such as Caviar and Crème Fraiche Buckwheat Cornets. Then I decided not to use them. I planned and replanned meals because, like Flaubert, I wanted to tell a story partly through food. (For reasons that probably only make sense to me, and even then only on alternate Tuesdays, I substituted savory cheese truffles with chives, pecans and goat cheese instead.)
Drinking, of course, goes with food, but there’s very little alcohol in Entertaining Welsey Shaw. There is, however, coffee, which is probably the most romantic non-alcoholic drink there is. True it’s prosaic coffee, consumed in a Starbucks, the most common place for coffee on earth, but that’s why I wanted most of the story to take place in a Starbucks: it’s the most ordinary place on earth, and here Joseph, our protagonist, encounters the world’s most elusive celebrity. There’s something extraordinary—and this is the idea that fascinated me from the first day and made me want to start writing this thing—about the idea of being able to talk to this incredibly famous person separated only by a very small round table. Two extremely different worlds that nearly, nearly touch.
But it’s as close as they’re likely to. The Internet is filled with pictures of celebrities going to Starbucks for their caffeine fix. Standing in line in one of their New York or LA stores may be the most likely way you’ll ever encounter a celebrity, though buried in their hoodies, wearing sunglasses or without their stage makeup, as with Welsey Shaw, you likely won’t recognize them. It’s amazing to me the hold Starbucks seems to have on the famous set, although perhaps we just get more photos of them coming out of that particularl coffee shop because it’s the most well-known and ubiquitous. Perhaps Robin Wright loves some small beanery in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood and Jonah Hill swears allegiance to an out-of-the-way spot in SoHo, but what we see in the media is countless celebs getting succor from the mermaid. Which is why I never considered setting Entertaining Welsey Shaw anywhere else.
One final aspect about all the eating in the novel. One of my favorite character-defining moments comes near the end: Joseph has actually gotten to see Welsey’s highly-private Manhattan penthouse apartment on Park Avenue. Towards evening she decides to order dinner from a fancy Italian restaurant. He, thinking he should, orders something elaborate; she gets the spaghetti and meatballs. As he sits cutting his veal and mushrooms, she slurps her pasta and gets tomato sauce all over her face. At that point he gets it: Welsey, robbed of her childhood, is having it now. That’s the key to understanding her. (They’ve also just spent the afternoon sitting on the floor playing the game of Life, with its little plastic cars and stick figure-people.) That’s one of my favorite moments in the whole novel, and food, glorious food plays a major role in defining it.
Ms. Schumer had a terrifying run-in with a “fan” last week.
The comedian was out and about when, “This guy in front of his family just ran up next to me scared the s*** out of me. Put a camera in my face. I asked him to stop and he said, ‘No it’s America and we paid for you‘ this was in front of his daughter.
“Great message to your kid,” she added. “Yes legally you are allowed to take a picture of me. But I was asking you to stop and saying no.”
She originally said she would no longer take photos with fans, but has since modified that to she’ll take pictures with “nice people.” This illustrates the co-dependent relationship between stars and their fans, who can either make their career or do them serious harm, and even murder them in cold blood. And there’s no real way a celebrity can tell the difference.
It’s long been this way. Sylvester Stallone told Roger Ebert once that every time someone [a fan or “outsider”] touched him, his hand automatically balled into a fist. And Cliff Robertson, described by famous screenwriter William Goldman as one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet, said he is always wary when out in public, looking around at who’s watching him. The advantage “they” have, he told Goldman, is they know who you are, but you don’t know who they are.
The man who took the selfie with Schumer,Leslie Brewer, has his own account of what happened. He claims he pulled out his camera to Instagram the sighting of Schumer, but backed off when she asked him to. “She says I got all up in her face, and it was completely different from the video.” Brewer posted an edited clip where he grins into the camera as he says, “Sorry.” Schumer then asks, “Can you delete that?” It’s followed by a shot of him saying afterward, “Then she got mad at me.” The post is captioned, “Amy schumer just got mad at me and cussed me out lmao!!! Awesome.”
It doesn’t end there.Brewer says Schumer began walking away but then turned around and returned. She apparently wanted to turn the tables on him, saying she was going to take her own picture of him and share it with her four million followers.” And he now says, “You’re a celebrity. I understand you want to blast me but that’s petty, that’s beneath you.”
Messy, no matter which version happens to be true.
One of the reasons we’ll never really know celebrities—and one of the things Entertaining Welsey Shaw is about—is that they’re under this hyper-intense light of observation all the time, with standards that are different than the standards applied to the rest of us. To some extent this is justified: the law defines public figures—and affords them levels of protection—differently than ordinary people. They don’t have the same expectation of privacy. But they do not give up all their privacy when they choose fame, or fame chooses them.
But fans will always feel they owe us a level of devotion that’s higher than what’s expected of ordinary people. They’ve got the two things we all think we want, after all: money and fame. If a superhero has superpowers, he’s obligated to use them to save us. All the time. No matter what.
For that reason, we’ll never see them as “people,” and they’ll never be judged the same way as everyone else. So we can never really know them. What we see of them is like a hall of mirrors, distorted by what we expect, what they want to show, and what we feel they should show.
But every time an incident like Schumer’s happens, the line of what’s expected and what’s okay changes, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. This 24/7 social media world is making it increasingly difficult to define what’s acceptable interactions for stars and their fans—and what is not.
It’s truly amazing. Jet setters Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are moving to a small town in Kentucky.
Similarly, Johnny Depp is coming to live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
And Justin Bieber is chucking his fabulous mansions for humble digs in Sandy, Oregon.
Of course they’re not, not really. But there are these persistent rumors going around the internet that these and many other celebrities are leaving Hollywood and putting down roots in small towns, to be with “ordinary” people.
Allegedly they’re bored with all the phonies in Hollywood, all the emptiness and glitz, and they want more meaning in their lives. They were driving through the town in question when they just fell in love with the wholesomeness of it all. Soon we can expect to see Tom Cruise washing his clothes at the coin-operated laundry, Taylor Swift grabbing an ice cream in the local soda shop, and Johnny Galecki shopping at the corner grocery store.
These stories are popping up because they play into a very common and recurring fantasy: that fabulously famous and successful people—people we’ve been persuaded since childhood to look up to and wish to emulate—would really be happier of they were more like us. I often why more movies and books—Entertaining Welsey Shaw aside, of course—aren’t based around this very basic fantasy.
In Hollywood, the most recent movie that comes to mind is Notting Hill, a Julia Roberts/Hugh Grant fantasy that I found fatally flawed simply because you don’t cast Hugh Grant as the “everyday guy.”
But the thought that perhaps we could encounter Anne Hathaway or Mila Kunis in Target, little red basket in hand, browsing at housewares, is just too delicious. I just finished revising a scene in Entertaining Welsey Shaw where Daniel Ferreira, our more humble version of Hugh Grant, thinks he spies Welsey in his small town, Callicoon, New York, during their big cultural event, the annual tractor parade. And he becomes embarrassed: Welsey is going to see his hick town with its “ordin’ry folk” and used furniture. He wants to stop her. He tries to hide. He knows the fantasy of these pretentious LA types being impressed with “the rest of us” is bunk, is naive, is pure fantasy, and Daniel is not one to live in a world of fantasy. He is relentlessly realistic, to the point that it sometimes hurts.
It turns out not to be Welsey, but someone else vaguely similar—Ever notice how when you’re thinking about someone everybody suddenly starts looking like them? He probably wouldn’t have even noticed the skinny blonde otherwise.
But we’ll continue to want to believe that Kate Hudson could be our new neighbor, that we may run into Matt Damon at the diner, that Gwyneth Paltrow may be in our drugstore buying bowel-cleansing remedies. It won’t happen—their worlds and our worlds, despite Mila Kunis’ going to a ball with a Marine, don’t collide. At least, not very often. (Turns out Mark Ruffalo does own a house in Callicoon. But I’m betting most people there don’t know where.) And there’s a reason for that. As Mr. Fitzgerald said, Let me tell you about the very rich. They are very different from you and me. The same can be said for celebrities, who of course are as rich as they come. As well as living under a microscope 24/7, literally afraid for their lives oftentimes. After being harassed by reporters, fans and paparazzi, the ending of Notting Hill shows Julia Roberts relaxing in a very public park with Grant. No one seems to be noticing her now. It gives the movie that satisfying ending we all needed to see—but it completely contradicts the previous two hours. That’s Hollywood.
I’m betting you didn’t know she had one, did you? Well, most celebrities do. Including Welsey Shaw.
They just really would rather not talk about it. Including Welsey Shaw.
In Gwyneth’s case, a man has been harassing her for seventeen years.
Yep, let me say that again—seventeen years.
And after numerous incidents, including encounters that sent him to a psychiatric facility back in 2000, he was just found not guilty of harassing her yet again.
The actress was clearly disappointed in the verdict. “I’ve been dealing for 17 years with the communications from this man … I felt very upset by it [the verdict] … this has been a very long and very traumatic experience already.”
The man’s attorney says he is harmless. Furthermore, she says, he is misunderstood. “He just needs the right medication,” she maintains.
I can’t imagine Ms. Paltrow is much comforted by those words.
The sad truth is the famous and easily-recognizable have to deal with this every day. We know who they are. They don’t know who we are. Which is why so many people who seek out the glow of fame later come to regret it.
Paltrow gave evidence in the case in which she claimed she was sent around 70 messages between 2009 and 2015.
She said the letters ranged from “religious to pornographic to threatening.” Some even talked about her death.
This struck me because there is a similar subplot in Entertaining Welsey Shaw. It could almost have been ripped from the Paltrow case, except that I started writing it first, or at least before anyone ever knew GP had a stalker. In the beginning, to a large degree, Welsey Shaw was modeled on Gwyneth Paltrow. (I’ve since moved away from that to modeling her after a large number of actresses to making her largely her own person, with a pinch of this celebrity and a dash of that.)
What’s truly frightening, and what I wanted to point out with Welsey’s stalker, is that there’s no real defense against people like this. You can get restraining orders, have them put away somewhere, but those orders always expire, those sentences are eventually up. You can’t keep the person away forever. And you never really know when they’re going to end up on your doorstep. After all, they don’t send you a note saying, “Hey, they let me out today!” —Or they do, which is perhaps even scarier.
Paltrow said her stalker “wanted to marry her.” Ironically, that’s exactly the plot line I’d devised for Welsey. Her stalker also wants to walk her down the aisle!
He too gets put away. He too is eventually let out, and attacks again. And there’s not much Welsey can do about it.
Sadly, this is a very bad case of life imitating art. There should be better ways to safeguard celebrities who are stalked, but I have no idea what they could be.