12 October 2015

Brushes with Fame

Selena Gomez
Theresa was a playmate of my two daughters when they were all in the five to nine year old range. Later she was a student of mine. One I particularly liked. Theresa was a B student who worked hard for her grades. She was socially active and popular among fellow students and teachers alike. She was a regular foil for my good natured jibes in class and took it all in good humor. It was impossible not to like Theresa.

I last saw her when she was a couple of years or so out of high school. She’d grown into a lovely young woman, intelligent and self assured. She was a few months away from moving to Beverly Hills where she was being set up in a chic hairdressing salon by a friend. Theresa was excited about the opportunity and I was happy for her. That was probably about six or seven years ago. I never heard a word about her again until last weekend. I was chatting with my daughters about this and that when we got onto some of the bigger young stars in entertainment. It was then that they mentioned Theresa.

Since I last saw her Theresa had become a personal assistant for Kim Kardashian and subsequently became best friends with and executive assistant for Selena Gomez. She hobnobs with the stars all over the world. At my daughters’ prompting I looked at her Instagram account, or I should say accounts as she has several. There she was on beaches, in mansions, in Paris in Italy often posed with Selena Gomez and others of the nouveau jet set. I was — you should excuse the expression — blown away. What a life.

I resumed the conversation with my offspring and my oldest pointed out that being friends with a celebrity might not be all peaches and cream. Can you truly have an equal relationship if one person is rich and famous? I imagine you can if your friendship precedes the fame and riches part but otherwise?

Celebrities can be capricious and distrustful. They are known to drop friends and employees on a whim. You might always be in danger of being excluded just for making the wrong comment. The temptation could thus be to become a sycophant. Would you always be worried about staying in the good graces of your famous friend? And would you be completely trusted? Celebrities can (not without justification) become paranoid. You might be considered the source of an ugly rumor. You might be perceived as in it for the parities, the trips, the proximity to other stars and not out of true friendship. And imagine the fall if you are “dropped.” You are inside the walled kingdom of celebrity. You are part of it all. If you have no claim to fame in your own right you could quickly be outside looking in like the rest of us.

Having known people who’ve gone on to fame and others who are related to or acquainted with the famous, it is clear that one thing fame affords you is the opportunity to meet other famous people, even in causal circumstances. You’re in the same club. I have three former students who went on to all work for Saturday Night Live together. When I last talked with them they spoke of meeting such heroes as Paul McCartney, Steve Martin and Chris Rock. The three are still in the entertainment business and one of them, Andy Samberg, has his own TV show and recently hosted the Emmys.  They are securely within the gated community of the famous.

I suppose many of us would like access to that community. Either by gaining fame for our own deeds or befriending someone within. There are certain celebrities I’d like to meet and chat with but its unrealistic to expect I ever will. I have known and currently know many people who are not at all famous but are probably infinitely more interesting than 90% of celebrities who walk the Earth.

Most people have some connection to a famous person. Sometimes they are related, are old friends or neighbors or former co-workers or classmates. I had Kevin Kline’s niece and nephew as students. I worked for a principal who is Tom Hanks’ step sister. I worked with someone who tutored Robin Williams’ daughter in his home and met the man. Everyone has touch with fame stories. Delroy Lindo works out at the same gym that I do. Technically I’ve showered with him.

Celebrities are special because….everyone knows them. That’s often it. Kim Kardashian is a classic example of a person who is famous for being famous. But many people will be thrilled (secretly or overtly) to meet her or know someone who knows her. Other celebrities are richly talented people who have given us hours of entertainment. Their acting or comedy or writing or music has meant something to us. Seeing someone in the flesh that you’ve only ever seen on film would be exciting. When I was 16 I went to Finland for the first time and met my grandmother, a woman I’d been hearing about all my life. Seeing her was like seeing a page from history come alive. It was one of the great thrills of my life. I think its the same feeling as meeting a favorite star.

I have friend who is somewhat famous in Italy and is very likely to achieve wider fame as a film director. I’m excited at the prospect but more because he is an artistic genius and his fame will mean that his work has been widely recognized. Knowing him as I do I can say with great certainty that he has no interest in celebrity. It would just be something that came along with success in his particular field.

Anyway I started out by talking about Theresa and I hope she is as happy as she looks on Instagram. I also hope it lasts. Maybe she’ll be a good friend to Selena Gomez (and keep her away from Justin Bieber) for many years. I also hope she is able to derive pleasure from her own endeavors. It would ultimately be an empty feeling to derive happiness solely from who you knew and not what you did. Knowing Theresa as I do I’m sure she’ll sort it out and everything will work out.

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