“Fame is a fickle food upon a shifting plate.” ~ Emily Dickinson
I grew up on the periphery of fame. My father worked in television in the early 1950s, when the sets were boxy clunkers with oversized knobs, their guts stuffed with towering globed tubes.
Dad often brought us to the TV station when we lived in Texas.
He was in engineering so he handled the technical side of things. It was exciting. Another world.
My brothers and I stumbled our child bodies past TV cameras that stood like robots before an anchor desk and to the right of it, a weather map filled with an angry sun of cardboard and puffy smiling clouds.
We followed him down a narrow hallway lined with autographed photos of Howdy Doody, Captain Kangaroo and Dave Garroway. I never did meet any of them, although I desperately wanted to be part of The Peanut Gallery with Howdy and the gang.
“That’s in New York City,” mom would say. “It’s too far away.”
When I was 10 years old, we moved from Texas to Philadelphia where dad became the chief engineer and later station manager for KYW-TV 3. He was there during the heyday of The Mike Douglas Show. And again, I skirted fame, seeing and sometimes meeting celebrities who appeared on the show.
Before dad had his stroke, he told stories about the rich and famous.
He spoke of walking the streets of Philadelphia with Bob Hope, trying to find a shop where Hope could buy some new dress shirts. Dad shared the story of kissing Shirley Temple Black on the cheek (https://mezuniga.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/kissing-shirley-temple/) and of Yul Brynner telling him that he didn’t think he had much longer to live.
Later in life, as a journalist, I interviewed celebrities. Melissa Etheridge. Naomi Judd. Many others.
So, yes, fame has always skirted me. And it did again this past weekend when I went to see the smash Broadway hit Hamilton with a friend. We were given a backstage tour and I got to meet Rosie O’Donnell, who was in the audience at that performance, as well as much of the cast. She was lovely. They all were.
Why am I sharing all this?
Because, yes, it’s exciting to be near or meet celebrities. After all, they are “important” people in the eyes of the world. And I’m human and susceptible, so like anyone else I’ve been jazzed to rub elbows with those society has deemed to be elite.
But you know what? Fame is also transitory. At its heart, it’s an illusion with little substance.
The truth is, celebrities are flesh-and-blood and die as we’ve seen all too often this past year. We can appreciate their creative gifts and talents and miss their presence in our world — we can be shocked when they pass away unexpectedly — but in the end, we all must face our own mortality.
It’s all passing.
In one of my favorite movies Notting Hill, Julia Roberts plays a well-paid move star who says to Hugh Grant, a lowly travel book shop owner: “You know, the fame thing isn’t really real.”
Roberts also says: “One day, not long from now, my looks will go, they will discover I can’t act, and I will become some sad, middle-aged woman who looks like someone who was famous for awhile.”
I never did make it to the Peanut Gallery with Howdy Doody. But I did make it to New York City many times. On this most recent trip I even had the chance to stand on the empty center stage on the set of Hamilton after the play.
Yes, I loved it. Wow. But then I left the stage, thankful for the experience and back to the script and stage of my own ordinary life.
Dad used to say celebrities were like anyone else. People. Some were friendly, some were arrogant, some wanted to be left alone.
That could be said of any of us. For well-known personalities, however, fame only exacerbates who they already are.
So who are we? Can we take center stage in our lives, be the star who shows up at the office, drives the kids to school or soccer, washes the dishes, plants the garden, falls asleep on the couch? Can we be someone who is kind, loving, attentive, present to all that is offered us in any given moment?
For most of us, life will NOT be fame, but those ordinary moments that knit together a day. In fact, knit us together as a people.
I find this comforting. The mundane stuff of life may not be the paparazzi or the spotlight or autographs. But in the end, it’s all that matters. It’s real. It endures.