Except for flipping burgers at Jack-In-The-Box, I earned my first paycheck as a professional actress. My mother put me on the stage when I was three years old, and her enchantment with Hollywood was not unlike that of Mama Rose, the determined stage mother in Gypsy. I like to affectionately refer to her effect on my early childhood as a little like “Ethel Merman on steroids.”
Consequently, I’ve always been fascinated by the public’s obsession with fame and the famous. From my vantage point, the trend has only intensified since my early days, shaking my tutu on the stage at Elitch Gardens.
Michael Jackson began his life as the extension of his parents’ drive and ambition and we watched his particular way of dealing with it as he grew into an adult performer. Like so many others who are not famous, he was a child as an adult because he was forced into adulthood, as a child. That’s a cultural phenomenon for another article. Living as an extension of others was all he had ever known, and he recreated that pattern which came to enslave him.
Hollywood values certainly didn’t help matters, as appearances are everything in Hollywood. I was not surprised to learn that Jackson himself did much of the ‘leaking” designed to keep him in the public consciousness. But what is it that makes the public so drawn to the hype that Hollywood dishes out, even when we know there is a feeble wizard behind the curtain, manipulating what we see and how we see it? Why have so many others aspired to this lifestyle despite the ugly underbelly and the serious, dangerous pitfalls? Isn’t that what is behind the explosion of Facebook, YouTube and reality TV?
The thirst for fame can be as powerful a drug as Oxycontin. The more intense the addiction, the less likely one is to believe that they are “enough” just as they are. Such a deep sense of inadequacy can never be healed by the illusion of adoration by thousands or even millions, who know only the packaged image rather than the real person, with all too human frailties. A true friend after all, is one who knows you—and likes you anyway.
Those who have attained the coveted commodity can never live up to the romanticized image either, even if they’ve begun to believe their own hype. Some feel like an imposter and others find a depth of lonliness in so much superficiality. In many cases, the same adoring fans hide jealous glee when the idol falls of his pedestal. Isn’t our First Commandment about idolotry? It is as relevant today as ever before.
Perhaps this is one of the root causes for the rampant drug use, profound depression and high suicide rate in Hollywood. The same goes for those who will do anything necessary to join the ranks. I have nothing against “show biz” but I’ve grown to love the small realities of life and the knowledge that truth is always more fascinating than fiction. It’s more satisfying too.