My good friend Newt Gingrich announced his presidential candidacy last week.
Recently I was with Newt again at dinner at the Georgetown hot spot, Cafe Milano. Like all serious candidates he made a beeline right for me, hand extended, not remembering that we had chatted in Aspen at the Jerome Hotel bar and discussed the not-yet then President George W. Bush.
Leaving the restaurant, I approached his table. Approaching his table didn’t appear as widely appreciated as Newt approaching ours. I didn’t turn around and also say good night to a non-menacing Steve Buscemi, but then again he didn’t pretend he knew me, nor did he need my vote. And Café Milano being better known for its pasta and late-night hookers than its GOP crowd, reinforced my well founded belief that Newt’s got shpilkes. Running foundations isn’t nearly as fun as running for the top dog job when you’re a man of the not so little people. You gotta know that shutting down even this bar can’t be nearly as much fun as shutting down the government.
I understand shpilkes and like every kid that read Tiger Beat had delusions of stardom. Not politically, but instead the kind of stardom where you find yourself washed up, renting a room at some cheap hotel on Sunset Strip after failing to get as much as a Taco Bell commercial under your belt. Being a political star seems to allow for more comebacks, where older equals experience and gray makes you a senior statesman.
I think Newt has a fighting chance. In entertainment and politics, the caliber and volume of celebrity has become so unbecoming as to make it doable.
And for stars in the making there couldn’t be a better time.
Where was American Idol when I was singing in garage bands?
Why couldn’t I have a mother in the not yet developed Housewives of Chicago, giving me an off-spring Ozzy Osbourne leg up? Or better yet, Housewives of Chicago Mobsters since we had plenty of those and even knew one. Tony Accardo, aka, Big Tuna, was the father in-law of one of my dad’s fraternity brothers. This practically made us. When you could throw around the Big Tuna’s name it was bigger than being friends with the guy that got crazy Rod Blagojevich his job, or having gone to high school with the current mayor, Rahm Emanuel.
Connections to famous people can up our stock, often regardless of how tangential the relationships really are. But real encounters can get tricky since you don’t want to look like a groupie or some sad sack waiting for your little brush with fame.
I was a grocery clerk as a kid and often had Marlo Thomas shopping the aisles after moving to Chicago to marry Phil Donahue. Marlo never gave any of us the time of day, which made her not That Girl but just another grim suburban shopper.
Rock stars are more promising as far as paying attention to you, but usually not because they want you to be the new lead singer. Storming stages is good but backstage passes are better for career advancement. Growing up I had these with the group Chicago since a friend has two sisters that married band members. As luck would have it, you don’t become the girl de jour when they know how old you really are.
When you meet celebrities through friends, you need to be cordial, respect their space. Any artificial relationship you may have conjured up (George Clooney) has to be set aside for civility, and you find out rather quickly that the stars have no interest in you.
Does Dave Mason remember hanging out with my sister and me after a band member invited us to his Buddy Guys Legend’s show? Is he thinking of us now?
Aside from appreciating the talent, small talk with the stars is just that. Snubbing Ed Harris in a hotel in Rome to look cool is a memory that belongs only to me. Would I have been the first to ask Ed how the Pollock character came alive? How could these lopsided conversations be anything but that?
Being a fan is different. Whether it means wearing your favorite team’s jersey, or cutting your hair to look like a character on a sitcom, people like the idea of being connected to something current or popular. They’re often willing to play the fool for their idol’s cause, or their country’s. Take military reenactment. We don’t have enough wars going on that we have to don muskets and mothballed woolies from the Civil War? Most of us model ourselves after stars that are still alive.
Others, like my ex-pal Ari Emanuel, Rahm’s brother, the Hollywood agent to the stars, runs their lives. An incurable case of shpilkes has not only made him the most relentless man in Hollywood, it has created an irascible TV character acting out Ari’s life on Entourage, which some then attempt to recreate as their own, coming full circle to everyone acting like Ari, except maybe him.
I have pursued famous authors, no doubt collecting illegible signatures with the hope that through osmosis the talent will leak. I have been delusional in thinking Tom Wolfe would remember me by writing my name next to his, he passed. The wonderful Wendy Wasserstein demoted me from the shiksa goddess I thought I was to spelling my last name Burn, in her Shiksa Goddess. Stephen Jay Gould signed Rocks of Ages, Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, ‘Best Wishes’. Maybe he didn’t think I’d get through his book on ‘The ultimate meaning of life, the proper foundations of morality, or any other question within the different magisterium of religion’.
As a touted historian I should think this would have been bedside reading for Newt and friends.
A twist of fate can suddenly land you in the limelight. But at what price? Worse than a burn-out in Hollywood is the plethora of people selling out for notoriety.
Take the case of Beth Halloway, the mom of the teen murdered in Aruba who is involved in two new movies right now, she is both concerned and coiffed, the latter more apparent at this point.
Using up your 15 minutes of fame is tricky business. Unless you’re like my good friend Newt who couldn’t care less if he has.
Kim Berns is a writer and designer living in Rye.