Fame’s Not So Famous Anymore

Image result for images of rudolph valentino

Once upon a time you wouldn’t need a caption to tell you this was Valentino.

Reporting on her blog today on Valentino’s cursed ring (https://bookemjanoblog.wordpress.com/2018/10/14/ghosts-the-curse-of-valentinos-ring/), our friend “Janowrite” had to add that she meant the actor Rudolph Valentino, not some fashion magnate that I never heard of.

Rudolph Valentino died before talkies were invented, but he was the big silent movie star and international heart-throb, and during the days of my own childhood, many years afterward, there was no need to explain to anyone who Valentino was. I knew, and I was just a little kid playing with Crazy Ikes.

Jose Raul Capablanca, the world chess champion who once went eight years (!) without losing a game, also died before I was born. But I knew he was the world’s greatest chess player well before I began to learn how to play chess at the age of ten. Y’know those little fillers they used to have in newspapers, to plug in when the article didn’t quite reach to the bottom of the column? Some of those were about Capablanca. He–and Valentino, too–also used to turn up in anecdotes told by Bennett Cerf in his daily feature, Try and Stop Me (remember that?). I learned about a lot of famous people, reading Bennett Cerf.

But heck, racehorses then were more famous than a lot of celebrities are now.

It’s strange, when you think of it. In the 1950s we had only a few TV channels, no Internet, no social media–and yet the people who were famous, back then, were really famous! You didn’t have to be a chess player to know who Capablanca was. You didn’t have to watch silent movies to know who Valentino was. You didn’t have to hang out at the racetrack to know who Sea Biscuit was.

We’ve done something to shrink our pop culture giants. I can’t explain it, but I can see it. Like, Capablanca was a giant–but how many of you even know that Magnus Carlson, of Norway, is the world chess champion today? Crikey, I’m not even sure I spelled his name right.

6 comments on “Fame’s Not So Famous Anymore

  1. Fame has been cheapened. It’s a lot easier to attain than ever before. A post here at this blog could, in theory, be read by people in many varied places and could generate a sort of fame. But it is quite ephemeral. Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame statement seems prescient. We really do see 15 minutes of fame happening all around us. The sad part is that fame is no longer predicated on great accomplishment, but usually just great publicity. Think of the Kardashians, whose fame seems to be based, mainly, on the presence of fame; sort of a self generating fame based on press releases, etc.

    Some years ago, I attended an industry event and found myself recognized by strangers due to numerous online posts I had made on industry-related sites. It was not an experience I enjoyed. It was great to be appreciated for my comments, but not so great to be recognized by others whom I did not recognize.

    What must it be like to be truly famous and to be recognized everywhere one goes? It sounds miserable to me. Could you imagine what it must be like to have had your face on album covers or to have been a television star and not be able to go about your daily business without interruption from fans? That would be a form of imprisonment from which there could be no escape. I once encountered a ‘60s TV star in a store (he was known to have lived in the area) and the look on his face when he realized he’d been recognized was enough to convince me that the best way to thank him for his work was to leave him alone and let him shop without interruption.

    Honestly, I don’t know which is worse; the true fame of someone like Valentino, or the pseudo fame of our modern time, where almost anyone can become “flavor of the month” by mere publicity.

  2. A few (disjointed) observations:

    I think it used to be that in order to be famous, a person had to do something truly out of the ordinary, not just something “cool.” And it had to be something that really could be known to and appreciated by many different groups of people, not just to a niche group. Fans don’t make for real fame.

    Also, in former days there wasn’t as much media overload, so there were smaller groups out of which people could seem extraordinary — for example, fewer actors, so more focus on individual ones (no 1,000 channels of TV and online streaming flicks to compete with). And there was no enforced divide between the truly memorable and mass entertainment — for example, all kinds of people used to wait eagerly for the latest novel by Dickens (in America, they waited at the docks when they knew the latest installment was arriving), and apprentices used to play hooky from work to see the latest play by Shakespeare.

    Besides, progressives weren’t running the edumacation show back then. No tossing aside of Dead White Males or anything done or written before last weekend (except, of course, for Darwin, Marx, and other leftist icons). About 20 years ago, a colleague of mine observed that college graduation speakers used to throw in allusions to literature (see above, on Shakespeare and Dickens) and history, but now they use allusions only to the very latest pop culture. They assume ignorance on the part of the graduates — and maybe they share the ignorance themselves.

    Nowadays, I always wait at least ten years before bothering with any kind of book or show hyped by interlecturals as Very Important. I learned to do this long ago, when Everyone (meaning academicians and elite magazine writers) was hyping “Giles Goat Boy” as the Most Important Novel of Our Time. I tried to read it, found it tedious and pretentious, and stopped reading. About 5 years later, I mentioned it to someone who was touting yet another Most Important Novel, and he said, “Huh?” So now I give a Most Important Anything 10 years before I even bother.

    End of rant. For now.

    1. I read two pages of “Giles” and tossed it. Only immortals can afford to waste time reading Serious Mainstream Litterature.

      There is a rumor that “Oy, Rodney” is going to be held up as Serious Writing, but I don’t believe it.

  3. I like Phoebe’s point. I have made it a point to avoid the “must see” movies as a matter of course. I’ve never seen many of the movies that everyone is supposed to have seen. Likewise, books, CDs; whatever. However, if one of these passes the test of time, I may give it a look.

    With me,it’s probbaly more a matter of not wanting to be herded along with the masses.

  4. Finding true greatness is like sifting for gold or diamonds – sometimes you come across a valuable one. I found a goldmine in the Bell Mountain series. I actually found a 13 year old girl at our church to read the first volume!!

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