Each year, starry-eyed young adults take what money they can scrape up and head for the city lights. Stardom is the goal and they know that, “if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” At least that’s what “New York, New York” tells us and it’s probably true but the reality of that “making it” is often discovered in frightening and painful ways.
Stardom isn’t sitting on a seat at a soda fountain (another Hollywood fable about Lana Turner) or suddenly being seen on the street and photographed by a friend of a friend who knows someone who’s looking for someone just like you. Fables all, except in one or two cases.
I know of one, but I’ll spare you all the details. Just let me say that she was a retired, elderly teacher from a small town in Pennsylvania and all she wanted was to live in Manhattan, see her kids regularly and get a part-time job near her apartment. She made it. Didn’t hurt that one of her daughters worked in Woody Allen films, but she happened on the scene when the only “old lady” in ads was near death and the agency desperately needed a replacement. She was it. Her goal was never to be a model, but that’s what she became for the remaining years of her life.
Madonna, in several interviews has related the unsettling tales of rape, sleeping on any couch she could find and washing in hallway bathrooms. A lot of details, of course, were left out but you get the picture. She had to suffer through all of it with that unyielding desire to make it and she did in incredible fashion. Catholic school girl that she was, she understood the realities and she faced them head on.
As rough as it was and still is, if you follow the gossip and blind items in the media, there are other realities that are far more sinister than the director’s couch or the office grope. These aspects of stardom and fame come full force at us when we listen to things like the panic-stricken Sondra Bullock in her 911 call. An intruder was in her home and she feared for her life.
Stalkers are a part of life for the famous and they come suddenly out of nowhere. Some are so obsessed that they break into a home to try on the star’s clothing. Others follow them, hiding in doorways to catch a glimpse of them. In gruesome details, we read about those who kill the one they adore as in the case of Rebecca Schaeffer, a young star on the rise and in a hit TV series. Her death prompted a change in the California laws regarding stalkers, but they still persist. David Letterman’s stalker is one case in point. John Lennon’s murder stands out for all time.
Katharine Hepburn and Greta Garbo had their stalkers but not in such blatant fashion. Then the star-struck were satisfied with a quick look at them entering their Manhattan apartment buildings or getting off a hidden photo of them. Times were different but the adoration was still there.
I used to appear on many TV and radio shows and get lots of ink in magazines at one time. I never gave much thought to my “fame” and I never thought I was in any way famous. But one day, walking alone across a parking lot in a large mall, a man suddenly came barreling toward me. Breathlessly, he asked if I were, “Dr. Farrell.” Taken aback, I said I was and he went on for a few minutes about how he’d watched me on TV. It was a brief encounter, but it shook me and I was relieved when he left as I got into my car. I could only imagine what might have happened. Friends would later tell me that I was lucky. I guess I was.
It’s too easy to scoff at the burly security guys who surround the rich and famous. We’re not sufficiently involved in the frightening aspects of fame, so we shouldn’t be too quick to judge when they get a little rough. A crowd too close can be catastrophic and the end of a career or a life.
Those shots outside the Dakota in 1980 still ring in everyone’s ears and they sound a warning to all.