by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
May 2, 2006
OTHER PEOPLE'S LIVES
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- There is no question about it; enough of us are interested in the stories behind the stardom to keep the tabloids in business.
And a big business it is. Right now, those publications are ready to write a check for a couple of million dollars to the photographer who gets a shot of Angelina and Brad's baby. (Surely she has considered taking the picture herself and using the money to build yet another school for the poor in Africa.)
Don't list me among the "us" paying to read all about it. However, I do shop, and my waiting-in-line time at supermarkets is spent glancing at the front pages of the National Enquirer, The Globe and The Star, the "tabs" most prominent among many newcomers to journalism. I guess I sound a little like Humphrey Bogart when he was referred to "Confidential," one of the forerunners in the field: "Everybody reads it, but they say the cook brought it into the house."
It's all about selling papers and deciding what exactly will do that. The editors will print any headline remotely connected to Jennifer Anniston so they can put her on the cover. This week it's her sorrow over a baby. What baby? Ex-husband Brad Pitt's baby with Angelina Jolie? Oh, hers? I didn't hear about that but I'm sure busy actress Jennifer has moved far beyond heartbreak hotel.
"Confidential" was the first tabloid sold above the counter in my memory. It was published tabloid size with a cheap pulp paper magazine feel to it. It was sleazy and it sold. The early '50s public wanted to see people who they usually saw in the best light fading into sordid shadows. It was an instant switch from Technicolor to film noir.
Because this magazine had subscribers, Confidential got attention from Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield, who barred its mailing. His objections issued from what he considered a "racy description of a stripteaser's gyrations." Also cited was the "questionable" pin-up photo of actress Terry Moore.
This was one of the early freedom of speech cases. Confidential won in court, sort of: in the future, Summerfield would have to go before the courts with every issue and be able to cite just cause. Confidential had to present the magazine to Summerfield for review within 24 hours of publishing, but before mailing it out to subscribers. Similar legal problems reduced the circulation to just half of what it was.
It's not so much that we need to know; we often just want to know. I'd rather relax reading biographies than romance or mystery novels. A life has been lived; the events really happened. If it's a good read, I can then draw upon more and more places and people within and around the story to flesh out even more. There are times I wish I had left a wonderful book closed instead of reaching for the back story.
For instance, like so many, I love the story of President Lincoln. Before I ever delved into the historical record, I read Irving Stone's novel, "Love Is Eternal," the courtship and marriage of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln." I expected the novel to take some liberties with conversations at a dance, over breakfast, or any situation that would be pure conjecture on the author's part. But I know Stone wasn't changing facts; I trusted the accuracy of his 1955 best-seller.
Later, as I broadened my studies, I found William H. Herndon's works and transcripts of his speeches. This Willie was Lincoln's law partner and confidante, and he had nothing good to say about Mary Todd, before or after she became Mrs. Lincoln, wife and then widow of Abraham.
Carl Sandburg's Pulitzer Prize-winning Biography of Lincoln, "The War Years," was published in 1940; Robert Todd Lincoln's papers were opened in 1947 - 21 years after his death, as he had stipulated. Stone's somewhat fictionalized account was published in 1955.
Having the added benefit of later information may account for differences in approach. Sandburg leaned on Herndon's accounts; Stone, perhaps, on additional accounts. In this case, further research did not broaden my knowledge. I can now wonder if she were a "serpent," as Willie claimed, of a "genteel, highly educated, southern lady," as Stone claimed.
Because of the age we live in, we now can enjoy the talents of first and second generations in looking for entertainment, and we see them in their prime. This week I saw a young Lionel Barrymore as a senator who accepted a bribe and then, when sufficiently ashamed of himself, delivered a speech in the Senate chamber that was so superior to anything I've seen, that I envy the moviegoers in 1932 who witnessed its first run. The camera never left his face as every emotion played out. Now I can see how that theatrical dynasty began.
Young Drew Barrymore is probably the last in this theatrical line. Apparently, she has redeemed herself after earlier exploits that made her tabloid fodder. If you have a name, any recognizable name, the tabloids will be coming around. And if there's nothing sensational to report, they will insinuate with a (wink, wink) and get away with it.
Our next generation will be the most cynical we've produced, because we have to arm them with advice: "Don't believe everything you read."
Just two generations ago, we heard Will Rogers say: "All I know is what I read in the papers." Poor Will. Poor na´ve Will.