by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
August 24, 2009
FAME IS FLEETING
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga -- My shopping cart had what I call "go funny" wheels and with difficulty I eased it along the long line to the conveyer belt for checkout. I shifted from one foot to the other and stared at the ever-present magazines and tabloids on the racks along the way. These are so common, so similar one week to the next, they are like wallpaper - interesting patterns but not enough to hold my attention long enough to remember.
Today my eyes were seized by the lack of the familiar. Oh, the publishers continued to offer glossy covers designed to grab and hold my attention, the regular bold and colorful headlines were the same, but the faces were different. That's not Jennifer Anniston, that's not Angelina Jolie (famed first for wearing a vial of former husband Billy Bob Thornton's blood around her neck) now married to handsome Brad Pitt, the earlier husband of aforementioned Jennifer Anniston); there was not even an inserted photo of Madonna. A small line of print told readers that Madonna's adoption of an African child was still in the courts. She is still known but not among the up and coming.
Madonna was the first personality since Hildegarde, a cabaret singer for seven decades, known by only one name. Now the starlets and singers spell their names in inimitable ways to hold your attention with one name. There is Khloe and there is Sheree, who tugs Kim's wig, and Tania gets catty and Kandy gets her "bubbies" grabbed. This was front cover stuff ... this week.
I know none of the current stars, and the fans buying these magazines are between 14 and 20, along with some "reality tv" fans who live vicariously on the wild side. People Magazine is the more acceptable weekly, backing up their blurbs with pictures. The stars and the stories featured guarantee fame - if only for that week Being forgotten the next week can lead from elation to depression very quickly.
Fame can be great or it can be disastrous. With your name and image known around the world it follows that your perception of yourself becomes inflated and your attitude is altered. Fame can come from many things and will visit singers, actors, doctors, kings and queens, athletes, world leaders, political figures, and sometimers even the ordinary. And fame can come out of the blue or only after years of struggling to reach it. But it is almst always fleeting.
Will today's faces, made famous on magazine covers, last through the run on the newstands? Or will a new and pretty face only lasts as long as that fashion is "in." Is their work lasting? Or are they just cookie-cutter blondes, brunettes and redheads, or guys with the six-pack abs?
Those struggling young talents out there work, and work hard, at what they do. Fame finds them. They are so good they are noticed. They are found in reviews and not always on magazine covers. They have what we call "word of mouth" appreciation and we seek them out for what they offer.
Most of the celebrities are famous just for being famous - Paris Hilton, for instance. The paparazzi, translated as "buzzing insects" - the origin disputed - make themselves famous by earning their living photographing the young up-and-coming in their comings and goings.
Ron Galella, taken to court by former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, was more a stalker than a candid cameraman. This ubiquitous self-proclaimed "godfather" of the paparazzi became famous for the "no picture" picture. Recognized by all, the stars would hold a hand over their faces and scurry along close to the building. He would hide in the bushes, jump out, point and shoot, catching his subjects with wide-eyed looks of surprise and a non-flattering expression.
Galella's favorite subjects were Jackie Kennedy and her children. She took Galella to court after first pinning him against a limo and telling him he'd been stalking her for three months. For some reason, her knowledge of his following her about town suggested she liked the publicity. He said that a stalker is an obsessed fan. In his case, he was just earning a living. It was only after he jumped out of the hedges in Central Park and spooked young John Kennedy's horse, that Mrs. Onassis earned the right to be left alone. After a 26-day trial, Ron Galella became known as "Jackie O's stalker."
In the early days, Galella was one of only a few celebrity photographers, but he was pushy and feisty and had the real "street smarts" to place himself where he wanted to be. Marlon Brando punched his jaw, removing five front teeth. Galella sued for the $40,000 dental reconstruction necessary and got it. Sean Penn would spit in his face. Richard Burton had his bodyguards beat him up and he lost another tooth. He sued Burton and he lost.
In an article by Christopher Turner for the London Telegraph, artist Andy Warhol is quoted as saying: "My idea of a good picture," referring to Galella's work, "is one that's in focus and of a famous person doing something infamous. It's being in the right place at the wrong time."
Fame may be fleeting - judging from the turnover of faces on magazine covers - but the pursuit of the famous is an ongoing passion. There is never a day off; something might be missed. His following Mrs. Onassis and the Kennedy children ended only when he continually ignored the court injunction to keep away. This time he would be fined $125,000 and face seven years in prison. His game ended.
Thus, Galella was the paparazzo who had staked out 1040 Fifth Avenue for the last time. It was here he had spent so much time sitting out front on a sidewalk bench - along with fans of the former First Lady - just for the chance to focus his lens as she went in or out.
The last time she went out it was to the hospital; the last time she came home was to linger just a short while before she died at home. There were a few news photographers waiting nearby for word of her demise and some coverage of JFK, Jr. making the announcement of her death.
It was respectful and rather intimate. She deserved that. But she had to struggle to preserve her privacy, while the paparazzi justify making a living exploiting the famous who never courted fame for fame's sake.
Galella, now retired, showed Christopher Turner of the London Telegraph his huge basement archive, "shelf upon shelf of neatly catalogued boxes, each one crammed full of prints."
The photographer of the famous and infamous smiled as his eyes scanned the collection.
"Now it's time to mine the gold," he said.