David Bruce: Fame Anecdotes

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Danielle Arsenault is the hot chick in the Detroit band Crud—she calls herself the *ss of the band. Crud gleefully takes advantage of her hotness—with her permission—by using her image on its T-shirts and posters. She calls the band’s fans “horny,” which frontman Vinnie Dombroski agrees is the fans’ most defining characteristic. Often, male fans will push their girlfriends onstage so that Ms. Arsenault can spank or do other things to them. Perhaps the band will become more than regionally famous one day, and perhaps it will bring in a bigger income than it did in early 2008. The income would be welcome, but excessive fame can be a problem. Ms. Arsenault says, “I like the level we’re at right now because I don’t have to work too hard. But I wouldn’t mind working a little bit harder if it meant making a lot more.” She adds, however, “I don’t want to not be able to go out of the house without makeup. I want to be able to go to the grocery store with a hangover and not get my picture taken.”

Sometimes, achieving great success at a young age can lead to the problem of continually being asked about your early work despite all the good work you have done since then. One day, Orson Welles and Norman Mailer were having dinner when Mr. Mailer asked Mr. Welles a question about Citizen Kane, which Mr. Wells had created at age 25. Mr. Welles groaned and said, “Oh, Norman, not Citizen Kane.” At first, Mr. Mailer was surprised, but then he realized what was the problem and said, mentioning his own youthful world-class work of art, “Mmm, yeah—it’s like me and The Naked and the Dead.” Other people also realized the burden that very great and very early success can have on a person. After seeing Citizen Kane, impresario Billy Rose told Mr. Welles, “Quit, kid—you’ll never top it.”

Felia Doubrovska taught at George Balanchine’s School for American Ballet for 30 years, and before that she danced in many of his works. Mr. Balanchine, of course, often fell in love with muses, who inspired him to create some of his masterpieces for them. He also often made his muses either his wives or his girlfriends, and many of them— Tamara Geva, Alexandra Danilova, Vera Zorina, Maria Tallchief, and Tanaquil Le Clercq, became famous. Ms. Doubrovska remained simply friends with Mr. Balanchine, who told her, “Our relationship is so nice, the way we can look each other in the eyes. My girlfriends and wives I try to forget.” Ms. Doubrovska half-joked that she was a “little sad” that she had not been one of his girlfriends or wives “because then I would be famous.”

Alexander Fleming became very famous as a result of his discovery of penicillin, and he shared the 1945 Noble Prize for Physiology or Medicine with two people who did much work with penicillin, refining it and showing that it could be effectively used to treat bacterial infections in humans: Howard Florey and Ernst Chain. One reason that Mr. Florey and Mr. Chain did not become as famous as Mr. Fleming is that Mr. Florey declined to speak to the media about penicillin because he felt that it would be immoral to publicize the life-saving drug until it could be manufactured in much greater quantities than were possible at the time. He did not want to raise people’s hopes when it was unlikely that they could get penicillin.

Even early in famed portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh’s career, he was well known—in fact, better known than some people thought. Mr. Karsh, a Canadian photographer, took a portrait of Artur Rubinstein, and Mr. Rubinstein was much impressed by the result. Back at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City, he wanted to let two of his colleagues, Leopold Mannis and Leopold Godowski, know about his discovery of a great new photographer. He started by saying, “Way in the backwoods of Canada, in Ottawa, I have discovered a fine young photographer.” Mr. Mannis asked, “Could it be Karsh?” Mr. Rubinstein replied, “Hush, please. You are spoiling my story.”

How do you know when you’re a singer-songwriter who is beginning to make it? Having a song played on the TV series Grey’s Anatomy is one way, and Australian singer-songwriter Missy Higgins has done that. Being chased by the paparazzi is another, but in Australia you’ve got to be really famous to be chased by the paparazzi and Ms. Higgins hadn’t become that famous as of April 2008. However, her songs are sung on Australia’s version of American Idol, and her songs are sung in Australian karaoke bars. In addition—and this is fabulous—she says, “I actually saw myself in a crossword in Australia, and I thought that’s amazing—it doesn’t get any better.”

TV and radio talk-show host Joe Franklin interviewed many, many celebrities, often before they became truly famous. Unfortunately, many of the celebrities, once they became truly famous, did not appear again on his show. One exception was Bill Cosby. In 1993, when Mr. Cosby was a superstar, he appeared on Mr. Franklin’s show, astounding his press people, who wondered why he didn’t go on a national show instead. Mr. Cosby explained, “I don’t want to forget the man who gave me my first break, when I didn’t have carfare to come to the studio.”

Two African-American athletes were recruited to play basketball at Indiana University—but they each received a letter with this message: “Our quota of Negroes has been filled.” Ooh! Bad decision, and not just because of the bad ethics. The two athletes were Bob Gibson, an excellent all-around athlete who is now a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and Oscar Robertson, who is now a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

As a political writer in Newark, New Jersey, LeRoi Jones (who later changed his name to Amiri Baraka), often wrote pamphlets against the mayor, Hugh Addonizio. The FBI even claimed that one of Mr. Jones’s pamphlets contained instructions for making a Molotov cocktail. This amused Mr. Jones, who said, “One thing about the FBI—they’re always trying to make you famous.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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