The Price of Fame

Tonight, on New Year’s Eve, the power went out in my neighborhood. After an hour of moving around in my dark house with my flashlight – with various electrical devices beeping – I decided to drive the 15 miles to my favorite movie theater and see a recommended movie – Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody.

It followed – from what I know of her – fairly close to her life. A start, as with many black singers, in church singing to a discovery by a top record executive and then a rocket flight to fame and fantastic wealth – and then because of turmoil in her personal life, a plummet. A turmoil brought, in large part, by the fantastic wealth that was coming in.

I suspect had Whitney simply stayed singing in church all of this Sturm und Drang – and her eventual death from drowning in her bathtub from drugs – would have not been on the timeline.

What I don’t like about many of these movies – and series – is the screenwriters taking what is already a dramatic story – and fictionalizing some of it.

Subsequent to my posting this review about the making of the Godfather movie, I learned that the screenwriter, after interviewing producer Albert Ruddy, decided to play with the actual timeline and fictionalize a bit.

It wasn’t enough to affect the actual story – about a relative neophyte producer who was a programmer for the Rand Corporation and had only Hogan’s Heroes to his credit – how he fought with the head of Paramount to even make the movie, finding the top talent to work for a pittance, dealing with all of the politics, low budget, and even the Mafia, to make this masterpiece against all odds. And how he found an ally with an actual Mafia Chieftain. All this is pretty much public knowledge so I am not spoiling anything. I still recommend this series on Paramount +.

But why do they have to add some fictional twists to an already dramatic story? I guess to add more “drama,” but I also believe that the screenwriters and producers have an obligation to the viewer – and to the subjects.

And this is pretty much the narrative to the making of this movie. At the end credits they admitted a bit was fictionalized.

But seeing this movie – and learning of her achievements – did she really sell more records than the Beatles? – and that beautiful and powerful voice – made me wonder why so many singers die early – and many from drugs.

On the road during my recent drive – I listened to some of the songs The Carpenters made in the 1970s. This was a brother and sister duo, with the brother (Richard) writing most of the songs and the sister (Karen) singing.

I remember seeing a documentary somewhere, with Richard (I believe) doing most of the narration. To think that early in their endeavors Karen started out as a drummer and didn’t even want to sing. Was it shyness to want to avoid being in the limelight?  

And to die a slow death from anorexia – did she think she was unappealing to the millions who watched her? Of course today decades later we still listen to that beautiful voice – if she only knew what her audience knew.

Hendricks, Morrison, Joplin…I looked up to find a list of musicians who died from drugs and it is an army.

I have a good friend who accuses me of delving into subjects – to the point of finding minutia – that interest me. Don’t know whether that is good or bad, more likely a bit of OCD.

But I read a lot about the Day The Music Died in my last post, and tonight found an internet post that gives you an idea of what that group went through on that broken school bus, with no heater, in a sub-freezing midwestern winter. It truly was the tour from Hell, and you can understand better why Buddy Holly decided, in Clear Lake, IA, to schedule a charter plane to their next stop hundreds of miles away. They still preserved the pay phone at the Surf Ballroom that he most likely used to make that arrangement.

While many in the entertainment industry turn to drugs, is it more prevalent among singers? Because of the difficulty in touring? Even the top stars may live in a million dollar “camper” for months at a time, traveling from city to city.  I can understand why some turn to drugs.

Then there is the money coming in, and more importantly, the ability – or inability – to keep it. I learned that the reason Buddy agreed to what became the Tour from Hell is that he was broke – and fighting with his manager. In watching the movie about Elvis some months ago, they said he died nearly broke – of course “Col Parker” was a parasite taking 50% of his earnings, but there were family members, and his own lavish lifestyle.

You read about the occasional celebrity suing his manager of alleged embezzlement – it would take someone of strong character to take in those millions and not skim some.

I remember something Bill Cosby said – in his better days- before he landed in prison.  That is, to take and manage your own money. He was probably in a small minority, although I know that Bob Hope, investing in real estate in So Cal, did very well. Whether he had a manager manage his money or not I can’t say, but I doubt it.

Fame – and the huge influx of money that generally accompanies it – is a double-edge sword.

But I recommend the movie.

P.S. Happy New Year, everyone!


Filed under Movie Review

2 responses to “The Price of Fame

  1. Edward

    The money attracts the hangers-on, false friends, leeches, confidence men (and women), and puts the famous person in a bubble surrounded by (usually) worthless low-lives.

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