The Failure of Success – Will You Be Remembered?

May 9, 2010 at 12:01 am | Posted in acting, actors, entertainment | Leave a comment
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“Richard Burton who?” she said.

I now know the epitome of the self-centered, myopic actor. It’s the one who doesn’t care to know who came before them. I encountered several of these Center-of-The-Universes recently. And I wasn’t all too thrilled to be spun into their gravitational pull of ignorance.

As a way for some of my collegiate students to earn extra credit I planned a game of Celebrity. (For those not in the know it’s a self-made party game where you and others must guess famous people living or dead.) For my version there were some personal rules:

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  1. All names were supplied by me.
  2. All names were from the entertainment industry.
  3. A celebrity had to be either; an Oscar, Emmy or Tony winner and/or nominee.
  4. The players (my students) could only give clues regarding the celebs work or life (no “sounds-like” or “name begins with the letter after…” simpleton bullshit).
  5. All the Oscar, Emmy and or Tony associated had to have a major part of their glory prior to 1980.

I knew there would be an association curve with the early twenty-something students. But I didn’t expect nearly all the famous to go up in flames and be as forgotten as the ashes of James Doohan (the actor who played ‘Scotty’ on Star Trek who postmortem had his cremated remains shot into space).

The challenge: Eighty names. Seven teams of two (one participant the clue giver, the other the solver) had two minutes to get through as many of the famous as was possible thus earning points for each correctly guessed.

The first two players “Marsha” and “Donald” joined me at the front of the classroom. I stood between the duo holding a small white bowl for the rejects (i.e. names the clue giver – Marsha in this case —  could pass on). Also in my possession was an open Ziploc bag containing the notables. From which each was to be pulled as I watched the clock.

“Ready… set,” I began, “and go!”

Into the bag Marsha thrust her hand. Her force of such that I had to grip tighter onto the plastic. She pulled out one of the small, rectangular slips of paper. I saw the name typed on it; Ben Kingsley.

“Don’t know him,” Marsha said quickly as she tossed into the pass bowl the knighted actor who notably won an Oscar for his portrayal of Gandhi. Her right hand plowed back into the bag for another name. She pulled out several pieces of paper. She looked at the first one. Her eyebrows rose. Her nose crinkled as if smelling something foul.

“Don’t know her.” Marsha quipped. She threw the celebrity into the disposal bowl. I looked at who had been passed upon. Helen Hayes. Oh my God.

Donald was getting worried. He desperately needed the extra credit to get anything resembling a passing grade for the semester. Marsha looked at another of the celebrity slips in her hand.

“Oh God,” she whined, “who are these people?!”

Marsha tossed another name into the bowl-de-pass. Walter Matthau. Several more notable thespians, without try, went flying into the proverbial port-o-potty I was holding. Greta Garbo. Yul Brynner. Bob Hope. Grace Kelley. Moss Hart. George S. Kauffman. Then she hit upon someone she recognized.

“Oh, oh!” she blurted as she began jumping up and down, “I know this one. He’s really, really old. That wrinkly guy from 8 Simple Rules.”

Donald hadn’t a clue about Marsha’s clue. He stared blankly at Marsha who countered back, “You know… he’s ancient. Probably dead.”

He was very much alive and his name is James Garner, a.k.a. ‘Jim Rockford’ of The Rockford Files and ‘Bret Maverick’. Nominated for 14 Emmys (winning one), recipient of 5 Golden Globes (nominated 12 times), winner of 2 People’s Choice Awards and nominated for an Oscar. And the best this aspiring actress could come up with was that he’s “really, really old”?!

One classes failed miserably with the eighty names. One other excelled… but not much better. What was astounding was not only the ignorance of the failing class that possessed as little recognition — of fellow artists – as if trying to recall the name of a fleeting one-night-stand but oh so maddening was their arrogance. They grew increasingly indignant and angry about the names waiting them in the bag. Stating that; these people were not relevant to them. Including the British actor who’s name was disposed of several times; Sir Laurence Oliver. I guess that his knighthood, 11 Oscar nominations (1 win), 9 Emmy nods (5 wins), multiple other accolades including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame plus the honor of his fellow Brits naming their version of the Tonys after him means absolutely nothing to this younger generation of thespians. Un-fucking-believable.

If there is a lesson to be learned here (other than knowing who came before you) it’s this: Fame really is fleeting. Just look at a sampling below from the eighty names that caused silence and smoldering snipping. All once household recognizable now nothing but discarded slips of paper in a class of university actors-to-be. If you — like my collegiate actor aspirants — don’t recognize many; shame on you (and be thankful you’re not being publicly graded). If the names read familiar; cheers! But how soon after we depart this spinning ball of dust and rock will people forty years hence be smugly bitching, “Meryl Streep? Don’t know her.”

BOB FOSSE DUDLEY MOORE ARTHUR LAURENTS JOHN WAYNE
SPENCER TRACY MICKEY ROONEY BARBARA STANWYCK SISSY SPACEK
KATHERINE HEPBURN GRETA GARBO REX HARRISON LIONEL BARRYMORE
BING CROSBY HUMPHREY BOGART SOPHIA LOREN VIVIEN LEIGH
MADELINE KAHN JOAN CRAWFORD JACK LEMMON JACKIE GLEASON
JAMES CAGNEY JOHN FORD ANNE BANCROFT GLORIA SWANSON
SIDNEY POITIER AUDREY HEPBURN HENRY FONDA ROCK HUDSON
DORIS DAY JAMES STEWART NATALIE WOOD ANN-MARGARET
GEORGE BURNS LEE REMICK CHARLTON HESTON ZERO MOSTEL
INGRID BERGMAN GARY COOPER ROSALIND RUSSELL JEAN STAPLETON
TONY CURTIS MARLENE DIETRICH PETER FALK CAROL O’CONNOR
JUDY HOLIDAY PETER O’TOOLE NANCY WALKER BILLY WILDER

and sadly… Richard Burton.

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HEADS UP!: Because actors have gotten agents (and more importantly) work; Access to Agents is back! Two versions are avail to you: Stage & Screen or Musical Theatre. You and I will work together on your audition and marketing skills, plus interview technique and then I’ll introduce you to a panel of agents for film, TV and Broadway who’ll give you feedback on your audition and potential as a client. Full details @ Access to Agents.

My Best,
Paul

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Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He writes a column for Back Stage and is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.

 

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