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Posts Tagged ‘celebrity’

The Rest Is Silence

April 11, 2016 | by

Chaplin’s trip abroad.

From the cover of My Trip Abroad.

In the fall of 1921, journalists were clamoring to know if Charlie Chaplin intended to play Hamlet. They asked him in Chicago at the Blackstone Hotel. They cornered him at the Ritz. His response each time was coy and evasive: “Why, I don’t know.”

Of all the unlikely questions they tended to ask him at this point in his career—“Are you a Bolshevik?” “What do you do with your old mustaches?”—the Hamlet question seems most out of place. Why would an actor known for his comedy and silence take on a famously verbose and tragic role? Hamlet, with his hemming and hawing, didn’t seem a natural fit for an actor in Chaplin’s position. But then, no actor had ever been in Chaplin’s position before. Read More »

The Disasterpiece

September 17, 2015 | by

The saga of Scary Lucy.

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Illustration by Ellis Rosen.

In a no-frills park in Celoron, New York, where Lucille Ball grew up, there stands a four-hundred-pound bronze statue with a puss that’s been likened to Darth Vader, the demonic doll Chuckie, and Kim Hunter in her Planet of the Apes makeup. Scary Lucy, as the figure has been dubbed, bears no great resemblance to the comedienne who once hooked America with hennaed poodle bangs and balletic slapstick.

In early April 2015, some six years after Scary Lucy was installed, the local paper ran a story about the village seeking funds to improve or otherwise replace the statue. The A.V. Club picked up the development the next day, and nationwide coverage followed, from the New York Times (“NY Village Wants to Give Its Lucille Ball Statue a Makeover”) to Gawker (“Drunk, Leering Lucille Ball Statue Menaces Small Village”) to NPR (“In New York, A Sculptor’s Got Some S’plaining To Do”).

It was funny. But it was more than that. The black magic of statuary is in how the fact, myth, and memory associated with its flesh-and-blood celebrity can get canned inside it. Spark that with controversy, and presto: Lucille Ball’s Bronze Age. Read More »

What’s the Use?

July 21, 2015 | by

Celebrity and oblivion in the Goncourt brothers.

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Edmund and Jules Goncourt.

Few documents provide as comprehensive—or as caustic—a view of celebrity as the diary of the Goncourt brothers, Jules and Edmond. Chronicling literary Paris from 1851 to 1896, The Journal of the de Goncourts features enough searing bons mots and scandal mongering to make Gawker look like a Sunday school brochure. In one entry from 1852, the famed cross-dressing novelist and amoureuse George Sand threatens to “publish an account” of the behavior of her son-in-law, the sculptor Clésinger; he is quick to reply: “then I’ll do a carving of your backside. And everybody’ll recognize it.” The novelist, playwright, and bohemian Villiers de l’Isle-Adam is described as having “the face of an opium addict or a masturbator”; Edmond de Goncourt dismisses Oscar Wilde’s homosexuality, like his poetry, as a “plagiarism from Verlaine.”

Whether or not one is familiar with the poets, novelists, and absintheuses of Haussmannian Paris, to read the Goncourt brothers is to plunge headlong into a world of bitter rivalries and bitterer friendships, in which every gathering around a café table on the Grands Boulevards is a chance to raise one’s status in the byzantine literary hierarchy. “Here,” as Christopher Isherwood put it, “gossip achieves the epigrammatic significance of poetry.” Of course, such a cynical, self-satisfied perspective can grate. André Gide, writing on the Goncourts’ novels, excoriated their style as pathologically shallow—a Perez Hilton of the Passages des Panoramas: “It is impossible to read a page by them where that good opinion they have of themselves does not burst out from between the lines.” Read More »

Sailing with Faulkner

April 13, 2015 | by

Welty watering in her garden.

Eudora Welty watering in her garden.

A letter from Eudora Welty to Jean Stafford, September 2, 1949. Faulkner and Welty had met once before, when she presented him with the National Institute of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for Fiction.

William Faulkner took us sailing on his sailboat on a big inland lake they’ve cut out of the woods there—waves and everything, big. We were late getting there—got lost and went to Blackjack, Miss.—and then when we found the lake there was Faulkner, cruising around, and headed right for us, through the dead cypresses and stumps and all, pulled down his sail and took the oar, and hollered, “You all better take your shoes off and get ready to wade,” which we did, sinking—got pulled on board and then we all sailed around, all quiet and nice—what a wonderful person he is, the most profound face, something that nearly breaks your heart though, just in the clasp of his hand—a strange kind of life he leads in Oxford, two lives really. We never, either time I’ve been with him, talked about anything bookish of course—it’s his life, not his opinions,—that seems to be with you all the time. He can do or make anything, and can sail beautifully. We got in his 20 year old Ford touring car which he hunts and fishes and goes over the farm in, with holes in the floor (“well, I know where all the holes are”) and when we couldn’t open a back door he said, “There’s a cupboard latch on it,” you ought to see that car.

Conservative Radicals

March 26, 2015 | by

frost meet the press

Frost on Meet the Press in 1955.

First, a general note: At what point do we stop celebrating the birthdays of the deceased? Yes, Robert Frost was born on this day in 1874, and yes, that would make him 141 today—had not death intervened in 1963, when, at eighty-eight, Frost had already been around for a good while. At a certain point, can’t we just say that today is “the anniversary of his birth”? The word birthday no longer seems to apply—in the normal range of things, it starts to feel a bit macabre. One begins to imagine cakes and party hats on gravestones. Read More »

The Year in Review (and in Orbit), and Other News

December 10, 2014 | by

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The Cocos Fire, San Diego County, May 15, captured by a DigitalGlobe satellite. Image via Slate

  • “Time and again we hear about a new desire for the real, about a realism which is realistic set against an avant-garde which isn’t, and so on … It seems to me meaningless, or at least unproductive, to discuss such things unless, to borrow a formulation from the ‘realist’ writer Raymond Carver, we first ask what we talk about when we talk about the real. Perhaps we should have another look at the terms ‘the real,’ ‘reality’ and ‘realism.’ ”
  • On David Lynch’s paintings and drawings: “Lynch has long been the American director with the most direct pipeline to his unconscious—his graphic work suggests the doodles of an extravagantly disturbed child … The implied or explicit subject of these paintings is often arson, rape, or murder, but in Lynch’s work, merely existing is a violent affair.”
  • The year in satellite images: snapshots from DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-2 and WorldView-3 satellites captured erupting volcanoes, protests, melting glaciers, music festivals, and, most chillingly, wildfires—from 480 miles up, a landscape on fire looks more like it’s covered in blood.
  • Slava Polunin is Russia’s “best-known artistic clown,” and now he’s taking his act on the road. “His reaction to events, he insists, is best seen in his portrayal of the human condition … He thinks Samuel Beckett ‘had the human condition about right, but there is no need to be miserable about that.’ Audiences watch a mime character preparing for suicide with a noose—and end up cheering a finale involving a ticker-tape storm and giant colored balls, against a haunting, electronic soundscape.”
  • “In a poll conducted by Variety in August, the five most influential celebrities among Americans age thirteen to eighteen were all YouTube stars. Ryan Higa, KSI, Smosh, Jenna Marbles, and other YouTubers with equally absurd names were all more popular than notable old person Leonardo DiCaprio. The highest-ranking movie star, Jennifer Lawrence, lagged well behind someone named PewDiePie, a Swedish twenty-five-year-old who films himself cracking jokes while playing video games. His videos have been seen more than 6.5 billion times, making his the most viewed channel of all time—bigger than Beyoncé, bigger than Bieber.”

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