Friday, July 22, 2016

Sic transit gloria mundi

Which would you choose? Fame or fortune?

by Paul D. Marks

How 'bout we go 50-50 on this one.

Seems a lot of people want to be famous these days…but not for doing much worthy of fame: Paris Hilton, a whole family tree of Kardashians, the bling ring. I address this issue to some degree in my novella Vortex and Broken Windows, the upcoming sequel to White Heat. But before I get to them:

Sure I want to be famous. And I want to be rich. But I’d like to be those things for doing something worthwhile…and that can be entertaining people. Because as John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) learned in Preston Sturges’s “Sullivan’s Travels” that’s what people really want.

I keep telling my wife that I’m semi-semi famous, though my goal is to be semi-famous. The truth is I’m probably more like semi-semi-semi to the 10th degree famous. But the goal is still to be semi-famous. I don’t think I could ever be as famous as the Real Housewives of Here, There and Everywhere for doing nothing or even less than zero to paraphrase a great novel, or Snooki for tanning and Mike the Situation for adoring his own body. But if I can take people away from their world and their worries for a few hours, I’m good. Even if it’s into a much darker world of noir and mystery, at least it’s away from their day to day problems.

As for being rich, I’d settle for a house on each coast (that includes the West Coast, the East Coast, the Gulf Coast and the Amalfi Coast), a private plane, a yacht, a decommissioned missile silo for a very private writer’s retreat. And an endless supply of pizza and M&Ms – peanut only and no blue ones – they’re unnatural looking, how much blue food is there? – and hey, if Van Halen can do it, so can I.

Other than that I don’t really have much to say on whether I’d rather be rich or famous. It would be nice to be both. But I do have some thoughts on our fame-obsessed culture and address these issues in my writing.

In Vortex, a noir thriller, Zach Tanner is an Afghan war vet. Before and during the war he and his buddies have big plans to get rich and famous quick. Maybe by not quite doing the right thing. Being wounded in the war has given Zach time to think about it and he has a change of heart. Here’s a couple excerpts from Vortex:

It sounds corny, but I did want to be somebody. Didn’t really care how I got there either and maybe that was my problem. Maybe I should have cared. Back then I didn’t really care about much, fucked around and just wanted to be famous—rich and famous. And I thought if I could get my hands on some money that could help me on the road to fame.

Fuck, everybody I knew wanted to be famous. Everybody but those wanna-bes like George who were actually studying and heading somewhere. Some people have a road paved with gold. Others have a dirt-road, lined with ruts and potholes and IEDs, and they’re lucky if they can reach the next milestone before getting waxed. I had every advantage a person could hope for, but I couldn’t have gotten into UCLA or USC if my life depended on it. I was just lazy, especially when it came to studying. Nah, I wanted a faster road and a furious rod.

And from another part of Vortex:

Jess was still where I was before I deployed, still wanting the bling, but I’d moved on. Being a soldier, being in a war and being wounded changed me. She was just where I’d left her. Still wanting the brass ring but not wanting to do much to get it. The problem is, no matter how much you have, it’s never enough.

In Broken Windows, Duke, the P.I. from White Heat, who solved a case and got his “fifteen” minutes
of fame doing so, says:

Ever since my seven minutes of fame with Teddie Matson’s case, I had every two bit producer who needed the goods on his wife or girlfriend or boyfriend, or all three, or had to know what the competition at the other studios were up to, wanting me to work for them. I had no end of cases to work. A lot of Hollywood riff-raff; the fact that they might be worth a hundred million dollars didn’t make them any less riff or raff. I was making good money for a change. And I hated every minute of it.

So many people in our society want to be famous these days. They don’t realize they’re making a bargain with the Devil when they ask for that. When they do realize it it’s too late. But most famous people aren’t famous for doing anything important. I didn’t want to be one of them. And fame is a double-edged sword. Sometimes it opens doors, but you also can’t be anonymous. Some people ask for it—movie stars, then resent the price that goes with it. I hadn’t asked for it. But maybe it was part of my penance.

I think there’s a recurring theme going on here, so that hits on how I feel about fame and fortune.

I’ve met many famous people in one capacity or another. Some were nice, some not so nice. Fame doesn’t guarantee you’ll be a good person or happy or even prosperous. And when I think of fame I’m reminded of this line, paraphrased from the Jose Ferrer version of “Moulin Rouge”:

One should never meet a person whose work one admires. What they do is always so much better than what they are.

I hope if I ever do get beyond semi-semi-semi to the 10th degree famous that I will still be humble and share my M&Ms with the little people who helped me get where I am. (It’s a joke – okay, you people who take things too seriously.)

To me, fame without purpose is pointless and fortune without respect for others is meaningless.


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Unknown said...
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Art Taylor said...

Hey, Paul --
Great column--and couldn't agree more with so much of this, including the echo of Sullivan's Travels (such a great film), the preference for peanut M&Ms, and then the houses on all coasts (Amalfi included).

Seriously, some great points here and appreciated you putting those excerpts from your books in the context of the post here--nice work!


GBPool said...

Some people are talented and receive scant fame. Some receive great fame and have absolutely no talent. At least a few people recognize the talent in the first batch. Everybody eventually recognizes the lack of talent in the latter.

Christopher J. Lynch said...

Great post Paul.
I'm sure it's something that most writers ponder - and fantasize - about, especially when they first start out. Then the reality hits that this is a hell of a lot of work and you'd better love it if you are going to stay in the game.

That said, I think I'd just assume be rich other than famous. But what I really like is entertaining people. To me, there is nothing better than waking up to a five star review where a reader tells you they couldn't put your book down. To me that trumps fame or fortune any day.

Unknown said...

Great post, Paul. I love your noir voice - wow, you can hear - and see - the men speak!! I've added you to my reading stack. Also love the Moulin Rouge quote. ... The fame we're talking about in this question I'm assuming is the good kind of fame, where you've made a mark and affected the world for the better, even just in some slight way.

Jeff Baker said...

Hmmmmm....fame or fortune? I'd like my writing to get a lot of promotion and a nice, living wage would be nice. (Maybe a few million on the side...)

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Art. There’s important things and then there’s really important things, like peanut M&Ms and the Amalfi house. And I felt a little funny using the book excerpts, but on the other hand they did seem to fit.

Paul D. Marks said...

Good points, Gayle and a great succinct way of putting it. Thanks.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Chris. I agree with you about waking up to a good review and how hard it is and the determination to stay in the game. But as you say, the best part is knowing you’re entertaining people.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, RM. The Moulin Rouge quote is one of my favorites (I have a lot of favorite quotes…). And hopefully fame is the good kind, as you say. Unfortunately, there’s the other kind as well, though maybe we should call that notoriety.

Paul D. Marks said...

Jeff, I think we should lobby for a living wage for writers…and promotion too :) . There was actually a time when a writer could earn a living writing short stories, not so these days.

AJ Wilcox said...

Mostly what I got from that is Broken Windows is coming and soon I'll have another excellent story.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, AJ!