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Image: Colin Farrell
Frank Micelotta / Getty Images file
Fame far from fleeting
for many celebrities
Red carpet, magazines littered
with people famous for being famous
Colin Farrell among Hollywood's most recognized male movie stars, though he has yet to headline a movie that has made more than $100 million.
By Tara Ariano
MSNBC contributor
Updated: 11:08 a.m. ET March  11, 2004

We live in a time when the number of celebrities seems to be growing geometrically, and yet many of them are famous for no apparent reason — or, at least, the coverage they seem to attract is out of all proportion to their actual professional achievements. The gap between people who can legitimately be classed as “stars,” and those who are merely “celebrities,” is growing wider every day; it’s a real mystery as to how some of these famous people got to be famous in the first place.

MSNBC Today Show
Some so-called celebrities got to be where they were, fame-wise, because of who they know. It’s not like nepotism is secret or rare in Hollywood; a look at the Oscars of the past few years turns up wins for Blythe Danner’s daughter, Francis Ford Coppola’s daughter and Michael Douglas’s wife. Catherine Zeta-Jones, for her part, was an actor long before she ever met her husband, but she wasn’t racking up awards for the roles she played as a single woman (though some might say she was unfairly overlooked for her work in “The Haunting”). Maybe Gwyneth Paltrow and Sofia Coppola would have distinguished themselves equally well as dentists or architects, if they hadn’t gone into the family business, and maybe their famous parents’ connections have had nothing to do with their success. Maybe.

Image: Zeta-Jones
Carlo Allegri / Getty Images file
Catherine Zeta-Jones was an actress before she married Michael Douglas, but she did not attain her celebrity status until after the nuptials.

But Oscars, whether or not you agree that their recipients are worthy, are at least tangible acknowledgements of outstanding professional achievement, determined by one’s peers. Fame is harder to quantify, but apparently easier to come by if your dad or wife or cousin made a name for him- or herself that you could trade on.

For instance: The Zappas. Ahmet recently got some ink for marrying Selma Blair (to whom we’ll return below). Dweezil has a show on the Food Network with his tremendously annoying yet also tenaciously famous lady friend Lisa Loeb. And Moon (whom you may know better as “Moon Unit”) has published an autobiographical novel and recently guest-starred on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Would any of us know who any of them are if it were not for their famous progenitor?

Then there are the partners of the famous. Perhaps the logic here is that if they have to go to the trouble of getting all fancy for their partners’ various public appearances, then they might as well stake out their own parcels of fame. Shiva Rose McDermott (wife of former “The Practice” star Dylan) practically has her own section in “InStyle” magazine, heralding her as an apparently unemployed fashion icon. Kimora Lee Simmons (wife of hip-hop mogul Russell) just launched a line of jewelry and will co-host a syndicated talk show (along the lines of “The View”) in the fall. And the less said about Sharon Osbourne (wife of…well, you know), the better. Just don’t say less about her in her presence; she’ll scratch her eyes out.

But being professional arm candy isn’t just for the ladies. Chad Lowe (husband of Hilary Swank) also does plenty of hanging onto whatever’s left of the spotlight once his wife’s taken up her share — and indeed, as the younger, less famous brother of former “West Wing” star Rob, he’s working the nepotism on two fronts. Excelsior!

Red-Carpet Fame
If the paparazzi shots that make it into “Us Weekly” are any indication, something is being feted with a gala premiere in the greater L.A. area roughly every 11 seconds. And if E! has dispatched one of its fembots to cover the event, party planners can’t skimp on the celebrity guests. Hence, there has developed a whole new class of celebrity whose main function is to show up wherever and whenever they are invited — whether to the opening of someone else’s movie, or the opening of an envelope.

Image: Boyle
Chris Weeks / AP file
Actress Lara Flynn Boyle is a regular on the red carpet but when was her last movie appearance?

Take Lara Flynn Boyle. (Please!) The woman made headlines last year for the hideously misguided ballerina costume she wore to the Golden Globes. But while we were all busy asking why she would wear something like that, no one was asking the real question: why was she even there? She wasn’t, apparently, Jack Nicholson’s date. She most certainly wasn’t nominated for anything. And she probably wasn’t there for the free meal. She was there to get photographed in her stupid outfit.

Scrolling through the photos up on the IMDb — from the red carpet before the Oscars to the assortment of parties afterward — is like an educational slide show depicting what this sort of celebrity looks and acts like. God knows that between the nominees’ partners and managers and lawyers and mothers, there were already enough hangers-on clogging up the Kodak Theater on Oscar night, so what was Selma Blair doing there? Or Rosanna Arquette? Okay, fine: Sally Kirkland gets to go because she was nominated for an Oscar once. But that was a long time and many chemical peels ago, and someone close to her should really tell her to stay home next year.

Just adjacent to the red carpet, in terms of maximizing pitiful fame opportunities, is the pop-culture anthology show — your “I Love The 80’s,” your “Super Secret TV Formulas,” your…pretty much anything on VH1. These shows are plentiful and easy to produce because they rely almost entirely on the commentary of whatever stars you can sucker into the studio with the promise of free Diet Coke and press exposure. Henry Rollins and Hal Sparks can’t impress anyone with their appearance in a low-cut gown at the premiere of “50 First Dates” or some such (as Jennifer Love Hewitt so often does), but they can expand their fame reach by talking about Rubik’s Cubes or jelly shoes to anyone who’ll ask.

Tabloid Fame
Yet another method of prolonging one’s fame is with calculatedly “scandalous” behavior that makes it into the tabloids, totally by accident! Even if it makes the celebrity look bad, at least it means people are talking about him.

Colin Farrell is a good example of this sort of fame. He’s probably among the top 20 most recognized male movie stars, though he has yet to headline a movie that has made more than $100 million. (“Minority Report,” as a Tom Cruise movie, and “Daredevil,” as a comic-book movie in which Farrell has a comparatively small role, shouldn’t count toward his theoretical bankability as a leading man.) His fame is ridiculously disproportionate to his accomplishments, and the reason is that he is a darling of the tabloids: he can’t shut up about how much he loves drinking (and, “in the past,” doing drugs); he recently had a baby out of wedlock with his ex-girlfriend; and he’s reportedly dating Angelina Jolie. The only thing he hasn’t done is marry Britney Spears in Las Vegas, and at this point, would any of us put it past him to try that, too?

Jennifer Lopez is a constant fixture of the tabloids for a different sort of bad behavior: she doesn’t carouse, but she is a diva. And the gossip rags will never go broke reporting on her entourage, her on-set demands, her outrageous spending sprees, her inability to tip, and, let’s face it, her gigantic bum. Lopez has yet to make any albums, any movies (other than “Out of Sight”), or any cologne that doesn’t suck, and yet she is one of the most famous people alive — largely because she is so widely rumored to be so unpleasant in real life.

We all know fame has very little to do with objective merit. But there are some cases where merit isn’t involved in any way. And there’s one way to curtail the fame of the undeserving: stop paying attention to them! Now, if we could just get that word out to “Access Hollywood,” we’d be on our way to changing the world for the better.

 © 2004 MSNBC Interactive

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