A friend of mine from back in Hollyweird called me last week. She was trying to find out who's designing and distributing the infamous "Gift Baskets" for the Oscars this year. Now, bear in mind, I got out of Los Angeles about eight years ago. I still keep in touch with a few old pals, just to kind of keep my finger on the pulse of things, and I still get a bit nostalgic about Hell-Ay. But by and large, I'm really, really glad I left when I did--otherwise I doubt I'd like myself very much at this point. That town has a way of sucking every bit of your own soul out and putting something else in. It lacks in substance and harbors an excess of ickiness. I call it the Tapeworm.
Anyway, my friend needed me to call a few contacts and find out this kernel of information for her. It brought me back to thinking about Celebrutality again...remember, one of my earlier posts during which I railed vituperously at the entitled attitude of Hollywood bourgeoisie? Well, guess what? The Academy, in their infinite wisdom and ball-shriveled fear, have completely washed their hands of the heretofore traditional gift baskets. No more freebees for people who make enough money to afford the actual items in the basket. No more getting away with receiving said freebies without giving some of the largesse back to the government. They'll have to make do with designers giving them gowns to wear in exchange for publicity, and Harry Winston loaning jewels for same.
As you may surmise, Hollywood's Babylonians are decidedly not happy about this unlucky change in events; their world is tilting on its axis. Half the reason they go out to these soirees is to bilk and shill for goodies. You just know Paris Hilton is moaning into her Grey Goose at the injustice of not getting a bonus Treo for her trouble; forget the fact that no one, including Paris, really knows why she got an invitation to the event at all. The day Paris Hilton is nominated for an Oscar is the day the Seventh Seal will be opened and a great silence will be heard in Heaven for half an hour. Because even the angels and cherubim will be stunned into unholy speechlessness. Jesus will start dealing Blackjack in Vegas, and God will go to Turks and Caicos for a well-earned vacation.
But I digress. My point is (I think) about the fact that the more money people seem to have, the less they want to spend it and the greedier they get. The Academy may not be putting up gift baskets this year, but I'm willing to lay odds that the after-party hosts will take up the slack; the uproar otherwise would simply be too deafening, and besides, no one would go to the parties if there were no goodies to heist for free.
"FREE" being the operative word.
Vanity Fair has the best party of the night--as a rule, they usually host it at Morton's after the awards ceremony, and it is by far the most coveted invitation out of all the parties on Oscar night. Everyone who wants to be seen must go. Even if you're George Clooney, unless you've gotten that golden ticket of an invite, you're relegated to the B list for the evening. You're crap, and no one wants to photograph you. And VF has the best food, the best place settings, and the biggest open bar this side of the Mississippi. It's a great party that simply smells of money. However, none of the guests will spend any.
It's amazing to me, actually. There are people in that industry that make more money in one week than most of us see in five years, and yet, they never seem to have to open their wallets for anything. I don't know how that happens, really. They get free dresses, free jewelry, free food at restaurants...free tickets and free hotel rooms, you name it.
Take Anna Nicole Smith, for instance. God bless her, she was a train wreck of the first water. Not even really a C list celebrity. Okay, yeah, she had a couple of pithy endorsements for questionable diet remedies, and a now-defunct reality show--but at the rate at which she appears to have consumed drugs and alcohol, her paycheck couldn't have lasted that long. She had yet to receive a penny from the Marshall estate. Where did she get the money for all her traveling? The hotel rooms and airfares? Vacationing in the Bahamas isn't cheap, let alone living there. And the phalanx of attorneys she had working on various lawsuits is mind-boggling, and I'm sure they were keeping meticulous records and invoices for their billable hours. I'm sure they still are.
Where the hell was the money coming from?! How can someone who had no obvious marketable skills (besides her boobs, a sad and tragic life that translated into a media spectacle), and no apparent source of income that supported her lifestyle--how could she live the way she did?
Keep in mind, she was a celebrity of a lower order, and she was able, somehow to enjoy (if indeed she "enjoyed" anything, poor thing) a level of comfort and luxury not many of us do. Now, consider the A and B list people. They get even more than that. None of them ever seem to end up having to pay for anything, or if they do, they get huge discounts and are shitty tippers.
So much gets wrapped up in their sense of entitlement that it's like a tapeworm; they can't stop feeding it, and it never fills them up. Remember what I said about Hollywood eating your soul? That's the tapeworm. It always wants more, and more is never enough. Meanwhile, the things they really and truly so desperately need, they never get. Like a wake-up call.
Anna Nicole was a woman who so desperately wanted to be famous. Everything she did was to that end, but you know, I really think she would have been so much better off had she remained "undiscovered". If she had stayed in Texas the rest of her life working in a greasy spoon, raising her son and marrying a mechanic, I seriously think she'd be alive today. Yes, she got famous, just like she always wanted, but her fame also enabled her addictions. She needed help, not Methadone. She needed someone to care enough about her to take her by the elbow and steer her towards a reputable doctor and treatment facility. Instead, what she got was a gaggle of lawyers, lovers, and general sycophants who only hung around her so that they could feed on the fallout of her largesse. They didn't give a crap if she was high or drunk or messed up beyond belief; as long as the cow kept farting cash, they were content with the status quo. Why change it? If she were, God forbid, to straighten up and sober up, she probably would have realized just who these people were and forthwith booted them out on their asses. Their insurance was her addiction and her insecurity.
She's not the only one. Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears aren't far behind Anna, if you ask me. Both are riding on an out-of-control bobsled straight into the hell of ignominy, and no one seems to care enough to try and stop them. Nobody. Where are their parents? Where are their friends? Do they have any? They have people around them all the time who are more than happy to ride on the bandwagon, get into exclusive clubs, and suck down free booze. Both starlets are in their early twenties and look forty. That's just pathetic, and terrifying. One day, we're going to have another headline on the news that tells us one of them is dead, killed by an overdose, or alcohol poisoning, or a DUI.
In large part, it happens because these people do get too much free stuff, too much unwarranted license to behave with excess, too many excuses. The tapeworm inside them keeps clamoring for more and more and more until finally, as Yeats said, Things fall apart. The Center cannot hold. They are eaten up from the inside, like a rotting corpse with a beautiful makeup job, until it all simply falls in on itself. That's what tapeworms do: lets you live on just enough to keep you alive, but takes the bulk of everything for itself and demands more. Finally, it just takes everything.
It's ironic to me that two of the women I've just named--Lindsey and Anna--worship Marilyn Monroe. Anna wanted to be Marilyn; Lindsey wants to emulate her, too. Hell, Linds just bought Marilyn's old apartment. This woman was the blueprint, really. Marilyn was beautiful, she was idolized. She was actually an exceptionally talented actress, which makes her story even more tragic, because what she might have become will forever be speculation. But she was also insecure, vulnerable, helpless in many ways, and she was enabled, coddled, addicted, and mishandled. And she died. Even her rivals felt bad for her.
Joan Crawford was nobody's fool. She was tough, ambitious, hard-working, some would say cold. But no one could ever call her stupid. She didn't like Marilyn and made no bones about it; Marilyn offended her, threatened her ego, and represented a debauchery in the business that Crawford abhorred. But despite those feelings, Crawford pegged Marilyn's problem with a precision a surgeon would appreciate.
Right after Marilyn died, Joan became very upset when she heard about it. She was having dinner at director George Cukor's house and talking about Marilyn when he called bullshit. "What is this?" he wanted to know. "You never liked Marilyn."
As always, she was bitingly honest. "Yes, you're right," she admitted. "She was cheap, and an exhibitionist. She was never professional, and that irritated the hell out of people. But for God's sake, she needed help. She had all these people on her payroll. Where the hell were they when she needed them? Why in the hell did she have to die alone?"
There will always be stars, and twice as many tapeworms looking for hosts.