July 17, 1998


The sign of celebrity is that his name is often worth more than his services.

Daniel J. Boorstein

Most people like recognition. I have had people offended because I don't remember their name after a meeting or two. The fact is that I have a terrible short term memory, plus a mental block that makes it easy for me not to remember names. It has to do with being brought up in an Italian neighborhood with the code of "omerta"(silence) and a mother who taught me to always tell the truth. The only way to reconcile those two conflicting instructions was to develop a very poor memory for the names of people. When the cops asked "Who did it?" I could honestly say that I didn't remember. My memory for faces is excellent.

Most people are satisfied if they are recognized by a small circle of friends, relatives and acquaintances. Some need to be recognized all of the time. At the same time, they struggle to retain some semblance of privacy.

I once recognized the actress Melina Mercouri on a New York street. As soon as she saw that she was recognized, she ran. Yes, she ran away from me even though the most that I would have said was, "I liked your performance in Never on Sunday. Most celebrities don't react like that. Most have learned to accept recognition gracefully and, when complimented, will thank the person issuing the complement.

Anyone who writes things for others to read, or performs on stage has a greater than average need for recognition; and I do both. Yet, I would never want to be a true celebrity. The price is too high. I am content that a handful of people know who I am and what I do. Actually, I prefer the recognition of my accomplishments by people who understand what is entailed. The adoration of the crowd is not something to prize.

John Lennon was shot to death simply because he was a celebrity. His killer had nothing against him.He was trying to impress Jodie Foster, an actress who didn't know that he existed. I imagine that Lennon had enemies, but none who would have wanted to kill him. In today's world, any true celebrity would do well to have a bodyguard for both himself and his family. He is in constant danger from some nut, or the media.

I have been in mortal danger for just a short period of time, in a war. I don't think that I could put up with it for very long.I would go off my rocker, as a few of my infantry buddies did.

I sometimes wonder if I am deluding myself into thinking that while there are people who disagree with me, and some who get angry at what I write, that none would want to kill me. The fact is that I really don't know. I have hurt people's feelings without being aware of it.

The only writers who are not in danger are those who are only moderately well known or who write humor; and the worse the writer and the humor, the safer he is. A writer who avoids controversial subjects is much safer than one who courts controversy.

It takes a large organization of police to protect the president and his family. Chelsea Clinton will never know what it feels like to just be an ordinary human being. She will probably end up married to someone who was also brought up in a goldfish bowl. It's no accident that celebrity's kids often marry other celebrity's kids.

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