Popular culture's interest in celebrities who are no longer popular generally takes one of two forms. Either the formerly famous person is mercilessly mocked or they're treated with condescension and pity. In “The Sixteenth Minute,” authors Jeff Guinn and Douglas Perry choose a more interesting direction in profiling people whose proverbial 15 minutes have expired. The subjects, including Irene Cara of, ironically, “Fame,” wrestler-turned-novelist Mick Foley, and former Speaker of the House Jim Wright, are left to speak for themselves and discuss what may have brought them to celebrity, what caused them to subsequently fade, and what they intend to do next. In between the individual profiles, the authors take on one of the weirder rises to fame of the 20th century: Melvin Dummar, the aspiring entertainer from Utah listed as a beneficiary in a will purported to be from the late billionaire Howard Hughes.
Life in the 16th minute is not the same for everyone. Cara claims to be glad to be rid of the hype but is still clearly bitter about the movie and recording industries, former heavyweight boxer Gerry Cooney seems to have a much better life as a New Jersey dad than he did as an alcoholic prizefighter, former Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills has channeled his obsessive drive away from baseball and drugs and toward sobriety, and Foley, who loves being a novelist but is apparently not good at it, is continually drawn back to the ring and the fans who made him a star. But Guinn and Perry are wise to give so much room to the story of Dummar, whose constant schemes to achieve fame failed repeatedly but who by accident (or some say design) reached a level of notoriety beyond both his imagination and control. A darkly hilarious section describing Dummar's ill-fated Reno disco revue should be enough to make the reader never wish fame on anyone. –John Moe
Andy Warhol's famous proclamation that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes went from clever aphorism to cliche in, well, about 15 minutes. But what happens after the 15 minutes are over? Here the authors examine the lives of the formerly famous: Maury Wills, the superstar ballplayer who suddenly became a nobody and didn't know how to handle it; Kelly Clarkson, the “American Idol” winner who dreamed of being famous all her life and who is doing everything she can to prolong her quarter-hour; and (in several chapters) Melvin Dummar, the subject of the movie “Melvin and Howard,” who claimed to be the recipient of a will written by Howard Hughes. Dummar's quest for fame is hands-down the most interesting in the book, mainly because he seems so unaware of his need for notoriety. The authors reflect perceptively on why being famous can be so important, but the book hits its stride when they address the more compelling question: How do we put ourselves back together when the quest for fame has torn us apart? – David Pitt (Copyright © American Library Association.)
“'The Sixteenth Minute: Life in the Aftermath of Fame,' by Jeff Guinn and Douglas Perry”: Andy Warhol is more famous for his prediction of 15 minutes of fame than for his artistic interaction with Campbell soup cans. The authors' concern here is what happens when the 15 minutes are up: "In a society defined by fame, how do former celebrities approach life after all the public attention has fallen away?" They found that that 16th minute elapses in very different ways.
There are three athletes, two political figures, and two singers, all of whom had a taste of the big time and then found that the depths are measured in greater increments than the heights. Based on interviews and background, each story unfolds in a slightly different way, and the authors are particularly skillful in selecting entry points of the narrative for maximum impact.
All the stories are effective, but several stand out. That of Maury Wills, the star shortstop, begins as he addresses an AA meeting. From there the authors follow him to his office where he serves a firm as a "sales support" person. (He autographs baseballs for prospective customers.) Although he managed to save himself, he must look back on a time when he would sell anything to support a drug habit. Now, he drives a BMW to work, but he has no idea where his World Series rings are.
One of the accounts begins at the point the subject began to turn things around. When Gerry Cooney, the boxer, found himself on the canvas compliments of Michael Spinks, it was the worst moment of his life, but after a few false starts he gave up drinking. He was fortunate in that he had invested his money prior to the fall. Now, he runs a support group for fighters and attends fund-raisers for various charities.
Six of the seven subjects will be familiar to many who follow sports or politics. The seventh is another case entirely. In 1976, Melvin Dummar was driving through the Nevada desert when he encountered an old man on foot. Disheveled and bleeding, he asked for a ride into Las Vegas. Dummar obliged and, during their conversation the man claimed to be Howard Hughes. Later, a will surfaced naming Dummar the recipient of one-16th of the Hughes fortune.
Though a jury determined that the will was bogus, Hollywood seized on the story, and the result was a film called "Melvin and Howard." He had always fancied himself a singer, so Dummar tried to parley his fame into a Las Vegas nightclub act, but it failed. The only one of the seven who did not achieve fame through a talent or gift, he had nothing to fall back on.
That the authors attach special significance to Dummar's story is apparent from the way they tell it. While each of the other six has his or her separate chapter, his case is divided into key scenes and alternated with theirs. It is the biographical equivalent of a framing tale, and it emphasizes how "tabloid America" builds up its celebrities and then systematically tears them down again. – J. Lane Goodall
Kansas City Star:
Fame! I'm gonna live forever... people will see me and cry.
--Irene Cara from the song "Fame."
You won't find Irene Cara on MTV these days. In fact, you won't find Irene Cara on any TV.
Come to think of it, do you remember who Irene Cara is? It wasn't that long ago that the singer-actress was the next big thing in pop culture. Now she's a trivia answer who, in her own terms, "prostitutes" herself singing her old hits in Asia and Europe for audiences that don't look down on her for not being hip.
Her story is one of the seven told in "The Sixteenth Minute," a book that profiles people who wanted something bigger, got it ... and lost it. It's from two journalists: Douglas Perry, features editor at the Portland Oregonian, and Jeff Guinn, books editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The title is a play on Andy Warhol's comment about everyone being famous for 15 minutes. But when it takes so little to be famous, how much true value can there be in being famous? And what happens when it goes away?
These seven stories all come off as honest yarns about people who opened up with the writers about their paths to and from fame. Not once do you get the idea any of them is using the opportunity for another shot at the brass ring.
The first story belongs to Maury Wills, the stolen-base king of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1960s. He got used to getting what he wanted, then fell into drug use and lost everything.
At the time of this book's writing, he was heading a 12-step session and working for a company that provides parts for satellite TVs. He doesn't have many of his baseball mementos because he sold them in the 1980s to support his drug habit. He was on his way out for good, he thinks -- except he was in L.A., and there were enough people who did know him who kept offering to help. He has learned to deal with being alone, which he couldn't stand when he was younger, and he's on decent terms with the wife he left and his six children.
The other subjects are Cara; former Speaker of the House Jim Wright, who was brought down first by Newt Gingrich and then had to fight cancer; wrestler Mick Foley; Whitewater player Susan McDougal, who went to jail for refusing to talk about something she didn't know anything about; and boxer Gerry Cooney, the former Great White Hope who landed with a thud thanks to alcohol but, like Wills, refused to stay down after his sporting days had passed.
Running between chapters is the ongoing story of Melvin Dummar, the simple Utah gas station attendant who wanted to be a singer and one night, according to him, gave an old man a ride in the Las Vegas desert. It led to the weirdest fame of all; the encounter resulted in Dummar's name being placed on a will allegedly written by Howard Hughes.
It's clear the writers loved Dummar's tale, though I have to say I could have done without at least two chapters of it. (Nice guy, in over his head, I get it.) And like McDougal, he's a little out of place with the others, since bizarre circumstances got them their attention as opposed to overriding talent or ambition.
But Dummar's story does illustrate the ugly side of having fame thrust upon you. While the will was being contested, Dummar relates, he was getting threats from people who insisted he cut them in on his fortune.
When the courts ruled against him, those same kinds of people turned on him, dismissing him as a liar. I warmed up to poor Melvin's tale; a late chapter where Dummar tries to put together a show in Reno is a comic tragedy.
Cara has the best story. After all, she's the one attached to "Fame," the movie and song that propelled her to superstar status. Besides drugs, she thinks her battle against her record label helped do her in.
After finding out she was being paid $183 for "What a Feeling," the hit song she co-wrote and sang for "Flashdance," she filed a $10 million lawsuit in 1985 against her former record company boss, who by then was working for David Geffen. That spring she found she couldn't get a job; she no longer was welcome at L.A. parties.
Cara won that suit in 1993, but the funds had been so mismanaged she got nothing. Thus those "prostitution" shows overseas where Cara says people appreciate her. These days she's back trying to make music -- real music -- driven by a hatred of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and the like who willingly play into what she calls the industry's sexism.
"Women are supposed to be cute and that's it. Seen and not heard. The minute you have any kind of artistic contribution it's an immediate threat. People have to hack at you and mold you and control you or they are not happy. I wish that the men who rule this industry, when they come across a young girl who has more to offer than being cute and shaking her little rump, that they'd develop that ... instead of stifling it."
All the same, Cara accepts not being recognized everywhere now and, like the book's other subjects, seems at peace. Which leads to my one criticism of "The Sixteenth Minute": I wish they had found at least one who really did have a true 15 minutes ... just something fleeting as heck ... and today they're still trying to make it work.
The day I finished the book, the Los Angeles Times ran a story about Michael Dante. He was Maab, the lead villain on the planet Capella in an original "Star Trek" episode. He was interviewed at a Trek convention where he was trying to sell trading cards of himself. Yes, he'd done other things, he told a reporter. For the 1959 movie "Westbound," he was named "one of the five best performances by an actor playing a one-armed character."
He couldn't remember who gave out that award. But he did know people ought to remember him from "Trek." So did Tanya Lamani, who had a booth not far from Dante's. She played the belly dancer in the "Wolf in the Fold" episode and was selling her "Bellysize With Tanya" video.
Yes ... people will see me and cry. – Ward W. Triplett III
"In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes."
Using that 1968 quotation from pop-culture artist Andy Warhol, two journalists have written a cleverly conceived, interesting examination of what happens to the briefly famous after the 15 minutes have expired.
The journalists are Jeff Guinn, books editor at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and Douglas Perry, features editor at The (Portland) Oregonian. They undertook the book because they are struck by the prescience of Warhol's glib phrase.
Nearly 40 years later, "there's no denying the accuracy of the notion. Thanks to cable television and the Internet, names and faces tumble into our living rooms and offices every day, every hour. We are inundated with peep-show personal Web sites and "Girls Gone Wild" videos and so-called reality TV," the authors comment. The result: More or less ordinary individuals are presented with the opportunity "to be watched by millions as they sing (`American Idol') or seek a mate (`The Bachelor') or eat live bugs (`Fear Factor')."
The book does not focus on any mate seekers or bug eaters. It does, however, profile an "American Idol" singer, Kelly Clarkson. The other profiles include others whose fame lasted more than 15 minutes, literally and figuratively, but who have slipped into obscurity circa 2005. They are Major League Baseball star shortstop Maury Wills (briefly Seattle Mariners manager); actress/singer Irene Cara; Speaker of the House Jim Wright; professional wrestler Mick Foley; Susan McDougal, Arkansas businesswoman and friend of Bill Clinton who served prison time for refusing to tell all to a federal prosecutor; and professional boxer Gerry Cooney.
The connecting thread in seven scattered chapters is Melvin Dummar, who might or might not have done a good deed in the Nevada desert for eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes at the end of 1967, and might or might not have been a legitimate beneficiary of Hughes' will in 1976.
The choice of those seven women and men might strike some readers as quirky, given thousands of choices available to the authors. The book's only glaring shortcoming is the failure of Guinn and Perry to explain clearly how they chose their seven subjects. In a way, though, it does not matter. The authors have reported and written the case studies so well that the seven subjects seem to serve the theme just fine.
"The Sixteenth Minute" is not the definitive book on fame or its aftermath, nor is it scholarly. Probably the closest to definitive and scholarly is "The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History" by Leo Braudy. Originally published during 1986 and reissued with a new afterword during 1997, Braudy's book is always informative, sometimes compelling but rarely fun.
Guinn and Perry are seeking to offer readers fun in their pages. They treat their subjects with respect but never allow the subjects to take themselves too seriously, or allow readers to get hung up in copious source notes ala Braudy, a University of Southern California English professor. The deepest conclusion Guinn and Perry share with readers is that fame changes everybody it touches.
The subjects chosen by Guinn and Perry have encountered problems since the zenith of their fame, to be sure. But the authors could have reduced the fun quotient considerably by choosing subjects who committed suicide or murder. Instead, they chose survivors, all of whom have found a measure of satisfaction in life after the 15 minutes expired.
Would their satisfaction quotient have been higher if they had never achieved fame? Maybe. The answer to that question can never be known with certainty. If Andy Warhol had never achieved his figurative 15 minutes, his so-called art would not have made him rich. Then again, he would have avoided the gun-wielding fan who pointed it and fired, wounding Warhol seriously. – Steve Weinberg