Peace Corps Writers
Talking with Maureen Orth (page 2)
 Talking with
Maureen Orth
page 1
page 2
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What were you trying to achieve with The Importance of Being Famous?
First and foremost this book should be an entertaining read of profiles of famous and remarkable people across the globe — some brilliant, others extreme in their ambition and desire to be famous or powerful. I often think of the old big game hunter, Frank Buck, and his phrase: “Bring ’em back alive.” That is what I try to do with these celebrities. Strip them of the artifice and bring ’em back, but truthfully alive to the reader. I coined the phrase “the celebrity industrial complex” to show the whole apparatus of the fame industry today with big media conglomerates on one side and all the handlers from accountants to stylists on the other. With the advent of the internet and 24 hour cable news on TV, the whole nature of celebrity and fame has changed RADICALLY — today someone is just as likely to be recognized for infamy as for achievement. Fame so often today is unearned: Paris Hilton and Scott Peterson SPRING TO MIND, and this book tries to show the machinery behind these stories and how the famous are recognized for their lifestyles as much as for their work today.
     THIS phenomenon of instant and extreme recognition is not only confined to show business. For example, I dissect how Private Jessica Lynch, who never fired her gun, was created by the Pentagon to be a great hero and used to gain sympathy for the war in Iraq. I begin the book with Laci Peterson to show how an ordinary young California woman and her husband came to rule the airwaves for so long. An underlying theme of my book is how the rules of journalism are being seriously bent and undermined, and how so much of our culture is being ruled by tabloid subject matter.
Whom do you admire?
People I admire: of those in the book my favorites is the late prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn — whom I interviewed at the end of her life while she was living on a small Panamanian finca that reminded me totally of Peace Corps territory. For decades she had the world’s applause and admiration — she danced for kings and queens and accepted thousand upon thousands of roses thrown at her feet, yet she had fallen madly in love with her husband, a difficult and complex Panamanian politician who had been wheelchair bound after an assassination attempt. Because of his demands and needed care, she had to dance for decades longer than she wished and while she was travelling, he dallied with a young mistress who committed suicide the day he died. Margot Fonteyn had such dignity and grace, was so totally unaffected by the fame and glory and so completely above the fray and staunch in what she wanted in the end — this humble finca — that I found her tremendously admirable.
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