About this Blog

"In the future everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes." So said the bleached-out, late lamented artist Andy Warhol. Having lived and worked in New York City, Warhol came to fully grasp the hold celebrity has on us. In this very famous sentence, he meant to point out that in a culture fixated on fame, many people will suddenly flash brightly onto the public screen, then--poof--will just as quickly disappear from public view--like shooting stars. Other individuals derive their celebrity from one stellar accomplishment (one hit song, one iconic role, etc.) that they never again match.

This blog is devoted to the one part of our celebrity culture that no one has written much about: temporary/one-shot celebrities.

The pace of modern life has quickened, and now we hear people speaking of someone's 15 seconds of fame. These "celebrities with a lower-case c" who will appear in this blog sometimes come to us from the world of entertainment, sometimes from the world of news. All are fascinating.

The need of our communications media for a continual stream of new material assures that we will have no end of colorful people who go quickly, where celebrity is concerned, from zero to hero (or villain) and back to zero. Now you see 'em, now you don't. What a crazy world, eh?

Temporary celebrities coming from the world of entertainment include one-hit recording artists; TV and movie icons who, although they might have had a great many accomplishments in their career, are remembered for one big role; standouts of reality TV; sports figures remembered for one remarkable accomplishment; and people whose celebrity came from one big role in a commercial or print ad.

News-based temporary celebrities come in many forms: mass/serial killers, other murderers of special note, sex-crime offenders, disgraced figures of government/military/business/media/religion, spies/traitors, hoaxers, femmes/hommes fatale, heroes, whistle blowers, inventors/innovators, and victims.

Celebrity Blogsburg will consider each category in turn.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Hoaxer George Plimpton

A wonderful hoax perpetrated by writer/editor George Plimpton in Sports Illustrated magazine was the Sidd Finch affair.

Plimpton achieved celebrity via his participant journalism stories and TV specials, wherein he "played football" in the NFL, boxed (more or less) with the heavyweight champ, made a floppy-ankle attempt to play in a pro ice hockey game, etc. He also was founder and longtime editor of the Paris Review, a high-quality literary periodical.

The Sidd Finch hoax was a 14-page story, with illustrations, that appeared in the April 1, 1985, issue of Sports Illustrated. It told, in fine Plimpton style, about a 28-year-old English-born mystic who had lived in a Buddhist monastery in Tibet and there leaned mind-over-body techniques that enabled him to pitch a baseball at inhumanly fast speeds.

The story said that Finch, who had never played the game before, was working at the New York Mets' training camp in Florida, where he was throwing fast balls clocked at 168 miles per hour. (The fastest actual pitch ever recorded--for real-- was 103 mph.)

The Mets were in on the hoax. A tall, gangling high school teacher posed as Finch, who was pictured in the magazine alongside actual members of the Mets squad.

Sports-crazed Americans went wild over Sidd Finch, and mail poured in from readers wanting to know more. A week later, however, Plimpton and the magazine "revealed" that Finch had walked away from baseball stardom with a gallant wave, complaining of decreased pitching accuracy. The next week, Sports Illustrated told its readers the whole thing had been an April Fool hoax--all in good fun.

Baseball, of course, along with guns and Rush Limbaugh, is a topic that only the most reckless will kid about. While many readers enjoyed the hoax for its entertainment value, others were furious--some even were sore enough to cancel their subscription.

In his usual fashion, Plimpton spun the story of this hoax out into a novel.

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