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.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Disgraced media figure Janet Cooke

Not often do Pulitzer Prize winners have that prize immediately taken away, but such was the case in 1981 with Washington Post attractive African American rising star reporter Janet Cooke.

The story that landed her in trouble was about an 8-year-old African American boy, identified simply as Jimmy, who lived on the rough streets of the nation's capital and who had become a heroin addict. Readers shuttered with sympathy upon reading the story's description of this poor child with needle marks pocking his tiny arms.

Public outcry was such that Mayor Marion Barry launched an unsuccessful search for little Jimmy. As it turned out, this was because there was no Jimmy, just many other children who were in similar predicaments.

Finally, Cooke admitted that "Jimmy" was a sort of composite character who represented other ghetto children she had encountered. This revelation of less than literal truth embarrassed her paper and her managing editor, Bob Woodward, who had nominated her for the Pulitzer. She was forced to resign, and the Pulitzer was straightway returned to sender.

It also came to light that some of the credentials on Cooke's resume had been distortions of truth. She did not, in fact, speak four languages, had not completed a degree at Vassar, and had not studied at the Sorbonne as claimed.

Later, Cooke married a lawyer, and the couple lived for a time in Paris. They divorced, and she dropped out of the media radar for years. Then in 1966, she did an interview story that appeared in GQ magazine. It was written by her former Post colleague and one-time boyfriend Mike Sagar. The two received a $1.6 million payment for movie rights to the Cooke story.

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