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.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Notorious celebrity: Charles Van Doren

Way back in the 1950s, well-connected intellectual Charles Van Doren allowed himself to become involved as a contestant in a rigged television quiz show.

The show was Twenty One, a contest show where two competitors, each in an "isolation booth," tried to be the first to reach 21 points when asked a series of challenging questions. The show was enormously popular, so much so that it appears to have been the first program to top the sitcom I Love Lucy in the ratings for that time slot.

Van Doren's dad was a famous poet and his mother a novelist. In addition, an uncle was a Pulitzer Prize winning biographer. The young professor was, in sum, to the campus born.

The show's producers liked him and decided to feed him answers because of the 30-year-old's upper-crust polish, pleasant manner and general good looks. His biggest rival on the show was a man named Herb Stempel, defeated by Van Doren in 1956--with a little help.

Stempel overheard a conversation about the passing of answers to his rival and alerted the authorities. The viewing public was outraged, and Van Doren no longer was its darling.

In 1958, news about other rigged quiz shows came to light. Congress became involved, and in 1959 Van Doren finally fessed up to the cheating after initially having denied it. He lost his teaching job at Columbia University.

Later Van Doren worked as an editor for Encyclopedia Britannica and authored a number of books. At last report, he was on the faculty of the University of Connecticut at Torrington.

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