2002.06.26 Playing the fame game

Written by David Green.

BY RICH FOLEY

Jason Priestley was in the area last week. Does that thought delight you? Or are you wondering who Jason Priestley is? Is he famous or not? You be the judge.

Priestley, for those of you who are wondering, is an actor best known for his role in the television series “Beverly Hills 90210.” I can’t say I ever watched it much myself. I had such a disdain for Priestley’s co-star Tori Spelling that I’d change the channel whenever she appeared. Some people liked the show much more than me, however, and it lasted for several seasons.

The reason for Priestly’s appearance last week was that he was testing a race car at Michigan International Speedway. Priestley is trying to carry on an auto racing career along with acting and will be participating in a new series that races at MIS next month, thus the testing visit.

The public relations staff at MIS invited me to come up and  interview Priestley, but the date fell on one of my busier days and I had already scheduled lunch with an account, so I had to pass.

During lunch, I mentioned offhandedly that I had turned down meeting Priestley to keep the lunch date and my friend asked, “Who’s Jason Priestley?” I told her that reaction wouldn’t do much for Jason’s ego, and we both laughed about it, but I also got an idea.

I did an impromptu poll of about a dozen people, and about half had never heard of Priestley. This reminded me of my favorite story about Linda Ellerbee.

Ellerbee, for those who’ve never heard of her, either, gained her fame as a television reporter and commentator, writer and a short stint as commercial spokesperson for Maxwell House coffee. In her second book, she relates the story of going back to Texas to visit where she grew up.

At the time, she was quite prominent in the news. She had left NBC and had just signed a deal to do a new show for ABC. Her first book was high on the best-seller list and she had just accepted an advance from people wanting to turn it into a movie. She had also signed a contract to write another book.

One of her friends offered to host a party for people from Ellerbee’s high school, figuring she’d like to see some of them again. Ellerbee agreed, with the condition that her high school English teacher, a Mrs. Mabel Scott, be invited as well.

Ellerbee considered Scott to be a “world-class” teacher and one of the five people most responsible for her success. The other four were Ellerbee’s parents and two children. Ellerbee had already thanked them for the role they played in her career and wanted to thank Mrs. Scott, too.

On the night of the big party, Ellerbee was excited to see Mrs. Scott arrive, not even letting her sit down as she gushed about how happy she was to see her again. Finally, it was Mrs. Scott’s turn to talk.

“I can’t tell you how pleased I was to be invited to this party,” Mrs. Scott said. “I always wondered whatever became of you.” It might have been better for Ellerbee’s ego if she had just sent Mrs. Scott a nice note instead of the invitation.

One “famous” person who seemed to me to have a good attitude about his celebrity status was the late singer-songwriter Harry Chapin.

I went to see Chapin when he appeared at Adrian College in the late 1970s. He came on stage by himself, carrying two guitars. He set one on the floor of the stage, sat down on a stool and started to play.

He explained between songs that his band had been working very hard lately and he had given them this date off so they could get some rest. He did the entire show alone, occasionally switching between the two guitars.

As the show ended, he invited anyone who wanted to talk to him to come up to the stage. He autographed one of his tour magazines for me and we talked a bit, then I stepped aside as another person walked up.

This person asked Chapin if he had a few words of advice for an aspiring singer-songwriter. Chapin said he did (nine words, as it turned out) : “Sing, sing, sing. Write, write, write. Have no pride!”

I don’t know about the person who asked the question, but I remember Chapin’s answer more than 20 years after his death. “Have no pride” seems like a pretty good motto to me. Because no matter how famous you think you are, there’s probably a Mabel Scott willing to remind you you’re mortal. If Jason Priestley doesn’t already know that, he soon will.

    – June 26, 2002 
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