Looking back with the benefit of hindsight,I can see now how innocently it all began, this whole celebrity-watching thing. But that’s how most obsessions start, no? One little potato chip at a time, one measly handful of chocolate chips, one paltry bold-faced name a week.
Like millions of other supposedly intelligent, brainy, balanced people I learned to find the longest check-out line at the grocery store to insure more time for reading the National Enquirer (and was plenty peeved when the stores briefly removed the rack; what was that about? I can’t even remember; anyway, it didn’t last) and wouldn’t pay any attention when some manager type tried to point me to a shorter line (what? I can’t hear you).
I flipped first thing to the back-of-the-book, bottom-of-the-page celebrity section of Time magazine long before anyone thought of putting names in boldface.
I snagged Parade magazine from the thick Sunday newspapers before anyone else could get their mitts on it - and turned to the page one question-and-answer section way before checking out the night’s box scores or Marilyn vos Savant’s “Ask Marilyn.”
I greeted the advent of People magazine with skepticism and doubt, bravely predicting, “It will fold in a year; no one cares about this crap.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong. People spawned a whole slew of tabloid magazines.
Now, as I look back, I see this was all part of the master plan to set us up, to reel us in, to get us hooked. And it’s all working out just fine. For them. Not us.
Some might say the whole thing started on a lazy Friday afternoon in June of 1994 as we sat glued to our television sets watching a dozen helicopters hovering above Interstate 405, tailing the white Bronco Ford housing O.J. Simpson and friend Al Cowlings. That was the first lost weekend.
Imagine that. All of this before the 24-hour news cycle, before the popularity of the world wide web, before Google images, before the blogosphere.
Without exaggeration I think we can now safely say the whole world is a bubble, a fantasy tool, a paradise for Peeping Toms.
Which reminds me. Is there anything you want to know about the TomKat “marriage”? Anything you missed? Because here’s the embarrassing thing: I can fill you in.
I know the actor Cruise, bursting the buttons off his formal vest, appeared pudgy in his wedding togs (Yes! That’s right. He looked fat!). But I can’t tell you the reasoning behind his shaggy coif. (Dude, get a hair cut.)
After checking out reruns of Dawson’s Creek - which I missed first, second and third time around - I know why the talent-challenged, Ohio-born Miss Katie married Mr. Cruise.
I also know why Cruise married her. (Can you say beard?)
I can also tell you that despite media reports to the contrary I know that card-carrying Scientologist John Travolta was NOT at the Italian “wedding.”
What I don’t know yet - and what I’m going to work on come the new year - is why I know this.
This is something Hollywood talent agent Ruth Thea Ford Webb never had to question. Celebrities were her life.
Along with my fixation on certain media types - TomKat, Tiger, Jeter, Jolie, Brad, Bonds - I’m also an inveterate obituary reader. Some of the best writing in journalistic circles appears in that domain.
So when I was sitting in the Tybee Island library last week, escaping the holiday madness, and reading Ruth Webb’s obit last week in the New York Times, I knew I had hit pay dirt. Writer Margalit Fox describes Webb as a cross between Zsa Zsa Gabor and Auntie Mame. For years, dressed in boa feathers and gold lame, she resided and worked in her Hollywood house decorated with 1,500 stuffed raccoons and overflowing with pet raccoons, a live peacock, a macaw and scores of cats.
Here’s the best part. In what she called the scandal division of her business, Ruth Webb stepped in to resurrect the failing careers of the following: bulked-up Tonya Harding, now a boxer but then the figure skater who went for Nancy Kerrigan’s knees when defeat loomed); auto body-shop owner Joey Buttafuoco, after his dalliance with teenager Amy Fisher; B-actor Kato Kaelin of O.J. fame, and Tammy Faye Bakker (once married to television evangelist Jim Bakker).
But the list goes on. Included in her stable of clients were Gennifer Flowers (of Bill Clinton fame), Divine Brown (who fooled around with Hugh Grant) and John Wayne Bobbitt (whose wife, Lorena, cut off his penis with a kitchen knife).
Now this is a woman who knew the dirt. Think she left a memoir? I’ll be looking for it.
But with any kind of luck by the time it comes out my obsession with celebrities will be history and I’ll be on to something else. Maybe raccoons.