I am always fascinated, in this age of instant celebrity, which star’s fame endures the test of time while others vanish into the mists of yesteryear.
The other day I was chatting with a young lady in her mid 20s and asked if she had ever heard of Marilyn Monroe. The answer was a definite yes, although she admitted never having seen any of her films. Why has Marilyn remained an iconic figure 50 years after her death?
I then asked if she had ever heard of John Thaw, who dominated our TV screens much more recently in such series as The Sweeney, Kavanagh QC and Inspector Morse, some of which was shot in Borehamwood. The answer was a definite no, yet John only passed away a few years ago. Is television fame more fleeting than that of motion pictures?
Books about silent film stars sell badly nowadays because no-one can remember them first hand and their films are rarely shown. You may have heard of Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino, but is it only film buffs who recall Gloria Swanson or John Gilbert.
Even stars of the Thirties and Forties are beginning to fade from the collective memory. Whenever I mention the first autograph I ever got was at Elstree Studios in 1960 and it was Gary Cooper, often the reply is “who”?
However, film fans and collectors tend to have longer memories. Recently 700 items from John Wayne’s estate, that have been in storage since his death more than 30 years ago, came up for auction and fetched an amazing £3.5 million. Items such as the wool beret he wore in the Sixties film The Green Berets went for a staggering £115,000.
At another auction the best screenplay Oscar awarded to Orson Welles for Citizen Kane fetched £550,000, but there will be no windfalls for present day Academy Award winners in the future. For several decades now the Academy has made it a condition of winning that if you ever decide to sell the statuette, you must sell it back to them for just a token few dollars.
I rarely watch the Oscar ceremony now as I have not seen most of the films nominated and don’t know many of the stars today.
I used to enjoy watching the lifetime achievement awards part, but the television powers to be have decreed the younger generation have no interest in seeing some “old fossil” getting an award so they have been consigned to a private ceremony.
Yet I still remember the old ceremonies when, for instance, Charlie Chaplin was invited back in the early Seventies to get a special award having been thrown out in the Fifties for being a suspected communist. They even took up his handprints from the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood but when he returned he got a prolonged standing ovation.
I recall when Barbara Stanwyck was given a special Oscar in the Eighties and her emotional speech recalling her co-star William Holden who had recently died after a drunken fall.
I also remember how sad it was, to appease the drive for younger viewers, on another occasion they positioned Michael Jackson in the front row while consigning 100-year-old film producer Hal Roach, who produced those classic Laurel & Hardy comedies, to about the 15th row.
Even further back was Mickey Rooney who had made his silent screen debut before the Oscars were even introduced and in the Thirties had been Hollywood’s biggest star.
The irony is that the Oscar ceremony has seen a decline in TV ratings for several years now so perhaps nostalgia does sell.
It is ironic that new silent film The Artist did well at this year’s Oscars considering Hollywood has managed to lose or destroy three quarters of all the original silent movies.
I think both films and television are missing a trick in pandering to the under 30 audience while they tell me in this country a quarter of residents are 60 plus.
The BBC has been amazed that the TV series Call The Midwife has achieved the highest ratings for a BBC drama in a decade and film pundits were staggered by the success of The King’s Speech.
Perhaps the young commissioning editors and producers of today need to remember us old fossils do count and there is life beyond, or at least as well as, The Only Way Is Essex and Big Brother.