Sunday, 21 September 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #170: Does Anyone In Hollywood Entertain Anymore?

A tip of my Bob Fosse-esque porkpie hat to the effervescent Nikki Finke for this little piece about Dolly Parton.

To sum it up, Dolly was in Los Angeles for a preview run of her stage musical adaptation of the 1980 movie 9 to 5. There was a glitch, some of the scenery broke or something, and the start of the show was going to be delayed. Dolly got up from her seat in the audience, and led them in an impromptu sing-along of her hits while the problem was fixed, and by reports, a good time was had by all.

Now think for a minute if it hadn't been Dolly Parton in the audience.

Imagine one of the new crop of stars and starlets being in that position. How do you think it would turn out?

Probably with them storming off to go nightclubbing, pausing only to have a hissy fit at the play's staff for ruining, just ruining their show, and then land a DUI on their way home at 4 AM. Meanwhile the audience waits, stews, and develops a resentment, whether intentional or not, towards the show.

So why did Dolly Parton get up and sing?

Because she's a pro, and that she understands the true nature of her profession.

She knew that it was her show, with her songs, and that she promised the audience entertainment, and she did what she could to keep that promise, no matter what.

That's what a professional does.

And why do I believe that most modern actors and singers couldn't do it?

Because they've never worked without a net.

In the old days, known as The Golden Age, most actors, singers, and assorted entertainers had done their time trodding the boards in the Vaudeville theater circuit, and later in nightclubs before becoming big stars. Dolly followed a similar path playing many a backwater redneck bar. These were the sort of places where if you sucked, the audience let you know, by hurling verbal abuse if you were lucky, rotten tomatos if you weren't luck, and furniture if you were really unlucky. To make it you had to be committed 100% not only to your own career, but to honing your talent, and especially winning the hearts and minds of the audience.

Most of today's "young set" are picked up pretty much out of puberty and coddled, protected, and essentially spoiled. They've never had anyone outside of an anonymous internet forum tell them that they sucked, and even then their posse of assistants, publicists and hangers-on run interference for them. They've never had to work in actively hostile environment where the folks around them not only didn't kiss their ass, but thought they were lower than dog-dirt unless proven otherwise. They've never tasted the sting of bombing, or appreciated the rush of winning over a hostile crowd.

The only commitment young stars make these days is to their image, and image is illusion. They don't operate without a legion of assistants and technicians to prop them up. If things aren't perfect, complete with a dialogue coach, and electronic voice enhancing, they don't just soldier on like an old school vaudevillian, they fold up faster than The Flash on laundry day. Couple that with a bizarre sense of entitlement that since they're famous, that they must be right about everything, and they start taking themselves way seriously, and embarrassing not only themselves, but the entire industry.

To them appealing to the audience is considered pandering, and beneath them, because they are real "artistes" who are somehow above entertaining people. Forgetting that entertaining people is how art is accomplished, and that those masses of the great unwashed are the folks who pay their salaries by putting their bums into theatre seats.

And it's hurting Hollywood as a whole. Despite a few broken records, attendance is down, ticket prices keep going up, and the vast majority of the public writes off the folks in show-biz as "Hollyweird." Now the public expect their stars be a little eccentric, that's part of the entertainment value, but annoying, self-righteous, and narcissitic are things they just won't abide.

My advice, whenever Hollywood picks some unknown to be the "next big thing" I suggest sending them to do stand-up, or play music, whatever, in some of the nastiest, rowdiest, and openly hostile venues available. Maybe being taken down a peg or two, will make them appreciate the view from the top and just who really put them there.


  1. Good for Dolly.

    Much as she might portray the classic "Trailer Trash" image, (I understand she got her "look" by copying that of a local women-of-ill-repute from her youth), she has always been an example of hard working sincerity.

    She knows where she came from and never let her success get between her and the people who put her there.

    Class all the way.

  2. I've often noted that it seems like any "country" star is always appreciative of their fans. Compare the blue collar guys (who seem to love their audience so much, it's almost like kissing ass) to a lot of "pop" comedians. And when was the last time you heard of a country singer treating someone the way a lot of rap stars do?

    Might be something in the water... or Nashville still requires you to work a lot more than Hollywood (having lived an hour away from Nashville for most of my life, I tell you it's the latter).