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Stephen Schochet




Celebrities And Their Images

by Stephen Schochet


How a star appears to the public often involves careful planning which can sometimes backfire. Pop Star Michael Jackson enjoyed the public image of being a Peter Pan like eccentric. He would personally leak crazy stories to the tabloids. He enjoyed reading that he slept in an oxygen chamber so he would live to 150, how he was planning to buy the remains of the Elephant Man and how his rival Prince was using ESP to destroy the mind of Jackson's pet chimp Bubbles. Later when his publicists told him that he went too far with his wacko image, the gloved one did a series of interviews where he called the tabloids," a bunch of garbage."

When Stars Like Michael Jackson start believing their press clippings, the people who work with them are in for trouble. Actor George Bancroft became popular in the late 1920s playing gangsters. In one film he was directed by Joseph Von Sternberg who gave him careful instructions. "Bancroft start walking up the stairs, I will say bang, you clutch your chest and fall. Got it? OK action." Bancroft took three steps up the stairs. "Bang!" said Von Sternberg. No reaction. "Bancroft, didn't you hear me? Bang!" Bancroft continued up the stairs. "Bancroft, you are ruining the shot. Bang!" Bancroft reached the top of the stairs and turned," Remember this pal! It takes more than one bullet to kill Bancroft!" Von Sternberg proceeded to "execute" his star in the editing room.

In the golden age of Hollywood many stars came to believe they were actually the characters that they played. Judy Turner was told by executives at MGM she was too sexy to be a Judy, so she was renamed Lana Turner. The same studio heads thought Frances Gumm was a girl next store type and transformed her into a Judy (Garland). Both young girls began to believe they were their screen personas. If Judy liked a guy, then Lana, who was like a sexual buccaneer, had to have him. One time Garland confided to Turner that she had a big crush on that dreamy band leader Artie Shaw. She was shocked to read a week later in the trade papers that Artie and Lana were newlyweds.

Another Star who became interchangeable with his big screen alter ego was Johnny Weissmuller. According to Hollywood wags, when the former Olympic Gold Medallist swimmer was offered the role that made him famous he responded," Me? Tarzan?" Later the more established Weissmuller became a wild womanizer. Married six times, that didn't stop him from going to the hotels of his latest potential conquests. He would stand on the sidewalk below their windows, beat his chest and make the Tarzan yell.

A strong personality can be useful in settling disputes. John Wayne starred in The Barbarian And The Geisha (1958) which was filmed on location in Japan. One scene called for the burning of a ship near a small seaside village. A sudden wind blew the flames onto the shore setting several wooden huts on fire. The locals came out and started violently thrashing the American film crew when a booming voice said," Hold It!" It was the six foot four Wayne standing on the porch of his residence with his hands raised. He looked as imposing as George Washington at The Whiskey Rebellion. "Now calm down. I guarantee you that Twentieth Century Fox will make restitution for your property damage. And if they don't, I will!" The Japanese stopped fighting and began cheering wildly for The Duke.

Sometimes a star's reputation can be crippling. Mel Gibson was excited by new writer and director Brian Helgeland's pitch for Payback (1999). Mel would play a bad guy. No redeeming qualities. A chance to change how the public saw him. But as filming progressed Mel felt a few scenes should be added to explain why his character was so rotten, so that the audience would like him better. Helgeland protested that the character was just mean, there was no explanation. Gibson said that his fans and the film's investors needed him to be a good guy. Helgeland accused Gibson of going back on his word. With a heavy heart Mel Gibson told Brian Helgeland he was fired.

Ultimately a star's public image can get them into trouble. In real life movie tough guy Humphrey Bogart was actually a small man who once lost a wrestling match to Truman Capote. One time he was dining out with his third wife Mayo when an idiot walked up to his table. "Humphrey Bogart. Mr. Tough Guy. You don't look so tough to me! Why don't we step outside." Bogart sighed," Sit down, pal. Have a drink." "No I don't want a drink. I told my friends at the bar I could beat you." The man kept badgering until the weary star turned to his wife and said,"Hey, Mayo. Take care of him." Mayo took off her shoe and beat the hell out of him.



Stephen Schochet is the author of the upcoming book

Hollywood Stories: Short Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of the Movies. He is also the author of two acclaimed audiobooks

Tales of Hollywood: Hear the Origins of Hollywood!


Fascinating Walt Disney: Hear How Walt Disney's Dreams Came True!

These entertaining gift items are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, 1-800-431-1579 or wherever books are sold.

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