Diva Id and Conk Her

The Swamp, the Chicago Tribune‘s Washington bureau blog, reports:

A campaign official privately tells the paper: “She’s now positioning herself for her own future. Of course, this is bad for John. It looks like no one is in charge.”

ABC News, among others, notes that, in an interview with CNN, one McCain adviser anonymously called Palin “a diva” who is “playing for her own future” political prospects.

“”She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone,” the advisor told CNN. “She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else. Also she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: divas trust only unto themselves as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom.”

Today’s version of the bloviating class was talking about nothing but the “rogue” Sarah Palin. And, one week later, they seemed to eventually get to the points I made seven days ago.But, weirdly, in all of that yak, I never heard anyone talking (amidst all the speculation about 2012, and how FABULOUS she was, et al, etcetera, ad infinitum) about the OTHER obvious corollary of all that “roguish” behavior.

There’s a reason that you don’t throw somebody unprepared into the media soup, and it isn’t just that the sudden attention of the world can be very debilitating if you’re not used to it. No: it’s because fame is a sort of power, and, as power corrupts, absolute fame corrupts absolutely.

Let me put it to you this way:

My old Tibetan Master used to say that success can be more disastrous than failure. Why? Because we’re USED to failure. But sudden success is something that we are completely unprepared for, and you obtain SUCH a lot of karma, thinking yourself suddenly special. Just pick up one of those newspapers they have at the checkout lines at the supermarket.

I witnessed it over and over in Hollywood, where they have a very wise, very true saying: Be nice to the people you meet on the way to the top because you’re going to meet them again on the way back down.

Once upon a time, I used to audit Harvey Lembeck’s legendary Hollywood comedy class (most famous alumni: Robin Williams and John Ritter), as a writing trying to learn my trade. (OK: It was in Beverly Hills.) I used to go with another writer named Alexa Gusick, with whom I lost touch.

At any event, I watched as a whole class of up and coming TV actors learned comedic acting (Harvey used to explain that while he could teach an actor to do comedy, he couldn’t teach a comedian to act, and never accepted them in the class.) And afterwards, they would all repair to to the bar Carol O’Connor’s (Archie Bunker) Ginger Man Restaurant for a post-class tea and sympathy session (except they didn’t drink tea).

The class consisted of a stage, with bleacher seats for us to watch: pretty spartan, it was almost literally . Harvey would explain what the exercise was about, and choose actors to do an improv bit, going through the class like “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” until we were done.

To this day I cringe at the way actors use telephones, after Harvey’s class on HOW to hold a phone for the camera. (Hint: cheat the phone away from your face. It isn’t a real phone anyway. The camera wants to see your FACE, doofus. But modern actors insist on hiding their faces behind a non-working prop phone from force of habit. Duh.)

Well, since much of modern politics consists of stage props, sets and acting for the camera, you might consider how germane this is to what I’m about to tell you.

So, one night, the “hot” young teen heartthrob and his entourage appear at the class — by “entourage” I mean agents and handlers, all older than he. They were there to get the famed comedy instructor to teach young teen heartthrob (I won’t name him, for reasons that will become clear).

Now, all of the struggling actors there were either envious, disgusted or both. This kid had hit the big time — a fluke hit, sudden recognition by PEOPLE Magazine and Rona Barrett’s gossip column, and all the rest. Tiger Beat Magazine, and all that dandelion fame.

But he was still a kid, and they needed to “season” him. So, basically, the agents were there to shove him to the front of the line, kind of hinting that the class ought to be about HIM.

Harvey (who you might remember as Animal’s sidekick in Stalag 17, and from the old Phil Silvers show, Sgt. Bilko) listened patiently as they tried to impress him with how important everybody was, and how the “studio” needed this thing done.

So, Harvey gave his little lesson on what the class was going to work on tonight, and opens it up with, “OK, you start it off.” An actor gets up and does his thing, just a touch nervous with all the Big Shots there. Then, Harvey calls on the kid.

Who proceeds to show us all just how little he knows of his craft.

Yeah, they were embarrassed. Sometime during the third actor’s version of the exercise, our young movie star and his entourage of suits vanished silently from the building. Quite a contrast to their noisy importance of an hour before.

Well, several years later, he did get a sitcom that was a modest hit, and ran for a few years, but he never really hit the big time, nor did he ever have a great gift for comedy. I have a feeling that the way he treated people when he was “famous” but untutored and unpolished in his craft caused him to lose many chances at the Brass Ring. Hollywood is funny like that. Do a good deed and it comes back to you in the wildest ways. But screw somebody over, and, well, like I said, he never hit the Big Time.

I never saw him back at the class, but he may have attended months or years later. In any event, his ego was far greater that night than his talent, and a room full of his peers watched him fall flat on his face, and he took a powder to go off and sulk. His career never really went much anywhere after that.

I watched  dozens of people I knew in Hollywood get “famous” and decide that THEIR ordure didn’t stink, and spurn all of their old friends, and get a swelled head. And I watched an almost equal number manage to fumble said fame and by the time they came back, chastened, to their old friends, their old friends didn’t want anything to do with them. The old Hollywood saying is true: bank on it.

So, too, our diva was plucked from the glaciers of Alaska (the largest state holding the third-fewest number of human inhabitants in the country, only larger in population than Wyoming and Vermont). And our diva was thrust into the national spotlight and fell on her face. But this only inflamed her ego, and, now intent on “proving” she’s not a bubblehead, is in the grasp of that horrible self-centered ego nova that I’ve seen dozens of times in Hollywood. It ain’t the failure that destroys you. Often, it’s the success.

Just think of all the young stars who died young, unable to handle the acclaim. Or, think of a Shannon Doherty or a Marilyn Monroe, who found themselves unable to get work because of the “little people” they’d screwed over, and their diva performances on sets.

And now consider Sarah Palin. Nothing prepared her for the brightness of the spotlightsl. For the designer dresses. For her own jet airplane. For the “adoring” signs ginned up by the campaign. For the wild interest in her from all quarters, and, worse, for the seductive little demon of success whispering in her ear: “You don’t need them. You’re on top of the world! It’s YOU they want!”

And so on and so forth.

But Sarah Palin is undoubtedly cutting her own throat. For all the media gushing about her, privately, the knives are being sharpened for the slights she has naievely bestowed, the toes she has stepped on, the rest. I shouldn’t have to explain WHY Palin tossing McCain under the bus might not be a good idea in the long run. McCain has some powerful friends, and they tend to hold grudges. Hold them very quietly.

Because, after all, they ARE most politic. When the knife slides in, it will be held in a velvet glove.

Be kind to the people you meet on the way up, because you’re going to meet them again on the way back down.

I thought, a week ago, that Sarah Palin was going to be around for awhile.

Now, I seriously wonder if you she’ll make it past her re-election campaign in 2010.

So, where is Dan Quayle?

Remember? He was Vice President of the United States of America. Now?

Here’s the other thing my Tibetan Master used to tell me about success:

“Humility, humility, humility,” he said, “Is the only defense.”

For her own sake, I hope Palin figures out that last part before it’s too late for her.

A former editor of Ms. Magazine provides us with a REASON for Palin’s ego-stung need to fix her image, writing in The Daily Beast:

It’s difficult not to froth when one reads, as I did again and again this week, doubts about Sarah Palin’s “intelligence,” coming especially from women such as PBS’s Bonnie Erbe, who, as near as I recall, has not herself heretofore been burdened with the Susan Sontag of Journalism moniker. As Fred Barnes—God help me, I’m agreeing with Fred Barnes—suggests in the Weekly Standard, these high toned and authoritative dismissals come from people who have never met or spoken with Sarah Palin. Those who know her, love her or hate her, offer no such criticism. They know what I know, and I learned it from spending just a little time traveling on the cramped campaign plane this week: Sarah Palin is very smart.

OK. If you say so. But, like the teen heartthrob, she walked right out into the glare of the public spotlight, and made a fool of herself in the Charlie Gibson and the Katie Couric interviews, by trying to play it so cagey, and so paranoid about the “liberal media” that she came off looking like a moron.

Whose fault is that?

Now, she seeks a way back. The Daily Beast posting goes on

I’m a Democrat, but I’ve worked as a consultant with the McCain campaign since shortly after Palin’s nomination. Last week, there was the thought that as a former editor-in-chief of Ms. magazine as well as a feminist activist in my pre-journalism days, I might be helpful in contributing to a speech that Palin had long wanted to give on women’s rights. …

But here is the good news: women, citizens of America’s high and low culture, the Economist and People magazine readers, will get it. They got it with Hillary even when feminist leaders were not supporting her or doing so half-heartedly. Yes, Palin is a harder sell, she looks and sounds different, and one can rightfully oppose her based on abortion policies. If you only vote on how a person personally feels about abortion, you will never want her to darken your door. If you care about anything else, she will continue to intrigue you. As Time’s Nancy Gibbs noted a few weeks ago, quoting bioethicist Tom Murray, “Sympathy and subtlety are seasonings rarely applied to political red meat.” Will Palin’s time come next week? I don’t know. But her time will come.

If you say so.

But divas tend to have the shelf life of hothouse roses, so, we shall see. Meantime, Sarah’s ego is the story and not the candidate’s with a week to go until the election. If he BELIEVES that she cost him his life-long dream, or his FRIENDS do, there will be a reckoning. If the ego was under control, she could manage to keep the focus on her running mate for 8 more days, and keep her own stuff to herself, as all Vice Presidential candidates do. As I said back in Early September, the GOP finally has its own Thomas Eagleton, except Eagleton did the decent thing and is remembered fondly. Palin appears to be taking a different route.

Success can be more devastating than failure ever was.

Time will tell.


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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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