To what lengths will the wannabe famous go to stay in the celebrity picture? 1,891 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
When I spot the paparazzi on Montana Avenue, I get an adrenalin rush. Someone famous is around here. I can smell it. I, myself, have some notoriety, being the only child of Melissa Kane, star of such classics as Moon Over Malibu and Surf Wars.
My mother was famous in the seventies for her beach movies. She met my father, Francis Fanucchi, a mid-level studio executive, when he came to the set of Sand In My Shoes. My mother was blonde and lithe. In contrast, my father was compact, dark, muscular and pugnacious. I am tall like my mother, but I have my father’s coloring. Some say I have his face, but I reject the idea. Still, I have to admit that his robust genes beat out my mother’s more ethereal ones.
I was twenty when they died and they were both forty-two, only six years older than I am now. My father drove their Maserati off a cliff in Big Sur and it was all very dramatic and tragic. Some said it was an accident. Several claimed it was a double-suicide. Others maintained it was something more nefarious. The mystery was the making of the myth. My mother gained stature in death, her fame and celebrity burgeoning until she became a cult hero while my father doesn’t even have an entry on IMDB.
What I have left of them are the happy memories of being caught by the cameras – of Mom and I dressed up for Easter in matching bonnets, of Mom wearing a fat suit as Mrs. Santa and me as an elf. I became addicted to the feeling I got when being photographed.
I crave the camera. I’ve done a few things to attract attention. My own acting career has, unfortunately, been a series of guest spots. I got myself on Dancing With The Stars once. As Deadline Hollywood reported, “the definition of ‘stars’ was tarnished by the inclusion of Harlow Kane Fanucchi who, though the daughter of a celebrity, is so removed from the firmament as to fall into entertainment’s black hole.”
Lately, I’ve been making handbags. I’m carrying the red one I call The Sophia. I name all my bags after film stars. The Sophia is roomy and voluptuous and made of the softest Florentine leather I’ve ever felt, yet it has internal structure — good bones. I don’t like saggy bags. I favor trapezoidal totes; anyone can make a square or a rectangle.
When I was with my mother, everyone wanted to take my picture but now I have to do some maneuvering to get on Celebitchy.com. If the person whom the paparazzi are after is someone I know, I can sidle up to them and horn in on their photo. If I get my bag in the frame, all the better. It could end up as one of Oprah’s Favorite Things.
Henry Oscuro, with his high-powered camera, is in front of the pack of paparazzi. Henry isn’t my idea of attractive but I can see how some women might like him. He’s got a lot of hair, most of it on his head. Still, I don’t like hairy men. And his eyes are dark brown, almost black. He thinks he can communicate with just a look. Right now he’s trying to give me a warm welcome, though he hasn’t opened his mouth or deigned to turn his camera on me.
“Hey, Harlow,” he finally says, which makes all the other photographers turn in my direction. None of them take my picture.
“Henry,” I say, “another day of doing vitally important work, I see.”
“Gotta make a living.” He’s on the sidewalk leaning against a beat-up metal newspaper box, the kind you put a coin in and pull a paper out when print was still king and probably isn’t long for this world. He gazes at me with those eyes of his and I don’t know what he’s trying to say with them. “Are you going to the reunion?” he finally asks.
We both went to Malibu High. Of course, my profile is much higher than his. His parents were only writers.
I shrug. “Who are you tracking today?”
“I know for a fact that Jesse is coming.”
“To the reunion.”
“You know I don’t care about celebrity.” I shake my shiny hair and take a deep breath.
“I didn’t mean it that way. I thought you two were friends.”
“We’re not in touch.”
“I’m going and we could go together if you want.”
“I’ll text you.” I give him a glorious smile, one calculated to be irresistible to cameras. “So, who are you after?”
“Christine Clardy is in the restaurant across the street,” he says.
“That’s just where I was going.”
“What a coincidence.” He lifts his camera to his face and points it at me but he doesn’t click the shutter.
I am tempted to stick out my tongue at him, but any face made in public should be camera-ready.
I turn away from Henry and check the mirror in my handbag. All my purses come with high-quality mirrors attached by a leather thong. I just got my hair polished and my make-up is impeccable. Sure I could be younger, but that’s not something you can fix in a few minutes and, at thirty-five, I can still pass for twenty-nine.
As I cross the street, I hold my palm up to stop the Porsche that’s barreling toward me. It slams on its brakes and the driver gives me the finger. An attractive woman should be allowed to jaywalk without repercussion. I slow my pace, not that I could hurry in these Jimmy Choos. I lift my chin and take my time getting to the safety of the other sidewalk where I open the door to the restaurant and collide with the hostess’s podium. For many years this was a family style joint catering to the over-sixty crowd. Now, it is an Italian bistro specializing in cheese.
My radar for celebrity is highly attuned. I’m like a bat that way, only instead of using my powers to avoid bumping into things, I go the other way. There she is: Christine Clardy, with a passel of children, eating at a place that is no longer kid-friendly unless the child happens to like having a choice of six varieties of cheddar with his macaroni.
I take a seat at the marble bar and order a Pellegrino and a tasting appetizer. Then I turn and catch Christine’s eye. People know me. I’ve been around. I was recently on Celeb Kids: Where Are They Now? When my mother was alive, she got me a handful of guest spots on Two Guys, A Girl & A Pizza Place, Kelly Kelly and Living In Captivity. I believe in nepotism. Where would Donnie Wahlberg be without Mark?
I turn and smile at Christine. She smiles back. She’s as sweet as she is in those TV commercials for Purity Cosmetics. We’ve met at six parties and eleven premieres. I keep a notebook and Christine has seventeen check next to her name. Just then, the smallest kid drops a piece of fig and fontina pizza onto the floor. Christine keeps smiling but her flickering motions when she attempts to clean up after the child show her exasperation. Thanks to the press, everyone knows her husband has fallen in love with the gardener. Christine’s whole life is being played out on TMZ.
I want what she has.
I want the world to be so interested in me that the media track me all over the planet. Sure, it would be nice if it were for some skill or even some good quality in me. But if celebrity were about achievement, it would be the lawyers at Amnesty International who got photographed wherever they went.
A busy waiter descends upon Christine to help her. She takes a breath and looks left and right. I’ve seen that look on people. It means: I love my kids, but I am dead tired of being in their company. That’s my moment. I make as if I am going to the ladies room but stop at Christine’s table as I pass.
She looks up and smiles. "Oh, Harlow. Hi." She introduces her kids as if she expects them to behave appropriately. Only one pays any attention. In the best-case scenario, she would ask me to sit down, but she is too caught up in the antics of a child who is making a mosaic with his rigatoni.
"We always come here on the nanny’s day off." Christine leans over and picks a piece of macaroni off the floor. "And how are you?"
It’s not every movie star – especially one being distracted by her kids – who will bother to ask you about yourself.
I think fast. "I’m beginning to plan the Melissa Kane Memorial Screenplay Fellowship Banquet."
"Fabulous," Christine says while holding a Kleenex to a child’s runny nose.
It’s hard to take Christine’s lack of enthusiasm personally when I’ve just invited her to a gala that I made up on the spot. "I’ll make sure you get an invite."
"Wouldn’t miss it." She wipes at the table with a cloth napkin. Her son’s macaroni mosaic is taking shape.
"I’ll leave you to it then," I say when I can’t think of an excuse to remain.
I could or could not create the Melissa Kane Memorial Screenplay Fellowship. Christine won’t remember that I brought it up. My parents left me well provided for and hired a good firm of tax lawyers to create a foundation through which I give money to the arts. I’m a mini-Wallis Annenberg.
Back at the bar, I pick at my cheese plate. The appetizer merits the good reviews it has received. I make sure to pay the bill early so I can walk out at the same time as Christine and let the paparazzi catch me in her company. As she slips by me, I slide off my stool.
"Let me take that," I say, referring to one of the many bags she is carrying. She’s fumbling with a carriage for the littlest kid, an enormous diaper bag and five shopping bags.
So we walk out together: me, Christine Clardy, and her three boisterous kids. The photographers are waiting outside. Christine smiles noncommittally and walks past them. They follow. Snap. Snap. Snap. I deliver her diaper bag to her car and, as I’m turning it over to her, I twist and let my shiny hair flip over my shoulder. Christine and I air-kiss, and off I go. I am floating. Nothing gets me as high as this. It’s better than shopping, better than sex. Not only am I in the frame, but so is my tote The Sophia. At the last minute, as we shuffled bags at the car, I handed The Sophia to Christine so it would look like she was carrying it.
The smile I shoot towards Henry is triumphant. His eyes are trying to tell me something, but I can’t interpret what it is. If he really wants to communicate, he should use his words like everyone else.
Back at my own car, I take out my book of celebrity sightings and make another mark next to Christine’s name. Eighteen checks. Not bad. That’s almost a friendship.