Articles

What it's Like to be a Celebrity

Now 22, Barbara Ann's still the best-known girl in Canada, a symbol of glamour and success. Most of the time she loves it, but sometimes under the spotlight of the public eye she feels as though her slip is showing

BARBARA ANN SCOTT January 15 1951
Articles

What it's Like to be a Celebrity

Now 22, Barbara Ann's still the best-known girl in Canada, a symbol of glamour and success. Most of the time she loves it, but sometimes under the spotlight of the public eye she feels as though her slip is showing

BARBARA ANN SCOTT January 15 1951

What it's Like to be a Celebrity

Now 22, Barbara Ann's still the best-known girl in Canada, a symbol of glamour and success. Most of the time she loves it, but sometimes under the spotlight of the public eye she feels as though her slip is showing

SOMETIMES I feel like a freak or a monkey in a zoo— if that ’s what people mean about being a celebrity. And sometimes I feel like crying because absolutely strange people are so nice to me.

Sometimes when I’m walking down the street people stare at me and whisper until I begin to wonder and worry if my slip’s showing. Sometimes when I’m shopping I t urn around and look into t he eyes of people who have been peering over my shoulder.

And sometimes when I’m skating I can feel the good will of all those thousands of people watching me and this makes me want to try harder to give them a good show.

I guess being a celebrity is partly being unable to do what you want to do when you want to do it. You put the people and things they expect you to do first. You put yourself and what you like to do second. In a slightly scary way I sometimes feel as though I, Barbara Ann, didn’t exist at all. I often seem to be something people have conjured up in their minds, something they want to believe I am, something a little bit better than perfect—which no one can be.

In the main, though, the same sort of things happen to me that happen to everybody else. Right now my mother and I have settled for the first time for a winter-to-ourselves in a little flat in Toronto. But we may be put out any minute be-

BARBARA ANN SCOTT

EVA-LIS WUORIO

cause of our two French poodles. It doesn’t help to be a celebrity in need. And it’s so heart-breaking because the dogs are well-behaved and good. After all that long time of looking forward to a home, and the trouble of getting settled, I just can’t bear the thought of moving again.

I haven’t had an ordinary ordered life at home since I was nine years old, and I’m 22 now. True, I have had a wonderfully exciting time and I’ve loved it, but it’s been far from a normal home life. First it was practicing the same figures over and over for eight, nine hours a day at the Ottawa Minto Skating Club in the winter, at Lake Placid or Kitchener or Schumacher rinks in the summer. After a day like that you’re too tired to do anything else. Then it’s been traveling to competitions and exhibitions. And in the last few years, since I turned professional, it’s been traveling with shows.

People I meet seem to think it all very glamorous. Well, it is in a sort of a way, but besides hard work it’s also living out of suitcases and being ruled by curtain times and train schedules.

I’ve always tried to be an orderly person. I get that from my father, who was an Army man. Even on my dressing table backstage I like to have all the make-up I use just so, lined up like soldiers on a clean white towel. I like having my suitcases and drawers always in order. But still, living out of a suitcase can never feel like normal life to me. You

never feel when you sit down in a hotel chair the relaxation I’m sure people must feel at home. You never feel, “This is my chair, this is my place, I can stay here as long as I like.”

I’ve never worried about people liking me or not liking me because I’ve always liked them. But sometimes I’m frightened when I’m alone on the street or in a crowded room. Frightened and sort of lonely. I wish then that just one friend would turn up who liked me and knew me and expected nothing, someone I’d know well enough to relax and have fun with, like other girls.

Sometimes people seem to say extravagantly nice things to you and you feel they’ve been saying just the opposite to others. Those remarks come back to you and you wish they hadn’t bothered saying the nice things to you in the first place when it wasn’t sincere.

Mother has always said being temperamental is just a poor excuse for a bad temper. Occasionally when I do lose my temper I’m immediately sorry and when I feel I’m going to be angry about something I try to be alone. Inefficiency and rudeness, unfairness and not having done what I should have done—these annoy me and make me ashamed.

Having people interested in me and in the things I do was hard to get used to at first but now I’ve come to accept it as part of my life. It began when I was six and first started to skate and they noticed me then, I guess, because I was so tiny. I stayed tiny until I was 12 and when I skated people often stopped to watch; it seems they’re always interested in some little person flitting around.

Now when people look at me and then stop me on the street it’s often just to say they’ve seen me skate or wish me luck or ask me for an autograph. Sometimes grandmothers ask what kind of skates to buy their grandchildren. Little children are full of questions. When they ask me how to get to be like me they seldom wait for an answer. Thank goodness, because I could only say it’s much better just to be oneself.

Autographs can be embarrassing. The other night I was dancing at the Royai York Hotel in Toronto and in the middle of a dance a mar. s®ked me for an autograph. Happily, my escort didn’t mind, but some boys don’t like that at all.

Another thing is the way people are always thinking and saying I’m engaged if they see me with a boy. Then they

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phone mother to ask about it. She’s heard it so often she usually asks right at the start of the conversation: “Who’s Barb engaged to now?”

Sometimes people I don’t know write and ask me to marry them. There’s one farmer who’s been writing my mother since 1945 and suggesting that they get together and have me marry his son. He’s quite complimentary. He has often written: “After all the strict training she’s made herself do I’m sure she could manage my boy.”

And there was the man last summer who used to call me long distance and write letters saying that he’d got my message and I was the only person who could help him. It seems he imagined he heard these messages.

We had a small cot tage in Brock ville, and in the evenings we often visited friends nearby. One stormy night mother and I drove home quite late. The pines on the drive bent and shook with the wind and the rain. There were just the two of us at the cottage.

Sometime after midnight mother was awakened by pounding on the front door, then the kitchen door. She went down and shouted through the locked door: “Who is it?”

“Is that you, Barbara Ann?” a man’s voice called. “Only you can help me.”

Those were the words he’d used on the phone, and written, so mother knew who it was. “She’s not here,” she called. “You’ll wake everybody in the house.” She hoped he’d think there were a lot of strong men around.

Then, while he kept running from door to door and banging and shouting, and the rain kept slapping the windows and the thunder rolled, she called the town police.

I’d awakened by then and came down calling: “Whatare you doing, mother?”

“Get back,” she called. She thought lie might have a gun.

There was lightning right then, and it flashed through the hall windows and he saw me and began shouting: “I see you, Barbara Ann! Only you can help me!”

Mother was standing with a toy baseball bat in her hand.

“What are you going to do with that?” I asked.

“I’m going to hit him if he breaks through the door,” she said.

And then the police came and he ran away. Later a young Brockville policeman came back and told us the man had been caught and he was a little mental.

But those things don’t happen often. Mostly nice things happen to me.

Once I was invited to an Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia by some cadets who wrote and asked if all of them could be my escorts. I couldn’t go because I didn’t know any of them but it was fun to get the invitation. The stewardess on the plane from England last year wrote and asked if I’d go to a dance with her brother, a West Point cadet. And sometimes the boys at Royal Military College at Kingston have sent me invitations, but I never could accept them because I always was skating or training.

Fan letters sometimes come directly to me, to the theatre or stadium where I’m playing, or to home. Usually they’re sent to Ottawa to Mrs. Eileen Hodgson, who used to be my father’s secretary. She answers all the mail, and sends out photographs (she orders them in 5,000 lots) when people ask for them. She lets me see the letters she thinks I should see. We get about a

dozen a day even when I’m not in a show. She always laughs and says it’s $10 in postage a month in the quiet times.

There was a letter the other day from a man in Germany who said he was living in a two-room shack and ! wanted to move for the winter and would I send him money. A Czech boy wrote that he needed a motorcycle to go between his university and home.

A woman in northern Ontario once asked me to help with the mortgage on their farm. Sometimes people just write: “Send me $5.000; I know you have it.” All these requests go to the St. Lawrence Foundation which manages my business affaire.

I’ve always worn funny little bonnets for skating and practising and children often write asking for these, or for skates and boots. But there just wouldn’t be enough for everybody so we thought it better not to send any. When I had a hat with a little umbrella sticking out of it, and there were pictures in the newspapers of me wearing it, several women’s groups wrote that they’d like to have it as a prize for their raffles. (I gave it to my niece Judy.)

Edmonton Tossed a Brick-bat

Then too I get requests to sponsor things. These go to the people who look after my business affaire. I’ve sponsored sweaters, skating bonnets, skates, dolls and cosmetics.

People have given me a lot of wonderful things too. The most impressive was the yellow Buick convertible the city of Ottawa gave me when I came back from winning the World and European championships in Sweden and Switzerland. But I was going on to the Olympics then and when there was talk about it. interfering with my amateur standing I returned the car. But when I turned professional in June, 1948, the city gave it back again, this time painted a light blue, my favorite color.

The Minto Club of Ottawa gave me a silver tea service and a little diamond pin in the shape of a skate. The Kinsmen in Montreal gave me an enormous silver tray. In Czechoslovakia they gave me a crystal vase four feet high.

A little boy in the Alberta foothills sent me his most prized possession, a knife carved out of horn. A former German prisoner-of-war sent me a silver ring given to him by a German general. He said he’d liked Canada so much he wanted me to have the ring. Others send me bits of handicraft, shell brooches, handkerchiefs, hand-knitted socks and Dutch bonnets, flowers and toy animals. The most valuable things are kept in Birks-Ellis vaults, but all the gifts told me a lot about the kindness of so many people.

People give you many gifts when you’re a celebrity but they expect a lot too. You are readily praised and more readily blamed. And sometimes they’re pretty quick to judge without knowing what has really happened. I’m thinking of Edmonton last winter.

We were on the cross-Canada tour of the Skating Sensations. In Vancouver I caught flu. Then I began to have an awful pain in my side; it would hurt to laugh or take a deep breath and it was really terrible when my partner had to lift me. In Calgary, after one lift in the middle of the show, 1 could hardly move. We called a doctor. He said I had a broken rib and taped me, and I finished the show.

Afterward he examined me. “You not only have a broken rib but a bad cold and pleurisy,” he said. “To bed for two weeks you go.”

“But that’s silly,” I said, “I can’t.

We’re all booked and I haven’t got an understudy.” He said if 1 had to skate I was not to do anything extra for at least two months. A lot of public appearances had been arranged but he said these had to be cancelled. He gave mother and the manager of the show a letter to that effect. The first cancellation went to a Calgary department store where I was supposed to sign dolls.

The same thing was supposed to have been done in Edmonton. But when we got there and had been received by the mayor, the car started for a department store. Mother said: “I’m sorry we can’t go there. I t’s doctor’s orders. ” We were told a lot of children were waiting.

I suggested we should drive by the store and wave at the children, which we did twice.

1 turned the radio on when we got to our hotel room. An announcer was saying that 1 certainly must have changed to have such an obvious disregard for little children. Then the newspapers came out. One headlined my bad manners, another had an editorial about what did 1 think I was since I’d turned professional. I was terribly upset.

When I went out of the hotel and walked down the street I felt like a criminal. At a Press conference you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife. But after I had explained the true facts of the matter several radio stations interviewed me to give me a chance to explain in public.

Her Boss Is a Foundation

We were to skate the next night. Everybody in the company expected to see no audience but perhaps some flying eggs and tomatoes. The place was packed. I was grateful to the people for being so understanding and the crowd was just about the most enthusiastic of the entire tour. Later that week we gave a free matinee for Edmonton children under 10.

People sometimes ask why I turned pro. Well, I was nearly 20 then, and there were no new competitions to enter. I’d worked very hard all my life and I’d have had to keep on doing the same old things over and over.

I talked to my mother and to the friends of my father who since his death have been very kind. On their advice the St. Lawrence Foundation to help crippled and underprivileged children was founded. It is my employer. Everything I earn goes directly to the foundation. I receive an allowance, the size of which depends on what I’m doing. The rest goes in donations to deserving causes. I’ve never received a pay cheque for what I’ve done.

J. S. D. Tory, a 'Toronto lawyer, is the head of the foundation. Then there is R. V. Hicks, a lawyer in Tory’s firm; C. F. Lindsay, a banker and a friend of my father, and H. H. Caldwell, of the Caldwell linen mills, in Prescott. They look after everything.

Except for a few short holidays I can’t remember ever having had time to loaf. That’s why I’m enjoying this winter with no shows to do. It’s a holiday for my mother too, who works as hard at my career as I do.

We’ve rented a little apartment in North Toronto and if we are not tossed out because of the dogs we’ll at least have time to bake cakes and make muffins for tea and have friends in to eat them.

I’m going to see all my friends and make new ones and I hope they won’t think they have to talk about skating.

But next summer, unless there’s a W!ir, I’m going to go back to England to skate in another musical play on ice.

Last summer I skated with Michael Kirby in “Rose Marie” at Harringay Arena in north London, and I never enjoyed anything as much.

Even though my life has been sort of artificial, it’s been fun. I’d like to work for a couple more years and then I’d like to settle down and have a home of my own. That will be wonderful too.

You know how pop-eyed I always look in my photographs? Well, newspaper photographers are always saying to me just before they click the shutter: “Let’s not do it that way this time.”

But I can’t help it. Partly it’s the flash bulbs. And then partly it’s because I’m just naturally pop-eyed about life itself. ★