COLUMN

Some fleeting moments of fame

Allan Fotheringham October 29 1990
COLUMN

Some fleeting moments of fame

Allan Fotheringham October 29 1990

Some fleeting moments of fame

COLUMN

ALLAN FOTHERINGHAM

There they are, two interesting bits in the newspapers. Ollie North, the fake patriot, is back in yet another court seeking yet another appeal on the myriad charges laid against him in the devious money-for-arms plot which Ronald Reagan, of course, knew nothing about. The item is buried well back, even in the important American papers. The second item is that Tiny Tim, the high-pitched musical freak of other years, attempts a comeback in some obscure club and 17 people show up.

The public boredom tolerance grows exceedingly thin. There is too much news, and too many newscasts, and too many channels and too many gossip magazines masquerading as news. Celebrities wear out their welcome more swifter and more swifter. The dead Andy Warhol, the world still split on whether his art was genius or junk, may go into the history books famous only for his aphorism that in the future everybody will be famous for 15 minutes.

It was a cynical line, now bordering on truth. Lasagna in Canada is now not a mouth-watering Italian dish but a grandstanding Oka warrior supposedly making a valiant Canadian stand, who in fact grew up in Brooklyn. Ask any 16-year-old who Steve Fonyo was and you’ll elicit a glazed stare.

Tiny Tim and his Tiptoe Through theTulips not only luckily used up his 15 minutes, but so did Eddie Fisher, Jayne Mansfield and Troy Donahue. These are truly trivial people, as were Fatty Arbuckle, Tom (Terrific) Campbell and Bob Coates—as Bill Vander Zalm and Dan Quayle are destined to be.

It is not a matter of a person being around so long that the public grows tired of them. There are some who transcend time. Louis Armstrong, of whom Dizzy Gillespie says: “No him, no me.” Babe Ruth will be around long after José Canseco has been forgotten. Roger Maris? Forget it. Leo Durocher, who couldn’t hit his weight, will outlast him, because he said, “Nice guys finish last.”

Longevity has nothing to do with achieving immortality. Lord Byron was gone at 36. Shelley expired at 29. Keats was in his grave at 25.

Rupert Brooke disappeared from this mortal coil at 27. Lenny Bruce (no him, no modern comic) was hounded to death at 40.

Dylan Thomas, while a genius, is probably more revered today because he lined up 18 scotches in the White Horse Tavern in Manhattan and drank them all at the age of 39, than if he had survived the liquid suicide. James Dean, dead in his Porsche at 24, has become more famous every year since. Jack Kennedy is ranked with the Lincolns and the Roosevelts because he went so early, at 46, that his flaws were yet to be revealed. Mozart was gone at 35, Oscar Wilde, like JFK, at 46.

It is not to say that some cannot withstand the vagaries of time. Bernard Shaw managed to outrage humanity from his 20s until his grave at 94. Those with staying power and a shrewd sense for the public weakness for outrage can stick around for some time. Pierre Berton is a Canadian example, forever probing the ner-

vous Protestant soul of Canada—as witness his current socialist polemic on the Depression years.

Milton Berle hangs around, God knows why. One suspects Arsenio Hall will not. John Belushi, it is surmised, knew his 15 minutes were being used up quickly, as did Dean and Wilde.

There are those who are retained in history, if only for brief moments of fame. Lumbering lineman Roy Riegels, who picked up a fumble and ran the wrong way the length of the field in the 1929 Rose Bowl game. The pilot called Douglas Corrigan who, bemused by the fog, turned the wrong way and landed in Ireland, having crossed the Atlantic. Who knows whether Elijah Harper, supposedly in the 15minute category, will in the history books be up there with Paul Revere?

It is hard to sort out the future heroes. Will Winnie Mandela, in the end, be a bigger factor in the South Africa tragedy than Nelson Mandela? Neil Bush, as we speak, is almost illustrating the Reagan Greed Generation that his “gentler, kinder” father is trying to paper over. Will Ivana Trump, in her revenge, become more remembered than Donald Trump? We can only hope.

Joe Clark will forever be an asterisk in history, but is that more important than Lionel Conacher? Claire Hoy is presently at the top of The New York Times best-seller list. Where does that place him against Bruce Hutchison?

The public has changed its mind very quickly (“quickly” meaning about five years) on Brian Mulroney, and seems to be reassessing its opinion of Pierre Trudeau. Mackenzie King wore well for decades; is regarded as a joke now. The problem is the dreadful media. It shows us too many of the warts— immediately—of the giants who in past years might have worn their mantles of hypocrisy for decades. Cher is surviving surprisingly well. Will Madonna last as long? Longer than Lowell Murray, one prays.

That’s the way we measure it—the long run, the only way. Will Elijah Harper in your children’s textbooks (more likely your grandchildren’s) end up ahead of Allan MacEachen as a shaper of the nation? Did John Buchanan in fact bring down the Conservative government that thought the salvation of its mandate was free trade? Did Stephen Lewis’s fall from a podium in Montreal, resulting in a broken hip, destroy the NDP drive to a federal victory in 1992 under a different leader?

Did anyone think at the time that Lee Harvey Oswald, Guy Fawkes or Louis Riel would be figures forever in history? Who would have thunk it?