Monday, July 20, 2009

How To Remain A Nobody - by Sybil Adelman Sage

For those who haven't read it on WOWOWOW:

Fame, I discovered at an early age, requires being cordial to strangers and tipping at least 20%, just two reasons I carved out a life to insure being a nobody, a status that’s highly underrated. A nobody isn’t asked to appear at charity events, is less likely to attract stalkers and can blow off religious zealots in airports and Greenpeace workers on street corners. A nobody is free to abuse food or drugs without getting media attention and is in less danger of family secrets being revealed in a memoir written by a former nanny.

I was first officially recognized as a nobody when a friend’s chauffeur stopped in front of a New York theater to drop me off. Someone rushed over to check out who was in the limo, immediately dismissing me with a disappointed wave and telling a companion, “It’s nobody.” That was a memorable moment, confirming I was free to go out in public with no make-up, something I value far more than being able to snag a table at Rao’s.

An important step to insure obscurity is being born into a family where you’re not expected to go on stage and sing with your siblings even before you’ve learned long division. I had an added advantage in that none of my dead grandmothers had been named, “Paris,” so I wasn’t saddled with a name that makes fame almost inevitable. My first job was in Marketing Research, a field populated with unknowns, where even the hottest of the coder-tabulators can freely walk around without dark glasses and not get assailed by admirers. In fact, no one in the lobby of the Empire State Building was willing to stop and help me complete a survey by answering a few questions like, “Which bathing cap would you be more likely to buy?”

After moving to L.A. and getting involved in show business, my early jobs – taking dictation from a studio vice-president or answering phones for the manager of the Marquis Chimps – did not put me at risk of notoriety. It wasn’t until I started working as a secretary to prominent, show business personalities and later as a scriptwriter that I experienced fame, witnessing embarrassing adulation, shameless staring, whispering and requests for autographs. There was no way to avoid being exposed to secondhand fame.

When we both sported the same frizzy, Harpo Marx-like curls, I was often mistaken for Barbra Streisand, accosted by her fans and, more surprisingly, greeted by her friends. “How are you, Barbra?” I was asked, clutched to the chest of a stranger while doing lunch (show biz people “do” everything), at the Paramount commissary.

“Fine,” I answered, struggling to get free, “but I’m not Barbra.”

Several years later, I became a television writer and agreed to being interviewed for an article that would appear in “TV Guide.” Obscene phone calls and letters from prisoners alerted me that I had to be more discreet. I couldn’t afford to be careless and risk losing my nobodyness. To avoid gaining prominence, I signed with agents who promised “a five year plan,” code for that’s the length of time they take to return a phone call. And I did my part by turning down offers to produce hit shows and freely expressing opinions at meetings that contradicted those of network vice presidents. I managed my personal life similarly, avoiding becoming Oprah’s best friend, not marrying Bill Gates, Donald Trump or a Kennedy, never having an affair with a married politician, staying far away from YouTube and not becoming the governor of Alaska.

To retain my nobody status, I’ve chosen to blog, rather than pursue a newspaper column or book deal. It’s not totally worry-free as there are bloggers who achieve celebrity status, but I trust my readers will tweet, dig and comment in moderation so as not to threaten my nobodyishness.


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