by James Stefanile, ABR, GRI, SRES, QSC, REALTOR/Associate, Prudential NJ Properties
I’ve had a unique opportunity in all of my professional life since college. I’ve dealt with celebrities in the theatre as an actor, stage manager and director and in television/film as a producer/director. Since beginning my career in real estate I’ve also represented celebrities in the buying and selling of properties.
I’m not just talking about rich people – I’ve dealt with plenty of those as a REALTOR. I’m referring to people who, for some reason of talent, public service or notoriety are know to the public at large (and are rich as well). A celebrity can be classified as a “celebrated person”, someone for whom some aspect of their lives is celebrated by the rest of us.
And then there’s Kathy Griffin. If you’re not familiar with her, she’s a stand-up comedian who’s act is looking under celebrities’ skirts and reporting the dingy details she discovers. I think she’s hilarious. She had a limited run on Broadway in March in a show called “Kathy Griffin Wants A Tony” as in Tony Award, the Broadway equivalent of an Oscar.
I love her comedy because many of the celebrities I’ve known deserve the kind of lampooning she dishes out. Many of my celebs were very talented, some not at all. Some were intellegent, generous, considerate and pleasant and some were…well, as my mother used to say “If you can’t say something nice…” I’ll bet your mother said the same thing.
Celebrities have mastered some talent or behavior which gets the attention of the media. As a result, someone pays them large sums of money to do whatever it is they do. The celebrity’s greatest fear is that the goose will stop laying the golden eggs, they will fade from the fickle public’s view and stop receiving the compensation that goes with it. Most celebrities’ careers are finite: the athlete loses speed, the model loses his or her looks, the actor becomes box office poison, the ingenue gets old, the politician loses an election, the comedian publishes tastless jokes about a natural disaster and is fired from a lucrative commercial contract. Faced with this reality, they want to wring the most money out of the time they have in the public’s embrace. The phrase “Show me the money!” from the movie “Jerry Maguire” crystallized this perfectly: let’s concentrate on squeezing every dollar out of the limited time and opportunity we have. By contrast, the business person has his or her whole life to gain success and keep it (and not screw it up). The celebrity’s clock is ticking much faster and time is running out. Some celebrities have been able to morph into a new career (maybe behind the camera) when the sagging starts , most cannot.
This obsessive concentration on wealth and its accumulation takes a toll. I’m sure you’re thinking “I wish I had that problem”. Me too, but I’m talking about a pursuit that borders on mania and skews every other aspect of life. Still sound good? Of course not. The people in the public eye that I knew (nice or not) mostly all had this itch in common. Results are driven by a compressed concept of time, vanity, and an inflated sense of entitlement. The bottom line is always the biggest bag of swag. I’ve seen people surrounding celebrities kicked to the curb in this frantic pursuit. I’ve been in the gutter myself, once or twice and I came to realize, once my initial bitterness faded, that I’m looking at life through a different lens than they are. That level of success and celebrity is a rough and tumble sport necessitating sharp elbows. The recent meltdowns we’ve witnessed from the highest paid actor on television and the record holding home run hitter show what damage can be done to an otherwise talented human mind and body by the “winner take all” obsession in their world.
Consider the 19 year old farm boy who gets an MLB or NFL or NBA contract. All of a sudden he has more money and opportunity than he’s ever had before. He also, suddenly, has managers, wealth advisors, hangers-on and more relatives than he ever imagined. In the meantime, this kid is constantly flying all over the country to compete and has to remain in top physical condition and excel in a very demanding sport. He has to be a teammate, a coachable player – an instant adult. It ain’t easy. I’ve seen kids crash and burn from the pressure of this new and unfamiliar paradigm. Those who survive this baptism of fire (also known as the opportunity of a lifetime) come out the other end changed, hardened and subject to the obsessions I noted earlier. The NFL actually has “wealth coaching” to try to mitigate some of the damage. I don’t know how successful this program is. From what I read in the sports pages and police blotters – not very.
I should mention that I’ve been pretty successful in my dealings with celebrities with a couple of exceptions. Not a bad track record, in my opinion, given the different universe they inhabit. Those of us around them have to adapt. Believe me, it’s nothing like the daily dealings among us mere mortals. If you work with celebrities, you need to know their code and getting kicked in the pants a few times is usually the way to learn it. Thanks to my band of celebrated merry-makers I now have a collection of the most hilarious war stories (even though some weren’t so funny at the time) and if you get me tipsy sometime I might tell them to you (minus the names, of course).
You don’t have to ply Kathy Griffin with alcohol. She tells tales and names names. Her unique access to the “A” list is what makes her so deliciously, nastily funny. She’ll sit next to a drunken diva at an awards ceremony and then report every slurred word. She’ll, lovingly, describe every detail of an aging actor’s face lift, tummy tuck or butt lift. She’ll pillory the celeb who has a “cause” just for the PR value it brings. She knows we lap up celebrity details like dehydrated sponges. Celebrity reporting is usually favorable, flattering and promoting “fan-dom”. Griffin goes the other way. She panders to our fascination with these people, all the while telling us that the Emperor has no clothes.
This is not a “kiss and tell” article. I’ve always been discreet in my dealings with celebrities. I hope I’ve tried to be compassionate about why some of these people behave as they do. It isn’t always easy to be empathic when the unreasonable demands pile up and the celebrity’s minions start screeching at you and negotiations take the form of blood sport. Over the years I’ve tried to retain as much of my decorum as possible and to remember they need me as much as I need them. In the meantime, Kathy Griffin pierces the veil that the “A” list uses to promote image. I think she’s delivering an important public service and should be rewarded. A Tony would be nice.