x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

The benefit of anonymity? Keeping my shoe size secret

The story of a starlet and her stalker make me happy to be a nobody.

Here's a sad admission for someone who has lived and worked in Hollywood for over 20 years: I don't really know any celebrities.

I know some, I suppose. I've worked with a few movie stars - right this minute, in fact, I'm producing a television comedy with a pretty famous actor - but I'm not really part of that hanging-out-with-the-famous scene. Mostly, I'm at home with the dog and a good book. Nerdier, actually: I'm at home with the dog and my iPad.

The life of a big celebrity is unknown to me. I don't know what it's like to be out to dinner with someone and get interrupted by autograph seekers. Or to walk through a fireworks display of flashbulbs.

Yesterday, leaving a coffee shop in Brentwood, in western Los Angeles, I was jostled out of the way by two paparazzi chasing a person who was later identified to me as Tori Spelling, who is apparently someone I'm supposed to recognise based on the disbelieving looks I got from my companions when I asked, "Hey, who are they chasing?"

For the record, Tori was the picture of grace and calm. She strolled casually to her car, ignored the photographers in the bushes, and got into her car with her toddlers.

The few times I've been on the red carpet at an awards ceremony, either directly behind or in front of a famous person, I've been really unnerved by how many cameras are whirring and snapping, and how the photographers shout out the name of the famous person with insistent and demanding voices.

"Brad!" "Brad!" "Courtney!" "Courtney!" "Right here! Look at me!"

And when I walk by, silence blankets the area.

You know how it is when you're walking along and you think you hear someone call your name, and you look around, alarmed? That's what it's like to be famous, I guess.

But when you work on a show, the first thing you learn about celebrities is that they touch people in specific ways. You don't have to be a star to get fan mail. You don't even have to be a series regular to get creepy, intrusive, mildly disquieting handwritten notes from people with vaguely worded return addresses.

An actress friend of mine once got a lovely letter from a fan. She had been on a show we worked on a few times; she wasn't the star, but what we call a "seven out of 13", a recurring guest in seven out of 13 episodes. But someone, some random guy somewhere, took the time to write her a warm note.

"I just love your work," he wrote to her. And he mentioned some of his favourite lines from the show that she said, and he mentioned some of her previous work. He really seemed like a devoted fan.

"It would be an honour," he continued in a way that didn't yet seem insane, "if you'd let me put up a web fan page. Please help me by answering the following questions. What's your favourite colour? What's your favourite type of music? What kind of shoes do you like best? What kind of movies do you like? Favourite sport?"

But as the questions went on, it became clear that this man was interested in one specific thing. The other questions were just diversions from the main topic.

"What's your shoe size?" he continued. "Where were you born? How often do you get a pedicure? Do you have a favourite city? Are both of your feet exactly the same, or is each one magnificently unique? Favourite food? How steep is the slope from your ankle to your arch? What was the last book you read that really touched you? Does your little toe curl under the one right next to it? Have you named your toes? Do you come from a big family? Please answer as many of these questions as you can."

And then he wrapped up the letter: "But you must answer the questions about the feet." Which was underlined several times.

She didn't answer the letter. Or the questions about the feet. It was just too peculiar. But I was struck by her matter-of-fact attitude about it all. She knew that as someone who appeared regularly on television, she was supposed to expect this kind of thing, to fortify herself against questions about her feet.

I'm glad I'm not famous, is what most of us say to ourselves when we think about getting creepy fan mail, or being chased out of coffee shops by clicking cameras. And mostly, I think, we're being honest. We're happy being home with the dog and the iPad, without a soul showing interest in the curve of our feet.


Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood