I like to think that I'm immune to stardom, but then I followed a French rock star into the bathroom.
You're not famous until you're followed into the bathroom
One of the things people ask when you tell them you write for television is: "Do you write for anything I've heard of?"
Which makes sense, really, because there are a lot of shows on, and many of them seem so tightly aimed at this or that demographic that it's possible to write for a hit television show that no one you know has ever seen.
But it's still a deflating question. Mass media is supposed to appeal to the, well, masses. My first job as a Hollywood writer - never mind the date; let's just say that it was in the twilight years of the Ronald Reagan presidency - was as a writer on a gigantic hit. Somewhere between 20 and 30 million viewers tuned in each week to watch our show.
When people asked: "Do you write for anything I've heard of?" and I answered them, well, let me be frank: I didn't get a blank, indifferent expression in response. I didn't wait for a table at popular restaurants.
The media universe has changed since those days. The audience is so fragmented and segmented that it's almost impossible to gather 20 million viewers for anything at all. Some folks are watching cooking shows, some are watching Downton Abbey, and some (the younger ones especially) are watching three things at once while texting and Facebooking.
In other words, it's hard to be a star these days. There's so much competition.
It's sort of like what happened to me a few nights ago, when I was out to dinner, and famous, legendary French rock-and-roll star Johnny Hallyday came in and sat down next to us. He's a giant star in the francophone world, but at the Chateau Marmont Hotel on Sunset Boulevard, not so much.
People went about their business. Waiters ho-hummed and shrugged. On the outdoor patio, the place positively buzzed with the excitement of having a reality television star on the terrace. Inside though, where Johnny and I sat at adjacent tables, we were both ignored nobodies.
I'm not star-struck often or, really, ever. I've worked in Hollywood for over 20 years, and I've met pretty much everyone. But for some reason, sitting next to Johnny Hallyday - a man who has been a rock star (albeit a French one) for almost 50 years - gave me fanboy palpitations.
I saw Johnny perform in the summer of 2000 at an outdoor concert on the Champs de Mars in Paris, and he was spellbinding. My French is pretty bad - when I order in Parisian restaurants, I'm always relieved and surprised not to end up being served an old shoe covered with cheese - but Johnny Hallyday is a rock star in every language.
The young waiter wasn't really impressed, which irritated me. I mean, I know that's the whole point of being a waiter in Hollywood - ignore the celebrities, they're told by their manager bosses; whatever you do, be cool. But there are some folks who, simply by surviving - and thriving - for 50 years in a business designed to crush your spirit, deserve a little fanfare.
Put it this way: when I saw Frank Sinatra having dinner at the late, great Beverly Hills restaurant, Chasen's, a few years before his death, you can be sure there was some solicitous hovering and scraping. He was Sinatra. Johnny Hallyday may not merit that kind of obsequiousness, but he comes pretty close.
For me, anyway. But maybe that's what draws Johnny Hallyday to Hollywood in the first place. Maybe he likes the relative anonymity of the palm trees and the Pacific sun. Maybe the indifference of the idiot surfer waiter is a welcome change from his francophone fans.
Being a French rock star in Los Angeles is a little like having a hit television show on a niche cable network. You're famous, yes, but only to a select group of folks in that key demographic, which means you can eat dinner with your friends in perfect privacy. But when you want to experience stardom and its ego-boosting distractions, you just head over to where your fans live - which can be a country, like France; or a channel, like the Food Network.
And when you just want to eat in a swank Hollywood hotel and let one of the stars of the reality television show The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills get all the flashbulbs and the fuss, you can do that, too.
Unless you're followed into the men's room by a devoted fan, as Johnny was the other night. And the fan stands next to you, awkwardly, and finally blurts out: "Johnny, I'm a big fan. Saw you on the Champs de Mars in 2000." In which case you simply smile uncomfortably and wonder who this nutcase is who won't let you go to the bathroom in peace.
It was me, by the way. But I think you knew that.
Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood