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Cecil (on fame)


Better to be a king for a night than a schmuck for a lifetime. —Rupert Pupkin

As long as we’re talking about binary worlds, it seems to me that fame and failure are closely related ideas: without the former, you are the latter, by a contemporary understanding of the word (though it probably doesn’t work the other way). But if fame means being a Kardashian, count me out; I’ve learned to live with failure thanks to Cecil Elliott.

Fame hit me square in the face last night while watching “Chelsey Lately” and her coverage of the latest Kardashian melodrama. I weighed in on FaceBook© on Kris Kardashian and Bruce Jenner going splitsville, but of course that’s exactly what they hope for. It’s the old admonition for Broadway reviewers: “I don’t care what you say about my performance. Just spell my fucking name right.” Bad publicity is still publicity. It isn’t what you say, it’s that you say it.

But fame, if we achieve it at all, is fleeting. Remember Andy Warhol saying in 1968—the Summer of our Discontent—that “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Have you had yours?


Given Cecil Elliott’s take on success (see earlier blog entry) you might imagine he had something to say on the topic of fame. You’d be right. Elliott called it “The Five-Minute Movie”.

We were having coffee in the Break Room, that unattractive space at the end of the long faculty corridor in the campus shoe box we occupied in the 70s, when department secretary Marlys Anderson suddenly appeared in the doorway. She stood there, framed by its institutional beige-ness until we had each turned to acknowledge her presence. “Well,” she said with import, “they called again about that.” Elliott’s brow furrowed. “Marlys, I need antecedents for those pronouns.”

Conversations with Marly frequently began in the middle. She had an endearing habit of beginning many of her conversations with you long before she actually saw you. This one had begun a few minutes earlier at her desk, following a brief telephone conversation about an unpaid invoice. So, in reply to Cecil’s request, “they” and “that” were given identities and he resolved the situation forthwith. Marly turned to make a return phone call and Elliott turned back to me and our coffee: “That would certainly make a great five-minute movie.”

The five-minute movie concept came up again and again, usually with regard to something about which far too much had been made. I’m absolutely certain he would see the current Tea-publican budget tantrum as worthy of a five-minute movie, rather than the multi-month melodrama it continues to be.

Congressman Ted Yoho is a “Five-Minute Movie”. So is Congressman Paul Broun. I only wish we could say the same for Michele Bachmann. Any more footage spent on her is a waste of film.

And I know this one thing: Elliott, flaming Liberal that he was, would agree.

PS: Marlys June (née Powers) Anderson [1928–2010] can be found in the cemetery at Canaan Moravian Church in rural Cass County, North Dakota. I was pleased to represent our department at her funeral and privileged to be a pall bearer, at the request of her daughter Lori. Marly covered my ass metaphorically for many years. I could carry hers for a few minutes. But we’re still not close to being even.

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