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Fame Doesn't Wait for Achievement on TV

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Fame Doesn't Wait for Achievement on TV

By Lynn Elber

Los Angeles (AP) -- Being famous used to require doing something, or having something done to you, that would render you at least marginally interesting.

Ah, the good old days, when Andy Warhol's 15 minutes really stood for something. The concept of fame, as pliable as Silly Putty, is being stretched ever thinner in new directions.

We're living in an age of PC, or more accurately, PAC -- Pre-Achievement Celebrity.

PAC-ers, people who have done nothing or next to nothing, are being catapulted into the upper echelons of the noteworthy, gracing magazine covers, winning jobs on television, being interviewed.

Interviewed about what? About their preparations for achievement, their plans for achievement, what life will be like after achievement. Which may not be much different than what it's like pre-achievement, since they're already basking under the sunlamp of fame.

That they're doing it like the fabled emperor, without wearing a stitch of accomplishment, is of no consequence.

(There's a parallel but distinct condition, Unheroic Heroism, that is the province of such doubtful role models as actors, professional athletes and, on sad occasion, victims.)

The PAC phenomenon crosses gender but not age lines. That's partly because it helps to be young to have a blank resume, and because the media isn't much interested in old people, of stature or not. Katharine Hepburn earned a special People magazine cover by leaving us.

Being rich and good-looking as well as young increase a person's PAC quotient. Consider the case of Paris Hilton, foremost among the new crop of cleverly titled "celebutants."

Pretty heiresses have always drawn attention, but to make it as serious media fodder had to swoon into the arms of a Hollywood star (Barbara Hutton of Woolworth money and Cary Grant being a case in point).

Hilton, 22, the great-granddaughter of the Hilton hotel chain founder, made her mark as a successful partygoer and club attendee. She will debut as a reality TV star this fall on Fox's "The Simple Life," in which Hilton and friend Nicole Richie try to survive on a farm.

The 21-year-old Richie's own credentials, according to the official Fox biography, include being pop star Lionel Richie's daughter; a former classmate of Hilton's at Buckley, a private school, and an "aspiring actress, singer and dancer."

In other words, a triple-threat PAC-er.

But Hilton is no slouch. Asked at a recent news conference with TV reporters whether she aspires to more than nonstop partying, she set the record straight.

"Actually, I'm recording an album right now and I'm doing films and I have a jewelry line and a purse line. So I do a lot."

Doing is good, succeeding is not necessary, at least for a while.

Embarking on a fashion career is one way to hold onto PAC-er fame. In fact, it's become such a cliche for women at loose ends that Hilton may want to reconsider it, even though she and sister Nicky are said to be racking up sales in purses.

"When did making bags become the fallback career?" asks Samantha (Kim Cattrall) on HBO's "Sex and the City," after an acquaintance who's been dumped holds a party to sell her custom -- and dreadful -- designs.

(Another red flag: Monica Lewinsky, who earned her celebrity the old-fashioned way, by committing impressively huge mistakes, moved on to purse-making. The former White House intern later added reality TV to her job history with "Mr. Personality." It was a dud.)

"Sex and the City," always in tune with the zeitgeist, also featured a scenario involving Samantha and a PAC-er. Her latest boy toy is a waiter who's beginning his acting career in what appears to be a dreary, far off-off-Broadway play.

Samantha decides to help boost his debut, planting a breathless gossip column item saying New York's glitterati will be on hand. "Are the glitterati migrating to Brooklyn?" asks skeptical pal Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker).

They did, and so did the paparazzi to record the moment. Pre-hype, after all, is the name of the game for Pre-Achievement Celebrity and those who feed on it.

There's a real-life scenario echoing the fictional one. Travis Fimmel, star of the WB's new fall series "Tarzan," is a former model for revealing Calvin Klein underwear ads who has yet to flash his acting skills.

That didn't stop TV Guide from trumpeting him on a recent cover showing a half-dressed Fimmel. "TV's new 'Tarzan! Meet The Hunk Who's Soon To Be TV's Hottest Star," shouted the headline.

Was the magazine maybe "a little too much, too soon," WB executives were asked during a news conference. What a question!

"I don't think you can become oversaturated in a marketplace with as many choices as we have," said WB Entertainment President Jordan Levin.

In other words, wait for actual achievement and you've waited too long.

Fimmel, 23, who noted that he's been studying acting for more than two years -- 2 1/2 years, precisely -- admitted to "a little bit of pressure. I just hope my acting is up to scratch. And I just want to improve, you know."

Sure, go ahead. Become a real pro. But just don't expect that life is going to be more meaningful. What's accomplishment, after all, but a sweet, old-fashioned notion?

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Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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