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Jewish World Review March 2, 2000 /25 Adar I, 5760

Greg Crosby

Greg Crosby
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Actors And Other Animals -- ON SUNDAY NIGHT March 26th the annual coronation of the King and Queen of the planet will take place in Los Angeles. I am referring, of course, to the Academy Award ceremonies which honor, among others, the best actor and actress in a motion picture for the year.

Adoring fans the world over will be on the edge of their seats as the entertainment industry bestows accolades upon itself. The acting profession has come a long way in one hundred years. It wasn’t always so glamorous.

As a way of illustrating the extent of prejudice that once existed against people in the entertainment business, show biz folks love to recount how, about a century or so ago, hotels, restaurants, and other establishments used to post signs that read, “No Dogs or Actors Allowed.”

One hundred years ago anyone who performed theatrically in front of an audience was called an “actor.” An actor, by definition, was someone who performed an “act.” These included play actors, singers, dancers, comedians, jugglers, ventriloquists and acrobats. Sometimes they were referred to simply as “entertainers” or “performers.”

As near as we can tell, the actors at that time were quite contented at being referred to as actors, entertainers and performers because ... well, THAT’S WHAT THEY WERE! But then something happened. Someone started referring to actors as ARTISTS. Uh, oh.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences may have been the first to equate performers with “art” -- it’s hard to say. We don’t know who first coined the term -- it might have been a deranged drama critic, an over-zealous audience member or, more likely than not, it was an actor himself -- but one thing’s for sure, once actors began to think of themselves as artists, they haven’t been the same since!

Just about the time entertainers became known as artists, show business became known as “THE CREATIVE COMMUNITY.” And you might have noticed that we no longer have playhouses, we have “CENTERS FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS.”

It’s surreal to hear some hot new twenty something performer on a TV talk show referring to him or herself as an “ARTIST” and speaking of show business as “THE CREATIVE COMMUNITY.” I want to say, “Come on kid, get over yourself!”

Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against actors as actors. I enjoy watching a truly fine actor perform and I’m a big fan of Hollywood classic movies, but let’s keep things in proper perspective. Actors are actors -- they are not necessarily artists, nor role models, nor political mavens. They are not even necessarily normal -- though our contemporary culture tends to look upon them as super-people.

It’s true that actors have gone from being regarded as second class citizens to the closest thing to royalty in our country. Although stage entertainers have always been thought of as glamorous and fascinating to the general public, there’s no doubt the inventions of moving pictures, recordings, radio and television had a lot to do with elevating the performer to godlike status in the 20th century.

Is it any wonder then, that most teenagers aspire to be performing artists of one kind or another? While traditional departments of study such as English and American History in our colleges and universities languish under the weight of political correctness and budget cuts, Performing Arts departments flourish.

My 20 year old niece thinks she wants to be an actress. My 19 year old nephew thinks he wants to be a stand-up comedian. But what they REALLY want, of course, is to be movie stars (or any other kind of celebrity, as long as “rich and famous” goes along with it). Lynette Cole, the recently crowned Miss USA, when asked what her life’s ambition is, has stated that she would like to be a child advocate attorney -- OR a soap opera actress. I’m not kidding. She really said that.

It’s no secret that even President Clinton in his heart of hearts, has longed to be a professional entertainer, and indeed spends as much time as he can (more than 60 trips in the past seven years) in the Southern California movie colony. At one recent fund-raiser at Rob Reiner’s home, Clinton quipped that “... if an ex-actor (referring to Ronald Reagan) can become a president, then maybe an ex-president can become an actor.” He was only half joking.

Judging by his past performance at the White House, play-acting in front of a camera will not exactly be a stretch for him.

The fact is, though, if there’s one thing the world doesn’t need, it’s another actor. It’s been said that at no other time in human history has there been so much entertainment available to so many people on a continuing basis. We’ve all been entertained ad nauseam.

Today actors enjoy all the privilege, respect, and awe once reserved only for royal families, statesmen, industrialists, bankers and upper crust society. Contrary to the quaint signs posted on hotels and restaurants of a hundred years ago, actors such as Alec Baldwin or Susan Sarandon are now, as a matter of course, accorded the best suites in any hotel, and the best tables at any restaurant.

Yes, actors have come a long way -- but given the choice, I much prefer dogs.

JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. You may contact him by clicking here.


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© 2000, Greg Crosby