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The Fame Formula: How Hollywood's Fixers, Fakers and Star Makers Created the Celebrity Industry Paperback – Unabridged, 3 Apr 2009
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An insightful history of PR by one of its leading practitioners.
"The Fame Formula" is a highly entertaining study of the creators of the publicity industry, taking us from vaudeville and the movies to the age of television and the internet. Starting with Maynard Nottage and Harry Reichenbach, who applied their anarchic talents to dreaming up stunts at the turn of the twentieth century, Borkowski goes on to describe how, in the hands of Hollywood fixers Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling, publicity agents Russell Birdwell, Warren Cowan, Henry Rogers and more, this freewheeling industry developed.These men hatched ostrich eggs to promote movies and hatched incredible stories to dress up the lives of stars, buried scandals and buried their lives in their work. And in so doing they laid the foundation of a billion dollar manipulation industry and the modern world's rampant celebrity culture. Borkowski also reveals how his research has led to the creation of a fame formula, an analysis of how long any celebrity can expect to stay famous - and how to avoid relegation to the Z list.'A brilliantly original account of a neglected subject' - Stephen Bayley. 'Fascinating ...one of Britain's top publicists tells all about what fame is, how to get it, and what to do with it' - Lord Saatchi.See all Product description
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The book most successfully details the lives, peccadilloes, disasters and lies that stuck early Hollywood together with the glue of publicity and goes into most detail about the early stunt-merchants such as Harry Reichenbach and Maynard Nottage, who moved into the movies from vaudeville and the carnival, influenced by the jovial hucksterism of PT Barnum. Their lives, particularly Nottage's, are a definite lesson in the price of fame.
Nottage helped create stars, but came to believe his own hype - that he was a great starmaker - and drank himself into oblivion when the rest of the industry refused to believe him, dying in the 1960s, a bitter and lonely old man.
According to Borkowski, nearly all of the publicists in the book end up eaten alive by the job or their own hype - they can either stop and vanish, usually in a cloud of bitterness, die young from overwork or keep going until they are wizened and old but still turning up and working. Harry Brand, publicist at 20th Century Fox, retired in the 1960s but was given an office by the studio that he used for most of the rest of his life. It was only the working community there that kept him happy; a rather sad end for the man who rescued Marilyn from public disapprobation after her early nude photo shoot.
Out of the work of these obsessional men and women, Borkowski suggests, the modern celebrity industry was born. All these obsessive men and women gave rise to the great vast gas cloud of celebrity culture. Once, he implies, fame was worth having. Now, thanks to people like Jade Goody and Britney Spears and reality TV, the stock of stars in general has fallen. If the science of the actual formula at the end of the book is a little spurious, the thinking behind it is less so. Fame can last 15 months and needs constant replenishing? The more you look at the papers, the more this seems realistic. The science may not hold water, but the more people who know how the machine works, the more chance there is for it to be sabotaged.
The book is fascinated with stunts; lighter stuff like people putting lions in hotel rooms, changing plain Janes into vamps, underwater weddings and the like - as well as the darker stuff, the cover ups of murder, abortion, lesbianism. Borkowski soars to theatrical heights describing the early, less dangerous and (slightly less) cruel side of Hollywood but peters out a little when essaying the corporate takeover of Hollywood publicity towards the end - no surprise there, I'd say.
The Formula at the end of the book may be a stunt to get your attention but it's worth getting past that and giving the book a go, if only to discover the delightful foibles of Jim Moran, who sat on an ostrich egg for twenty days, hatched the ostrich and adopted it, all to promote a movie called The Egg and I. I doubt you'll approve of many of the people described, but the heights of imaginative artifice that went into promoting the rise and fall of Hollywood make for compulsive reading. It's a compelling, if occasionally flawed, read.
There is an almost complete absence of context - sociological, political, historical or otherwise. Moreover, there is no critical analysis of what was going on. Borkowski is not Robert Hughes.
An amusing story, but an average book.
This is, quite simply, one of the most engaging, informative and inspiring books on the subject of PR that you could hope to read. It should be a set text for all advertising/PR and media courses - and essential reading for any individual or SME wanting to make a splash for themselves (there are just so many outrageous ideas in here: a real pandora's box).
The writing style is - as you would imagine if you've heard Borkowski interviewed on either radio or TV - always accessible, very informed... and extremely funny. He clearly loves his subject and his enthusiasm leaps off the page. I can't recommend this book enough to be honest. There's nothing like it out there. Forget any 'how to' PR manuals - just read this and be inspired by some truly maverick thinking!
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