Monday, February 6, 2012

Old Celebrities Never Die: They Just Cook on TV

These days, fame is not fleeting. If you were famous once, you can be famous forever. This thought came to me while watching Madonna (still svelte at 54) cavort during yesterday’s Super Bowl halftime show. Other recent Super Bowl headliners have included Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, and The Who, all well into their sixties. These talents once topped the celebrity heap, and they still know how to deliver. But lesser figures also grace our TV screens: in fact, they’re everywhere.

Years ago, celebrities showed up on TV quiz shows. I still remember Pantomime Quiz, a charades-type show that later became Stump the Stars. (Highlights: actor Hans Conried expertly spewing forth Shakespearean quotations, and early Corman favorite Beverly Garland -- who once told me she was there for comic relief – going into desperate gyrations to mime a title or phrase.) Then for decades we could tune in Hollywood Squares, where old comedians would go to die.

Nowadays reality TV has spawned shows of the Celebrity Rehab ilk. But for those of us who like our celebrities clean and sober, there’s also been a rash of programming that puts once-familiar faces into unfamiliar situations. In 2010, actress Jennifer Grey recaptured past glories via victory on Dancing with the Stars. Of course, it’s not totally surprising that singers and actors (as well as Olympic athletes) know how to move to music. Gray’s 1987 breakout role in Dirty Dancing required her to look good on the dance floor, so it wasn’t wholly unexpected that she’d be able to slam across a dance routine, despite a body that’s aging and much-injured.

But who knew that fading Hollywood stars like to cook? The Food Network has just launched a new competition, featuring celebrity teams mentored by a pair of the network’s own superstars, the very peroxided Guy Fieri and zaftig Rachael Ray. Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off has concluded its opening round, peopled by such minor celebs as Lou Diamond Phillips (La Bamba), actor and rapper Coolio, comedian Cheech Marin, and former ‘NSync cutie Joey Fatone, each of them trying to win prize money for charity. Dashing madly around a studio kitchen, they all demonstrated their chopping skills, confronted mystifiying secret ingredients, invented an amuse-bouche on the fly, and faced the challenges of plating while the clock ticked down.

What’s the appeal of has-beens and never-weres in the kitchen? Well, they face exotic tasks with a panache that perhaps we mortal folks lack. If a celebrity has true star-power, he knows how to project the force of his personality over the airwaves. The same is true, of course, of the celebrity chefs now cluttering cable cooking shows. Julia Child started it. These days, any chef worth his salt knows how to be charmingly adorable (or charmingly irascible) as he flambés, purees, and fricasees his way into our hearts.

Which leads me to a shout-out for Eric Greenspan, chef and resident live-wire at The Foundry on Melrose, near L.A.’s trendy West Hollywood. Eric is very short, very wide, and very loud. With his booming voice and unmistakable bellylaugh, he’s as much of an attraction at The Foundry as the excellent food. Naturally, he’s been featured on one of those competitive chef shows. I happened to see him get chopped from the lineup, following a disaster of a dessert that combined chocolate with fried grasshoppers. (He thought it would be a whimsical touch.) Dismissed by the judges, Eric retreated into the wings, looking like a sad little boy. His is a face made for TV, and I suspect he’ll be back again. Till then, bon appetit!


  1. If Eric Greenspan spends too much time on the celebrity chef circuit, I suspect that means you won't see him at The Foundry as much ...

    So is this your way of thanking me for introducing you to bad reality contest TV?

  2. Indeed, Hilary -- I certainly owe you for getting me hooked on the contest circuit.

  3. Having a son who is an actor, I loved this particular blog. Tony, my son, while not yet TV famous, (he does grumble over the rounds of reality TV shows that take jobs away from credentialed actors,) he is the main chef in his little family. While reading I enjoyed thinking of how things could turn out for him. I do so enjoy your musings. Thanks, Lois

    1. Lovely! Thanks, Lois! Yes, we all seem to have artistic children who haven't quite figured out how to get actual jobs. Good luck to Tony.

  4. I have a great disdain for "reality" shows, but do have a fondness for Hell's Kitchen, lol. I would LOVE to see some of those stars--both faded and still clinging to the light--to be featured on there. For a showbiz personality to be berated and belittled by Chef doubt THAT would be a ratings bonanza!

  5. I'm with venoms5 - a celebrity edition of Hell's Kitchen would be marvelous! And I'll keep an eye out for Mr. Greenspan as I channel surf!

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