I often wonder how Smiley must have felt the first time he saw and ad for Pack Train, in third billing, with much smaller type and no photo. He was, according to reports, a kind=-hearted man grateful for the opportunity to work in a field he loved. He died in 1963 after shooting an episode of Petticoat Junction in which he played Charley Pratt, the Cannonball engineer. Smiley never drank, smoked or gambled, and was proud of saying he’d been married to the same woman for over 30 years. He has a star on the Walk of Fame (Champion doesn’t).
Most of us get neither stars nor top billing. This is something we learn when we go from the totally self-centered universe of a child to the somewhat less egotistical one of adolescents and adults. We make do with a World’s Best Dad coffee mug on Father’s Day and consider ourselves lucky to get any billing at all. Perhaps in the most hidden streams of our imaginations, we dream of being something or someone other than ourselves, but these are private fantasies seldom disclosed even to the ones we love. Smiley, at times, must have yearned for Gene status and Gene, no doubt, would have wanted to be
Personally, I’m pretty sure that at one time or another, I was billed far below the family gerbil, though 30 years ago I scratched my own initials in wet cement on a sidewalk in Adams Morgan and they’re still there, my own Walk of Fame.
The Internet, of course, has wreaked havoc with the concept of fame and billing. Anyone can have pages of Google entries; almost anyone can be a star for an hour or a week. We flourish and evanesce a lot more quickly these days than ever before and yes, Andy Warhol was right on fame and wrong on time. We don’t get fifteen minute. We get five, if we’re very lucky and work the media hard.
So back to Gene, Champion and Smiley. I’m not sure what it all means but it bears pondering. I suppose imaginary billings are as good as any. Next week, I’ll write about Ed McMahon.