Two decades of celebrity profiles for Esquire, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and other magazines.
Celebrity worship is a two-sided thing. The media delight in making celebrities into larger-than-life figures, but it finds as much, if not more, enjoyment in cutting them down to size, demonstrating that for all their fabulousness, stars are just as prone to selfishness, irresponsibility, or stupidity as anyone else—though admittedly on a bigger scale than the rest of us. People in search of major dirt may find Zehme’s subtitle somewhat misleading, for while many of his profiles are undeniably comic, few major indiscretions are detailed. Indeed, for the most part, the author takes an affectionate, even protective attitude toward his subjects, though it’s couched in a breezily irreverent style that deflects any charges of outright sycophancy. He may poke gentle fun (carefully noting the length of the pauses in his interview with the notoriously evasive Warren Beatty, for instance), but on the whole he’s sympathetic. Thus we find Hugh Hefner sounding like a moony teenager as he searches for a new “special lady” after his divorce; Woody Allen—his own indiscretions by then a matter of public record—bemoaning his court-ordered estrangement from his and Mia Farrow’s children; Madonna dodging paparazzi in the wake of her breakup with Sean Penn; and so on. One of the few occasions when Zehme becomes genuinely critical is in a series of articles on the behind-the-scenes scheming that resulted in Jay Leno rather than David Letterman inheriting The Tonight Show from Johnny Carson, but even there he assigns the blame primarily to Leno’s agent and the suits at NBC.
A brisk and often funny style and a talent for catching his subjects off-guard with unexpected questions make for interesting glimpses of the real people behind their public personae.