Whether alerts from TMZ and BuzzFeed are your reason to live, or whether you couldn’t say with certainty to whom Brad Pitt is currently married, Julie Klam’s “The Stars in Our Eyes: The Famous, the Infamous, and Why We Care Way Too Much About Them” (Riverhead, 222 pp., $26) has late-summer-read possibilities. This soft serve ice-cream cone of a book swirls together discussions of the phenomenon of celebrity, accounts of real people’s run-ins with the stars and scientific research to provide an experience which is pleasant for reasons the book itself explores.
There’s the Duke experiment, in which 12 thirsty monkeys were given the choice of a favorite drink or the chance to look at pictures of the most powerful and dominant monkeys in their group — and all the monkeys chose the pictures. Another study suggests that there’s a neuron specifically devoted to Jennifer Aniston. For Klam, it might be a whole section of the brain. She answered a few questions for us.
You write about having a therapy appointment right after Jen and Brad broke up, walking in so downcast that your therapist asked what was wrong. When you told her, she said, “You have no idea how many of my clients have come in and talked about this.” Why do we care so much when things go badly for celebs?
Celebrities are part of the fabric of our lives. Actors, athletes, singers — they do things that take us out of ourselves and make us feel better, and there’s a chemical release associated with it. There’s an actual emotional bond. So when we see them have troubles and suffer, there’s more to it than gawking.
You love Aniston so much — how come you didn’t interview her for the book?
I actually decided not talk to any megastars — I don’t think I could have gotten the same perspective from Jennifer or Tom Cruise that I got from people like Julie Warner, Timothy Hutton and Griffin Dunne.
Hutton seems like a really smart guy.
And such a gentleman. He tells a great story about how people come up to him in the airport to tell him how much they loved him in “The Shawshank Redemption.” And he politely tells them, “Oh, you’re thinking of Tim Robbins.” And they argue with him. “No, no, it was you!” He’ll just smile and let it go because he’s committed to not being a jerk.
I loved Dunne’s anecdote about his roommate Carrie Fisher phoning him from the set of a horrible movie she’s making — she says it’s called something like “Stawoze” and she’s playing opposite a 9-foot hairy ape; they go on and on about how awful it is — and you say you almost couldn’t laugh. Why not?
Because to me, the original “Star Wars” is sacred. I was so taken aback to hear him talk that way about it. To me, it’s one of the greatest moments in history, alongside the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
You make a distinction between old-school celebrities and the new celebrities — Bette Davis vs. Kim Kardashian. What’s the difference?
It’s all about the internet. Celebrities now have a direct line to people. In the old days, every aspect of their communication would be curated and overseen by a publicist. The publicist would write the quotes and give them to the magazine. Now they have Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts and there’s no filter between them and us. And this also gives the opportunity to people who would not normally have been famous to have a gigantic platform.
Yet they have no talent.
All they have to be able to do is take a lot of pictures of themselves. Here we are with our first reality show star for a president — it behooves everyone to know how we got here.
Tell us about all these terrific celebrity run-in stories sprinkled through the book.
Whenever I told someone that I was writing this book about obsession with celebrity, every single person would say something like, “Oh, my God, I was in the West Village and Paul Rudd was walking into this store. . . .” It was almost like they had lived this little movie — they remembered all the details more clearly than their own lives. Like, I can’t remember my fourth-grade teacher, but I do remember what Catherine Deneuve was buying at the makeup counter in Barneys. Everyone has these stories — even people who are famous themselves.