Rating – 5/10
Summary – The Sixteenth Minute has a great premise – what happens to formerly-famous people when their fifteen minutes are done? At times, the book lives up to its potential, but it is mostly mediocre. The biggest problem is that the authors spend about half the book focusing on just one person – infamous hoaxer Melvin Dummar – whose story has already been told at length.
Review – It’s become a truism that everyone wants to be famous. However, changes in popular culture come so fast these days that celebrities burn themselves out faster than ever. Just a few years ago, Paris Hilton was on the cover of every tabloid. Today, she’s nowhere to be found.
The Sixteenth Minute looks at what happens to former celebrities. The authors tracked down a number of formerly-famous folks and found what they had made of their lives after the spotlights dimmed. While I’m glad that I read the book, I can’t give it more than a mediocre review.
Melvin Dummar shot to fame in 1976. After billionaire Howard Hughes died, Dummar claimed that Hughes had named Dummar as an heir. (Dummar claimed that Hughes was grateful because Dumarr had given Hughes a ride one night when he saw Hughes wandering in the Nevada desert). The press had a field day with the story, but eventually declared Dummar to be a fraud. Dummar went on to sing in the casinos in Reno, Nevada, before returning to the blue-collar jobs that he had worked before his brush with fame. In The Sixteenth Minute, the reader empathizes with Dummar as a sort of “every man.”
The presentation of the Dummar material is the fatal flaw in The Sixteenth Minute. About half of the book’s space is devoted to a story that has been already been told in a book and a movie (both of which were titled Melvin and Howard). If the authors had focused on Melvin’s post-fame life, the material might seem interesting, but mostly they recount Dummar’s well-worn tale.
Other, Shorter Profiles
The other profiles are shorter and – at times – this material is quite good. I particularly enjoyed the look at Maury Wills, the former L.A. Dodger star who also managed the Seattle Mariners. Wills enjoyed an athlete’s fame, winning the National League’s Most Valuable Player award and allegedly enjoying an affair with Doris Day. (Day said that the affair never happened). Later, Wills plunged into addiction before devoting himself to his recovery.
Interestingly, the formerly famous have different reactions to their post-fame lives. Singer Irene Cara and ex-Speaker of the House Jim Wright both fight bitterness in recounting “what might have been.” On the other hand, ex-boxer Gerry Cooney and ex-wrestler Mick Foley both seem to be enjoying their post-fame lives.
One problem with these profiles is that some of the people are not far enough away from their “famous years.” For instance, Mick Foley and ex-Clinton friend Susan McDougal were – as of 2004 – still fairly well known. One could argue that each had yet to reckon with what it would mean to be unknown again.
Authors Guinn and Perry do only a so-so job in presenting their material. In addition to the disastrous decision to focus on Dummar, they can also be mean-spirited toward their subjects. For instance, they include the following description of singer Kelly Clarkson –
“There was that fabulous head, with its perfect, designer-spritzed hair and that glowing smile known to millions. And attached to it there was this everyday, heretofore unseen-by-the-masses body, with its graceless, adolescent stride, its thick arms, and its sweet tubby tummy. … She [Clarkson] knew something had to be done” (p. 346).
Another issue is that the authors – at times – deviate from their stated purpose. In the McDougal and Wright chapters, Guinn and Perry seem just as interested in taking shots at conservatives as they are at recounting the life stories of the chapters’ purported subjects. The McDougal chapter’s title – “The Martyr” – certainly reveals Guinn and Perry’s perspective.
The Sixteenth Minute is worth a look should you come across a copy. I would suggest “cherry picking” the book for the chapters that most interest you and ignoring the other material.