In 1996, at the request of Kris Jenner, I was asked to produce a video commemorating the 20th anniversary of her husband's gold medal at the 1976 Summer Olympic Games in Montreal. We created the presentation using a lot of videotape Kris provided documenting her life with (then) Bruce Jenner, which was presented at an Atlanta nightclub during the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
My wife and I were invited to the party, where we met a number of sports and entertainment celebrities. The first cut I produced was a three-minute video focused on Bruce's triumph. But the nearly 10-minute cut Kris wanted was the one presented, and after about three minutes, few were paying attention. As you might imagine, the stars of the show were Kris and her children, and oh yeah, Bruce won a gold medal.
I found Bruce to be personable, a guy whose athletic career morphed into a mediocre acting career and then pretty much nothing by the time I met him. He was famous in his own right, which Kris wasn't, having been married to the late attorney Robert Kardashian of O.J. Simpson trial fame.
So, I was surprised when my wife told me about a cable show called "Keeping Up With the Kardashians." I had no clue why anyone might want to keep up with that clan, but Bruce was a regular and I guess the idea was, we would be fascinated with this blended family's lives. I think I watched one episode and was bored stiff. But Kris had a plan. She would get famous by presenting herself, Bruce and their kids as glamorous people that average folks living mundane lives would want to know more and more about.
And Kris was right. It paid off big time.
There is nothing real about "reality" TV shows, and so it was with "KUWTK." The producers create scenarios and the "talent" act out within the guidelines. But Kris's brood performed well and eventually emerged as national celebrities. Unlike those with real talent, say Bruce Springsteen or Nicole Kidman, they became famous for being famous, and that proved to be a business model other celebrity wannabes would emulate, especially in the digital age.
As P.T. Barnum said, "Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public."
A day doesn't go by when I don't see a C or B lister, a Hollywood has-been or some fashion model doing outrageous things with the goal of attracting the media spotlight. Last weekend, a musician I never heard of, Kacey Musgraves, played her guitar on "Saturday Night Live" ... in the nude. You can watch it online. So, what do you suppose was all over the internet? The song she sang or that she was naked when she sang it
I don't recall Tony Bennett singing any songs naked. He just performed and won worldwide fame.
But this is how those of middling, fading or no talent go about attracting public attention. If you can't perform nude on national TV and you're a struggling musician, actor or fashion model who's been on the covers of a couple of magazines, then have your publicist send a picture of you wearing a bikini or Speedo on some beach to People, US, Wonderwall and everywhere else. You could be famous, too!
Fame is always fleeting. There are a relatively small number who stand the test of time and others who maybe get a drive-by glimpse of fame, what we used to call "one-hit wonders." The former Bruce Jenner was one of these. He was a national hero in 1976 when America badly needed one. I have a framed Sports Illustrated cover of him crossing the finishing line in the final event of the decathlon.
Now Kaitlyn Jenner, 71, struggles for relevance, clinging to that elusive fame, her latest effort a failed run as a Republican for California governor in the recent recall election. I doubt she ever believed she would win, but her candidacy produced huge publicity results, which was always the point.
Perhaps "Keeping Up With Kaitlyn" is on the horizon.
Kevin Foley owns KEF Media in Atlanta.