Almost Famous: The Lives of Celebrity Assistants
It's awards season in Hollywood. The Grammys were a week ago and next week it's the big event, the Academy Awards. Jake Helpern, author of the book "Fame Junkies," introduces us to the people who get the stars ready for the spotlight, their assistants.
Mr. JAKE HALPERN (Author, "Fame Junkies"): Not long ago I attended a meeting of the Association of Celebrity Personal Assistants, or the ACPA. I'm not making this up. In fact, once a month the group gathers at a restaurant in L.A. to discuss the unique challenges of its profession.
This place is like a support group, explained a young man who introduced himself to me as the former assistant to Dom DeLuise. I was with Dom with three-and-a-half years but it was time to go, he explained. It's like any relationship; it's very personal. You know their lives and their private pain and when you leave it's like a breakup.
The ACPA also hosts a semi-regular training seminar for aspiring assistants at a hotel in Los Angeles.
Ms. RITA TATEEL (Celebrity Recruiter): Welcome to the 40th time we've given this class. We're not going to be able to tell you by the end of the evening how to be a celebrity...
Mr. HALPERN: That's Rita Tateel. Tateel describes herself as a celebrity recruiter, someone who gets stars to show up at various fundraisers and red carpet events. She claims to be someone who knows celebrities and their needs intimately. Tateel delivers her patented drill sergeant speech.
Ms. TATEEL: You know, and if you do find yourself sick, guess what? You're still going to be working, because it's not the kind of situation unless it's preplanned in advance in terms of vacation time, you know, where your employer's going to be able to just have his life just, you know, stop for a day because you're sick.
Mr. HALPERN: The bottom line, she concludes, is that you need to be available to serve your celebrity's every need and above all you must banish the word no from your professional vocabulary.
On top of that assistants are not paid particularly well. According to a survey administered by the ACPA the average salary of a celebrity personal assistant is $56,000, not all that much money by Hollywood standards, especially given the around-the-clock obligations that many of them have.
After class I chatted with one of the assistants, whose name is Dean Johnson, and he confessed that he isn't exactly sure where his job is leading him. Often being an assistant is not a means to an end, but an end itself. Part of the reason this is true, says Dean, is that many celebrities don't want to promote their assistants and, say, offer them a spot as an associate producer on one of their shoes.
Why not? Simple, says Dean. Just put yourself in your celebrity shoes. If you lost your assistant then you'd have to hire someone else to run your life and they might not get everything exactly right, or worse yet, they might say the dreaded two letter word; no.
HANSEN: Jake Halpern is the author of the book, "Fame Junkies."
(Soundbite of song "Fame" by David Bowie)
HANSEN: This is NPR News.
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