Groupies, Polanski and David Letterman: The ‘X factor’ of celebrity scandal

high-on-arrival_lPut aside the much-hyped shows on Oprah Winfrey, and the celestial ranking on bestseller lists, and what’s most noticeable about Mackenzie Phillips’ kiss-and-tell memoir, “High on Arrival,” is the predatory narcissism that was everywhere in her young life. Phillips’ out-of-control father, John, was just one of her surreal impediments. There was also her father’s out-of-control friends – people like Mick Jagger, who told Phillips after he locked the door, “I’ve been waiting for this since you were 10 years old.”

“This” referred to sex. Never mind that Phillips was 18 when Jagger trapped her in a bedroom – his quote attests to the arrogance of certain celebrities. When Phillips was 10, Jagger would have been in his late 20s – almost twice as old as the girl he decided he could wait for. John Phillips’ household was a Lord of the Flies cesspool where predatory behavior was a norm. John Phillips broke up his marriage with Mackenzie’s mom to bed a 16-year-old named Michelle (who would later become part of the Mamas and Papas group). Phillips and Jagger got away with their escapades, unlike Roman Polanski, who violated a 13-year-old and found himself on the wrong side of the law – and is now in a Swiss jail, aghast that authorities would pursue a 30-year-old criminal case against someone with his fame.

Mackenzie Phillips’ book, which I perused two days ago, spotlights the actress’ agony at (eventually) consenting to her father’s advances. Essentially, Mackenzie Phillips became her dad’s groupie. Countless people throw themselves at famous people in an effort to touch “stardom.” Mackenzie Phillips sets up her entire book in the second paragraph of the third page by calling John Phillips “fabulously rich and famous.” Then, on page 188, she issues an apology for him, telling readers, “My first instinct is to preserve his great legacy. He wasn’t a good father, but he was a musical genius and the truth about our relationship doesn’t change that.”

Actually, it does, just as Polanski’s rape of Samantha Jane Gailey eventually changed some people’s view of his art. Polanski took advantage of an aspiring actress whose mother worked in Hollywood. Gailey (who changed her last name to Geimer after getting married) told an interviewer several years ago that she risked being alone with Polanski as a 13-year-old because, “I wanted to be famous—a movie star.”

Gailey didn’t know that Polanski – in the months before meeting her in 1977 – got away with another underage encounter, that one with then-15-year-old Nastassja Kinski. Thanks to Polanski, Kinski would become the famous actress that Gailey wanted to be. Like Polanski, David Letterman knew that the opposite sex would seek him out for his fame and potential to advance their careers. Even convicted killers serving time behind bars (i.e., Scott Peterson, Richard Ramirez, et al.) have their groupies. It’s a disturbing phenomenon – a kind of “X factor” in X-rated cases that reach the public domain. “High on Arrival” is a cautionary tale – a memoir of someone who went to hell and forced her way back out.

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One Response to Groupies, Polanski and David Letterman: The ‘X factor’ of celebrity scandal

  1. thomasmedlicott says:

    If you lived the sixties’ counterculture then there was a lot of baggage you checked at the door when you married and had kids. Unfortunately, a lot of people already had children in the sixties and early seventies. I have a few friends with grown children who wished they had made better parenting choices. i.e. no dope smoking with the kids; better choice of friends and acquaintances; etc. I think most of us opted for a compromise from the so-called “hippie” lifestyle to mainstream marriage and family life. Of course we were not the celebrity crowd who used status, fame, and money to satiate prurient desire. If it seems wrong, then it’s probably wrong. I managed to steer around a lot of trouble with that philosophy, but was also lucky on many other occasions. The people we’ve been reading about in your article knew no boundaries for their desires. Tom Medlicott

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