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'Get out of jail free' celebrity

CelebritiesEntertainmentDVDs and MoviesDaniel BaldwinLos Angeles International AirportParis HiltonE! Entertainment Television, Inc.

SO LET ME ask you: When you heard the news that actor Daniel Baldwin, who had been arrested in Santa Monica for allegedly stealing an SUV, was released without bail because — and this is the tricky part — his "high profile" makes him less of a flight risk, what was your first reaction?

Because mine was this: I've been in the entertainment industry for almost 17 years, and it sometimes feels as if I've spent 16 of them in casting sessions. I'm not as good at placing actors and their names as I should be, but I keep up. But Baldwin could march into my house right now and make me a cheese omelet — assuming, of course, he brought some eggs and cheese — and I still wouldn't know who the hell he was. He's some sort of a Baldwin brother, I gather. But that doesn't quite narrow it down, does it?

I grasp the underlying logic. A truly famous person, with widely recognizable facial features, might not be much of a flight risk. If (pulling a name out of the air) Tom Cruise is arrested for (again, this is just a blue-sky exercise) selling cigarettes to minors, releasing him on his own recognizance would be a perfectly rational decision. Cruise is an internationally famous movie star. It'd be awfully hard for him to skulk through the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX, hopping a flight to Manila, without being spotted.

Baldwin may be a gifted entertainer — as I mentioned, I am unfamiliar with the gentleman's work — but the most recent entries in his IMDb listing, films such as "Double Tap" and "Shut Up and Shoot!" and "The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell," suggest a career less in the vein of "I hear Oscar(TM) calling!" and more along the lines of "Just grab a DVD from the remainder bin and let's go."

The problem here is that with so many z-list celebrities running around, it's getting harder and harder to determine who, exactly, is really famous and who isn't. Or, because all these celebrities seem to end up getting arrested at some point, the question is, which ones are flight risks and which ones aren't?

Like every dying civilization, Hollywood loves its class distinctions. And now we have a new one: The truly famous (think Jack Nicholson; think Paris Hilton) are beyond bail. Everybody else has to post. But who do we trust to draw the line? Not the judge in the Daniel Baldwin case, that's for sure.

Perhaps only those celebrities deemed by the court, in consultation with the E! Entertainment Network, to be instantly and unmistakably identifiable — that means you not only know the face but the name, some trivia and the award he or she received that he or she didn't really deserve — can scoot out of jail and go directly to rehab, or wherever. Someone less etched into the national consciousness — your Rep. Henry Waxmans, your Wilmer Valderramas, as talented as they are, and as "famous" as they may be in the sense that when you see them, you're all "Hey, I know that guy! Isn't that the guy from that thing with the girl from that show?" — just won't make the cut.

It's possible that a tragic subcategory might emerge: celebrities who used to be firmly in the no-bail-needed class but who, through overzealous plastic surgery, explosive weight gain, alarming weight loss, advanced age or some combination of all four have stretched or ballooned or wrinkled themselves into oblivion.

Talk about your A-lists! The minute a famous finger is printed or a famous face is mug shot, agents and publicists will be petitioning the court, demanding their client be released without bail, citing Q scores and Nielsens and box-office receipts as supporting evidence. I mean, it's one thing to be arrested for child pornography. But if you have to post bail, then you know your career is over.


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