After this week’s lurid stories from Hollywood about how one powerful man behaved appallingly with a generation of vulnerable young actresses, it’s easy to forget that the path to fame wasn’t always strewn with quite so many moral hazards.
At least it seemed that way. From all we know now about the behaviour of powerful men back in the 1970s, it may well have been as bad — or worse — back then.
In the early years of cinema, it seemed that all Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly or Danny Kaye had to do was put on a wonderful show of singing and dancing and in no time their names would be up in lights over Hollywood or Broadway.
Then those “put on a show and become a star” stories fell out of fashion for a while…until the late 1970s, when something similar returned to our screens. There was plenty of singing and dancing still, but there was a new addition or two.
I haven’t seen all their films, but off-hand I don’t remember Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers dancing on top of New York taxi cabs. Although I’m absolutely certain that legwarmers didn’t appear in any of them.
Perhaps surprisingly, both legwarmers and dancing on top of taxicabs would prove to be popular additions to the already well-established genre of some kids from the back streets making it to Hollywood or Broadway with just sheer talent and unbelievable hard work to offer.
Back then the belief that “everyone can become President” was strong.
The belief that if you’ve got talent, and you’re prepared to give it everything you’ve got, you can make it as a star in Hollywood or on Broadway was no less strong.
And that was the world into which a group of bright-eyed, talented and ambitious kids was launched.
They’d made it through the auditions. They were now students at the New York High School for the Performing Arts. We quickly came to know them as “the kids from ‘Fame’”.
I never saw the original film, but my younger sisters enjoyed the TV series based on the film, so every time it came on the TV I was told to be quiet on pain of the sort of terrible fates that only a younger sister can inflict on an older brother (principally, embarrassing him in front of his friends).
As I was a conscripted viewer, I never completely warmed to the TV series, but it was well done. And it came with a great theme song.
Sung by Irene Cara, who played Coco Hernandez in the original movie (but not in the TV series — Erica Gimpel played that role for TV), the song “Fame” is still a favourite to this day.
We can all identify with the positive and idealistic view of fame Irene Cara sings about. In fact if you were asked, unprompted, what fame might feel like, I’d venture you’d say something very similar to the chorus…
I’m gonna live for ever
I’m gonna learn how to fly
I see it coming together
People will see me and cry
I’m gonna make it to heaven
Light up the sky like a flame
I’m gonna live for ever
Baby, remember my name
Those words were written by Dean Pitchford, a songwriter, screenwriter, actor and director whose major claim to fame — apart from “Fame” itself — was the musical “Footloose”. He co-wrote many of the songs from that film, including the title track, which was a hit for Kenny Loggins, “Holding Out For A Hero”, a big hit for Bonnie Tyler and “Almost Paradise”.
He also co-wrote “Let’s Hear It For The Boy”, a big hit for Deniece Williams.
Dean Pitchford certainly knew how to pull a good song together.
For “Fame”, he worked with Michael Gore who did a fine job on the music, with the sort of pulsating beat and synthesizers you’d expect in a song from the 1980s. Great guitar solo as well, courtesy of session player extraordinaire, Elliott Randall.
I don’t know if things really were more innocent back in the 1970s and 80s when “Fame” was being created. I’d like to think so, but I suspect that’s just because I was too young to notice what was going on.
Back then, I wanted to be famous too…doesn’t everyone?…although the lack of any discernible talent held me back.
But if I was going to describe for you what I thought fame felt like to me back then, I probably couldn’t do better than Dean Pitchford and Michael Gore’s song.
It’s time to pull on your leotard, strap on those legwarmers and find a New York taxi to dance on top of. With vocals by Irene Cara here’s the song that picked up an Oscar in 1980, from the movie of the same name — “Fame”…