Should We Judge Stars By Their Personal Lives?

Not too long ago I saw a discussion in a Facebook group about a silent era actor who, it was revealed, had strongly supported keeping his wealthy neighborhood “White People Only.” Naturally this was disheartening news, and more than one person declared that they would never look at him the same way again.

I could hardly blame them, but it got me thinking: What do we do if we love a star’s work onscreen, but discover that they were less-than-charming off screen? Is it reasonable to judge a star by their personal life?

Temperamental Mae Murray.


This question has bugged me for awhile now, because I know exactly what it’s like to completely adore a star and then find out completely cringe-worthy trivia about their lives. Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and say, “People will still remember and love your work in the future, long after you’re gone–are you sure you want to do this thing? Are you sure? Please, stop swaying, give me that gallon of whiskey and blow out those matches you’re holding next to the School for Orphans of the Great War.”

Obviously, we can’t change how people acted in the past. They were human and they made mistakes just like everyone does. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to hear their version of events–why they acted “temperamental” on a set, why they were divorced no less than six times, and so forth. And yes, there are times when a certain shocking story has been exaggerated or simply isn’t true (and naturally those are the stories that circulate a hundred times over). But in many cases we will simply never, ever know exactly what was going through an individual’s mind way back when.

Or in Aubrey’s case, what was up with the nosebleedstache.

The only thing we really and truly have for sure is their work, also known as “the thing these people are remembered for in the first place.” And that work can reveal an awful lot about what they held near and dear, even if they didn’t always live up to their own onscreen ideals.

At times, those ideals did indeed reflect their creator: Lloyd really was an optimistic go-getter who doggedly worked his way up to success, and Lillian Gish’s life was virtually scandal-free. But others were decidedly not like their onscreen images. Playful Larry Semon, for instance, was a dour taskmaster. And some stars, while they may have been associated with wholesome films, struggled with one demon or another. Maybe it was alcoholism (practically the Hollywood occupational disease). Maybe they had affairs or experienced the pain of a spouse having affairs. But, here’s the key: whatever was going on behind the scenes, to the public many of them still symbolized positive things, whether it be romance, adventure, virtue, innocence, heroism, or just plain fun.

And Doug pretty much symbolized all of those things.

An example: Charlie Chaplin had approximately ten bazillion, err, girlfriends, which he freely admitted himself (reading that was not a fun moment). He was mixed up in scandals surrounding his divorce from Lita Grey and his relationship with Joan Barry, not to mention those very public accusations of communism. In his later years he could be described as arrogant. But what about his work, which was arguably the most important part of his life, which he poured his heart and soul into, to the delight of millions around the globe?

In Easy Street his character restores peace and order to a street riddled with crime. In The Kid he takes care of an orphaned child. In City Lights he gives what little he has to help a blind girl get surgery to restore her sight. He made incisive observations about humanity and the industrial age in Modern Times. And that’s just a few of his many films, brimful of thoughtful messages and positive morals (goofy Keystones notwithstanding).

Moral: You will shed a tear. You just will.

To audiences, Chaplin was someone who made films anyone could see, whether they were very young or respectably old. They brought laughter to folks in every walk of life, from poor families who couldn’t afford higher-priced entertainment to soldiers in the trenches. So what, in the long run, is the most relevant part of Chaplin’s legacy for us, the fans? The details of his messy private life, which you can uncover after some digging…or his highly influential work?

There are other examples that could be made, of course. And you’ll find that there are various shades of gray everywhere you look. One star might’ve had a bunch of affairs, but was also noted for giving generously to charity. Another might’ve had an addiction to morphine, but only because he had been prescribed it by doctors (which wasn’t uncommon back then). And even many of these folk took care to appear genteel and put-together in public. Isn’t this an important thing to consider, too?

Unfortunate Wally Reid posing with his family.

And then there are examples that are more complicated than others. Let’s take someone like Emil Jannings. He was an immensely brilliant, Expressionist actor, someone who could say more with just his posture than many actors could in a whole series of films. His performance in The Last Laugh is one of the greatest ever put to film. And, from 1933 to 1945, he chose to star in several German films that promoted Nazism. When the Allies invaded Germany it is said that he carried his Best Actor Oscar with him in hopes that his association with Hollywood would protect him.

So here we have a complicated example of an actor whose life offscreen did eventually influence his onscreen work. However, the most well-known period of his career, covering classics like Faust or The Last Command, has nothing to do with Nazi propaganda. I’d say that Jannings deserves appreciation…but it would be understandable if it was with some reservations.

Plus, there’s that shiny Faust costume.

So as you’ve probably gathered, since we know and love these people through the legacy of their work, it can–and arguably should–be considered separately from their private lives, as hard as that might be at times. Now and then we might be forced to use our best judgement, as in the case of someone who made at least one distasteful film and several brilliant ones (D.W. Griffith had just sprung immediately to your minds). But generally, it’s the work that shaped popular culture the way we know it that’s going to count the most.

After all, affairs, intrigues, and scandals might fade into the mists of time, only to be discovered by searching through books or archives. But those early films? (That is, the ones that have survived those mists of time?) They are perhaps the most intimate connection we have with the stars and directors of long ago. Through them you can get glimpses of what was important to them, what they found romantic or exciting…and perhaps a small glimpse of who they wish they could be.

54 thoughts on “Should We Judge Stars By Their Personal Lives?

  1. Lea, I enjoyed this article very much. I am sure we all have thoughts, ideas, etc. we like to keep hidden from the public. This article reminds us that our favorite stars, singers, etc. are flawed, complicated human beings just like us, and their on-screen personas are just that – personas. That’s why it’s called “acting”! Emil Jannings is a perfect example – I really enjoy watching him, despite some of the unsavory activities of his later life. Like you, I think we can enjoy their talent without getting too tangled up in what kind of person they were in real life. Great article, thanks for writing!

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Stephanie! There are some actors and filmmakers whose work is so good and means so much to so many people that it seems a little unfair to simply zero in on their flaws.

  2. Judge not…

    We’re all a mix of good and bad, clever and stupid. We all have our friends, supporters and detractors – maybe even enemies. What we or our favourite filmmakers create is not something apart from us, it may be the best part of us. We should all be remembered for the best that was in us.

  3. It’s a thought-provoking post, and certainly has provoked some thoughts in me. There is another side to this, however. Strictly speaking, as public figures, stars put their “private” lives into the view of their public and leveraged their lives as part of their careers. In that sense we, as consumers and historians of their public personas, have a responsibility to make informed choices about what we consume and how we present that information. We define ourselves, to some degree, by those aspects of the stars we admire and read about that we choose to identify with. When we say, “I admire Olivia deHavilland because she was a feisty lady who stood up for herself and didn’t let studio bosses walk all over her,” we are, in fact, celebrating her (public and historical) personal life. If we take that step, we must then also acknowledge her faults and failings, and, one would hope, learn from them.

    • Thanks for an equally thought-provoking comment! I gingerly agree that details about someone’s personal life becoming public is very much a price of fame, and is really almost inevitable. (Although, there are times when private information was leaked whether the individual liked it or not.) Historians in particular have a responsibility to present information carefully (this is another topic I think about quite a bit). Sometimes, something as minor as the way a sentence is worded can cause an error to circulate like crazy.

      I’d add that there might be some distinction between “personal life” and “character traits,” too. A star can have good traits such as generosity, confidence, and, in the case of de Havilland, “feistiness,” and still have some skeletons in the closet. Just a thought, anyhow.

      • As with so many things, it’s not a simple issue. Of course, I hope I don’t come across as saying that I think history books should focus on scandals and rumors! On the other hand, knowing something like a given star’s political or racial views might tell us something about how much has changed, and what was “acceptable” in a different era, vs what would be today. To the degree that they made this public, as in the example you gave of a star who campaigned to keep their neighborhood “white,” they certainly seem like fair game. Does that mean that we have to burn all their movies? I would hope not! But, it can inform us about the times and prevent an unhealthy romanticization of the past.

  4. I do tend to separate the person from the art in most cases. It can be very difficult if the person has been particularly outspoken in their bigotry, or committed truly heinous crimes. I will admit, there are one or two actors I just can’t stand to watch for those reasons. But in most cases, I think it’s fine to enjoy someone’s work while acknowledging their personal faults, or to enjoy/appreciate a “problematic” piece of art (like Gone With the Wind) while acknowledging its issues. We are all flawed, complex beings, and it isn’t fair to distill that complexity through either blind admiration OR absolute disapproval.

    • If someone is known for having a specific vice (say, treating women terribly) and shamelessly parades that vice in his films (by, say, peppering them with weak, objectified female characters) then that’s indeed problematic. His work promotes harmful values and deserves criticism. But if a person’s work is genuinely uplifting and means a great deal to many people, it might be best not to dwell on their flaws.

  5. This is an interesting and difficult question. Theoretically, I believe in separating an artist’s work and personal life and judging a performance fairly on its own terms. But in actuality, I’ve never been able to compartmentalize things so neatly.

    I don’t go actively looking for lurid details on actors’ lives, but you do learn things, and there are some cases where I’ve been soured on a person’s work to the point that I just can’t enjoy it anymore, whatever its merits. And then there are those instances where I can just look past. I guess it has a lot to do with the nature of the “misbehavior” and with our own values and backgrounds.

    But I think your whole point stars’ work often revealing what they held dear is an excellent one.

    A little different situation, but this reminds me of a quotation I saw somewhere or other regarding Norman Rockwell. Not that there were skeletons in his closet, but he was sometimes accused of painting an America that was too idealized and unrealistic. The reply I saw was that while he may not have always painted with exactness the actual lives of Americans, what he did do is paint us as we are in our hearts.

    I’ve always remembered that. And so couldn’t Chaplin and a host of others also be said to have “painted us as we are in our hearts”? And doesn’t that in a very large sense rise above their human foibles?

    • I think it’s only human for us to find some stars unlikable, and understandable if some sordid details can ruin the enjoyment of their films. All of us probably have a moral line that, once crossed, is very very tough to overlook. (I sometimes find that in some of those cases, the individual’s work wasn’t always 100% stellar to begin with.)

      Speaking of Rockwell, as a born and raised Midwesterner who’s from a great little town, I like to declare that I grew up in Mayberry with a childhood designed by Norman Rockwell himself. The hyperbole is what’s in my heart. 😉

  6. ” Now and then we might be forced to use our best judgement, as in the case of someone who made at least one distasteful film and several brilliant ones (D.W. Griffith had just sprung immediately to your minds)”
    The problem with Griffiths is that his most brilliant film is also his most distasteful. If we’re making judgments, Griffith deserves to be in a lower circle of hell than Jannings. Jannings was stupid enough to put himself in a situation where monsters ruled and his cowardice damned him. Griffith only had the pressure of his own moral choices pushing him along.

    • You know, I’m not sure if I’d pick BOAN as Griffith’s most brilliant film–perhaps Broken Blossoms would fit that bill a bit better. As far as Jannings vs. Griffith, I’d say that we can certainly deplore Griffith’s choices in BOAN, but can still appreciate films like True Heart Susie or Intolerance. As far as Jannings’s support of Nazism, it was definitely his moral choice and sadly one that he evidently believed in–I read somewhere he was on the Board of Directors for Germany’s UFA.

  7. This is such a wonderful take on an issue that isn’t really addressed in the classic film community. I feel that we as fans make the decision to study these stars’ personal lives, and when we make that choice we open a Pandora’s box, so to speak. I really feel that we should be prepared to face some of the negative aspects of the stars’ private affairs and not let it affect our view of their work because we are the ones who decide to find the skeletons in their closets in the first place.

    Also, I’m sorry for commenting here, but I also wanted to let you know that I nominated you for a Liebster Award from my classic film blog, Musings of a Classic Film Addict! You can find the post and the questions at . I hope you have time to participate!

    • There’s a quote from Tolkien that I’ll softly say to myself when I stumble across some disturbing info: “The Dwarves delved too greedily, and too deep.” 😉

      Thank you for the Liebster, much appreciated! p.s. Nice profile pic!

  8. I am glad that Roscoe Arbuckle was innocent of raping Virginia Rappe. I enjoy his work, especially with Buster Keaton. If he had actually raped her I couldn’t watch his films. But back then, people thought he did it (thanks to William Randolph Hearst) and they didn’t want to see him onscreen.

    • Those rumors still won’t die. 😦 Happily, there’s a historian out there who’s been working on THE authoritative book on Arbuckle’s life for years now. He’s using as many primary sources as possible, so it should be a fantastic work!

  9. I think the comments here address the issue that was stated succinctly a long time ago: hate the sin but love the sinner. In the case of actors, even the most talented are not known for their superior intellect. Jannings was probably clueless about making Nazi films. After all, he was just acting. I think other fields in the performing arts provide better examples. Symphony conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler conducted the Berlin Philharmonic during the Nazi years. He was not a party member and avoided politics. He was just playing Beethoven, Brahms, etc. like he always had done. But was tone deaf to the symbolism: using his talent for the service of the Nazis. He wasn’t a bad man. He just didn’t connect the dots.

    • In Jannings’s case, while his life story admittedly isn’t super familiar to me, Nazism does seem to have been a movement he believed in. He was apparently on the board for Germany’s UFA, if I’ve got my sources right (maybe don’t quote me on that quite yet). And if the story of him toting around his Oscar statuette is true, that does point to him being very aware of how his propaganda work would be viewed by the “other side.” But your point is still clear. Some artists were in service of their art, first and foremost.

  10. Thank you for a thought-provoking article that rings true today as much as it did during the golden era of film. If we consider the context of the time, it can be safely assumed that the vast majority of stars would have held attitudes and beliefs that we today would see as sexist, racist and bigoted – in a world which held consensus over issues concerning race, gender, sexual orientation, class and a range of social issues. It would be easy to condemn them for their beliefs – and I don’t feel we should necessarily absolve them for those beliefs. However, it’s an interesting thought regarding how we view their work. As mentioned above, Griffith’s most celebrated work is also his most appealing in terms of story material – yet he followed it up with Intolerance, which despite being a flop at the time certainly stands as an antithesis to Birth Of A Nation in terms of attitudes. Definitely sharing this! Many thanks!

    • Thank you for sharing, that’s always a thrill to hear! 🙂 I like your points about people vastly having different views that were nevertheless commonplace at the time. And it reminded me of an article where someone pointed out that we haven’t come by our more “enlightened” views all on our own–we’ve been taught them. I’ll quote her: “…If you believe exactly what you’ve been taught to believe, then surely you can see that the same was true for people who lived 100 or 200 years ago. It doesn’t make them hideous people, it just makes them products of their time, just like you. They were just going along with the crowd, and if the crowd got something wrong, then the crowd should get blamed for that, not them.” 100 years from now, society might find something about OUR common beliefs troubling. Only time will tell.

  11. Good post!

    I think it really depends on the scandal in question. For example, Keith Richards will always be a totem for excessive decadent escapades yet he is still beloved and revered as rock’n’roll survivor.

    Conversely, there was a British DJ and TV personality named Jimmy Savile, who was a paragon of charity and goodwill in the 70’s and 80’s despite his eccentric personality. He was knighted for his charity work and rubbed shoulders with royalty, yet after he died it was exposed that he was in fact a vile and shameless paedophile who even preyed on the sick in hospitals. Worst still, the police knew about it at the time but Savile held the money he raised for charity to exchange for their silence. needless to say his name is now disgraced and has effectively removed from the history books of good grace.

    This might be an extreme case, but even our greatest heroes have some skeletons in their closets. So, for me, while it probably seems a little spurious to have a sliding scale of scandals, sometimes it is necessary, and with hindsight being what it is, there are cases for letting bygones be bygones. But balance is necessary so acknowledging their flaws as well as their dedication and contributions to their craft is crucial.

    • Yes, I’d say there are some vices so hideous and so utterly immoral that we almost have no choice but to let them overshadow the individual’s work. I’m reminded of an essay where a film critic argued: “No level of production values or technically proficient filmmaking could make it worthwhile to watch a movie that indulged in child pornography, or that relentlessly celebrated the Holocaust, or that overtly romanticized the degradation and abasement of women. Cross a certain line, and message overwhelms medium, substance overwhelms style, what you have to say drowns out how you might be saying it.” Which is on a slightly different topic, but the sentiment is the same.

  12. Excellent article Lea, as always. Edgar Degas deeply conservative, did not believe in any social reform, education should be only for the few, and was an avowed anti-semite, yet his art a revolutionary, unconventional and experimenter. Amedeo Modigliani one of the great modernist artists of the 20th century in life abused alcohol and drugs and was physically violent.
    Peter Paul Rubens is one of the few who, according to accounts, was very personable.
    As to Jannings I have seen archive footage from the 40’s of the actor accepting an award from none other then Joseph Goebbles for his contribution to German cinema. Jannings would have known the full significance of this gesture. Jannings pre-war performances are brilliant his professor in ‘The Blue Angel’ heartbreaking, his compatriot and co-star in that film took a very different stance in those later years. Dietrich, as it turned out was on the right side of history.
    The Berlin Symphony Orchestra was at the very heart of German patriotism during the war and played throughout the conflict. Futwangler, not an adherent to Nationalsim Socialism, he stated he always wiped his hand whenever he had to shake hands with any officials, nevertheless his decision to remain with the orchestra during hostilities is still controversial. Karajan remains a controversial figure, his career started in very difficult times and to be honest few of us would be heroes in the same circumstances, but instead of ignoring this period in later life as a public figure he could have explained more about the nature of the issues and conditions in those years.
    On a rather less dramatic scale I was disappointed to read in the brilliant ‘Adventures of a Hollywood Secretary’ (highly recommended) that Corinne Griffith, a wonderfully talented star, was very snooty, seemed only interest in her pet dogs, and not liked much. I still enjoy her work. So many stars were expected to embody the ideal in every way in reality that is impossible as there is a huge gulf between that ideal and the faulty creatures they/we are. As to character traits fame is unnatural and distorting, it amplifies the qualities of the individuals on the receiving end of it.
    We are all creatures of our time and our attitudes are shaped by this. As has been rightly stated there will be things we say and do now that will be seen as reprehensible to later generations.

    • Hi, Sheila! Thanks for adding to the Jannings, etc. discussion, very interesting info. I strongly agree that future generations will likely be judging us the same way that we judge the generations of the past. There’s a great deal of “presentism,” as the term goes, in how we regard the past, and while we may be more enlightened due to how fast information whizzes around the globe we’re hardly perfect (and, ya know, never can be–that’s just human nature).

  13. I often wonder how other researchers feel when they come upon some piece of negative information about their subject (if they are working on a specific individual). In my case, I don’t feel that just because I devote lots of time looking into someone’s life that I need to be some sort of cheerleader for them. I’ve recently discovered a bit of (unfortunately vague) information about the person I’m working on that some may deem negative, but it doesn’t change how I view him. It’s just more information.

    • Just stumbling across hard-to-stomach info as a fan can be tough. I do think that presenting info in a balanced way is a huge responsibility, whether the info is good or bad. It’s an intimidating task, too. In a way, the subject’s life is in your hands. It’s something I’ve been pondering a lot lately, as I’m sure you know!

  14. I really love your article, since I think it tackles a very hard topic which should most certainly be discussed more often! Thanks for introducing some marvelous points, I simply adore the last paragraph for instance! 🙂 I totally agree that if an imperfect person creates something that is far closer to perfection than he is, it’s the artwork that matters, not his personal affairs. After all, supposing that his artwork really is a masterpiece, it will live its own life after some time, it just can’t be helped! Art historians acknowledge paintings whose painters we don’t even know by name. Yet they’re masterpieces and worthy of our attention! But I think the problem mostly comes up with movie stars and directors – actually I’ve never heard someone saying that he refuses to look at Caravaggio’s pictures because he once killed someone. Why couldn’t the same be relevant to movies?

    • Those are some great points (especially to a fellow art history lover!). It’s true that we seem to hold actors and directors to a very high standard. Maybe it’s because we’ve grown up with all of those lurid Hollywood scandal stories. And perhaps our tendency to gravitate toward attractive stars makes us perk up our ears more when we hear disappointing info about them. Could be a factor, anyways.

      • There is indeed something about drama that makes it harder to separate the person from the product. In the static fine arts and in music, I don’t have so much trouble. Example: Yesterday I was listening to Celibidache conducting Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll. (Wow…!) The fact that Richard Wagner was a pretty despicable person in many ways doesn’t interfere with my enjoyment of it at all. You get wrapped up in the beauty of the music and nothing else matters.

        Not sure why it’s different in the case of the performing arts. We see the actor physically on the screen for extended periods which may lead to a kind of deeper, unconscious identification—but then, that’s not true of directors. I’m sure our conditioning to Hollywood scandal—voluntary or otherwise—has something to do with it.

  15. Maybe we owe it to everyone to recognize what is good in their lives. “Judge not least you be judged.” I would hate to give up the artistry and poetry of Woody Allen, Pablo Picasso and Charlie Chaplin, for example just because they proved all too human and fallible like I am in their personal lives.
    There really is so much more to consider about this question especially in this age of internet access when anyone can post a blog and gossip spreads like wildfire. Furthermore, in this age and in every other age whether sources are primary and trustworthy or not is rarely considered, unfortunately, when retelling stories about public figures.
    Great thought-provoking post and stimulating replies. Thanks so much for this.

    • You’re welcome, Diane. It’s wonderful to see all the comments here–thank you, everyone!

      There really is a tendency for folk to believe even the most outrageous stories about actors, simply because they are actors and well OF COURSE they behave like that all the time. 😉 Sadly, spreading unfounded gossip seems to be an industry for some writers–Hollywood Babylon springs to mind.

  16. Great topic for a post. Overall, I agree, their work outweighs their shadier exploits, but I do sometimes struggle to reconcile stars’ private lives with their public, often brilliant and influential, work. This extends to music and literary artists, as well, at least for me. It’s easier with silent/classic stars, although I really do wish I had never learned about Chaplin’s nasty side…the current ones are tougher to forgive because it’s happening now. It’s cool to see others’ thoughts on this.

    • A friend of mine made a great point: If a living artist has a “dark side” or supports causes that we aren’t comfortable with, we can simply not pay to see their films, buy their music, etc. While they are still free to create, we’re also free not to decide whether or not to lend them our support.

  17. I just read a novel on this theme, actually. It was about people trying to dig up dirt on Chaplin, one of them a huge fan questioning the morality of what he’s doing.

  18. Heidegger is somewhat more problematic than Jannings. But support of the 3rd Reich really isn’t that different than support of Stalin’s Soviet Union. Hollywood likes to portray the Blacklist period more simply than it deserves. Some of those communists really were enemies of the free world. I find that topic fascinating. (But I don’t believe there’s a genius or big star out there that is really exemplary. Most of them – the stars, especially, live intense lives and are surrounded by pressure and temptation and way too much money and emptiness.)

    • This is an old comment but it looks like I missed it back then! Just wanted to say that I agree the Blacklist period isn’t always portrayed accurately, and that the old Soviet Union was certainly as abhorrent as the Nazi regime (it’s baffling that we don’t hear much about Stalin’s atrocities).

  19. The pressure and possibility of epic public failure these artists face on a daily basis is so far beyond my personal realm of experience I cannot imagine it. Wouldn’t be able to listen to the overwhelming majority of my favorite musicians – substance abuse remains an occupational hazard – or enjoy very many beloved filmmakers, actors and actresses without ignoring at least some true stories of hideous misbehavior.

  20. I’m way late for the party but I just have to agree wholeheartedly with the whole premise of your post and I get into this argument time and time again.

    My contract with an artist is their work and their work only.

    Wagner was a proto-Nazi. But he was a great composer, and you just have to dog it! I don’t know or care WHAT Woody Allen did……there is no taking back all the movies he made between 1968 and 1991! They’re genius! Even this Bill Cosby scandal…..I can’t give back growing up on Fat Albert, “Best of Bill Cosby”, “Let’s Do It Again”, “Mother Jugs And Speed”, the Jello commercials, Sesame Street and “The Cosby Show”, it’s already in me! Tough as it is to swallow!

    And for US… one symbolizes this more than D.W. Although this DID affect at least one of his his works. But other than that – it’s the work that counts, and the private life is private. And you’re right, how do we REALLY know what happened?

    I am a Beatles collector. I have, for instance, over 80 hours of rehearsal tapes from the “Let It Be” sessions. When you actually listen to the session tapes, the “official” story of the sessions becomes less black and white. One writer writes one thing and it every other writer repeats it for years! (this was a GREAT lesson in that new Douglas Fairbanks book! Talk about debunking myths!)

    Anyways……great article…….and you are right. And thank God no one is writing a book or article about ME. How would I look in print? Who knows what moments they’d dig up?

    • Very much yes to “how do we REALLY know what happened?” Writers will sometimes go blow-by-blow through certain scandals, giving a timeline complete with what people were supposedly saying at the time, even though the events happened decades ago–or even a hundred years ago! In many cases we can certainly piece together an idea of how a scandal happened, and compare witness accounts, etc. but we can never know precisely what took place. Even the witnesses probably couldn’t remember. Heck, I wouldn’t be able to remember the exact details of a certain day from a mere month ago, let alone from decades ago.

      The new Doug biography is a fabulous, perfect example of how to wade through fact and fiction (lots and lots of fiction). Tracey Goessel did an impeccable job!

    • Some great points, By the clock. When you talk about Bill Cosby: “I can’t give back growing up on Fat Albert…it’s already in me! Tough as it is to swallow!” See, that’s the very thing that sometimes makes it difficult for me to separate the work from the person. Through their work, they can in fact become a part of you, and when you find out these alleged horrid activities, it’s like they’ve violated something *inside* yourself.

  21. Excellent article. This is something I really struggle with.

    For what it’s worth, I believe that everyone – famous or not – is entitled to a private life. Denying anyone that is like denying someone a right to breathe. Being famous shouldn’t mean you give up all hope of privacy.

    That said, I don’t think you can just separate the artist from the person. Human beings aren’t built like submarines. We don’t have airtight doors that can just shut off parts of us. Each trait, quality, and flaw informs who we are as a whole person.

    Yes, maybe artists create the persona of themselves they wish they could be. It’s a nice thought. But wishing you were someone else doesn’t wash away past misdeeds. Especially if you never really stop “misdeeding”.

    We’re all flawed. And we all have our own personal rules of morality. Each person has a moral line that can’t be crossed. And once crossed we look at someone differently. Sometimes we can’t look at them at all.

    I used to enjoy Charlie Chaplin’s films. To find out that he had many affairs was disappointing, but not enough to turn me off his films. It was the revelation that many were with underage girls that soured me. I have not been able to watch another of his movies since.

    Talent is a wonderful gift. And nothing can eclipse it – except the actions of the artists themselves.

    • Hi there! Very thoughtful comment, thank you.

      As far as “the man and the artist,” it’s not so much that the artist can be separated, but the artist’s work itself. For instance, if you know nothing about a film’s creator, how would you regard it? What messages might you take away from it? If it’s work that’s touched countless people in a positive way, it likely can’t be just brushed aside (certain moral limits notwithstanding).

      Chaplin is one of the best examples. I can understand that you still feel uneasy about his work.Perhaps because he ended up happily married for much of his life, it’s not a dealbreaker for me, but I’m not sure exactly why. Hmm.

  22. No way! I have never understood people who hear something bad about a star or director (even sometimes nothing more than an accusation that has yet to be proved or disproved in court) and then instantly say they are never going to watch that individuals films or series ever again. The actor, director, writer, artist, singer etc and their screen performances/other work are two separate things.

    If I like a performance or a film, then I will continue to watch it regardless of whether or not other people tell me I shouldn’t because someone involved with it did something bad or distasteful. If they choose not to watch, then that is up to them, but they are not telling me what I can and can’t watch.

    If someone looked at a beautiful painting (not knowing anything about the artist) and complimented it, would they seriously then change their opinion and say it was rubbish and worthless if they found out that the person who painted it killed or abused someone? If they did that, then I think they need their head examined, because the art and the artist are two completely separate things.

    Nobody in the world is perfect. Many people are pretty decent, but still have flaws in some way. If we knew everything about every person living or dead, then I’m pretty sure nobody on the planet would buy or like anything made or created by someone else (clothes, food, art,films, literature etc)because there will always be someone out there who disagrees with someone else’s lifestyle choices or actions.

    A thought provoking post here, Lea.

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