Liz Smith: Janet Jackson — “Legend” Or Mere “Celebrity?” No Matter — She’s in Mink!

And more from our Gossip Girl: Robert Downey Jr. feted in Hollywood for his life achievement — surviving!

“GOSSIP is the price we pay for peace!”

That giant talent Nora Ephron comments in her author’s notes in the November Vanity Fair that this is something I said to her on a panel five decades ago. It’s much too funny. I fully believe that Nora was the one who said it. Anyway, don’t miss Vanity Fair for November. Johnny Depp may be on the cover, but yours truly is also included.

Incidentally, in writer Nick Tosches’ examination of his famous friend Mr. Depp, he writes how intelligent the actor is. Then he recalls Johnny in the old days, filling up gas tanks at the local station, a cigarette dangling from his lips.

If true, it’s a wonder that Johnny Depp is still alive and still with us. I guess he likes to take chances.

* * *

“What becomes a legend most?” This is the immortal phrase that accompanies the still-going-despite-PETA ads for Blackglama luxury mink.

Created back in the mid-sixties by adman Peter Rogers, this campaign retains some of its fabled lure. In the days when Rogers of the Jane Trahey ad agency asked for and won every star from Judy Garland to Marlene Dietrich to Lauren Bacall to Diana Ross to Bettie Davis to Barbra Streisand to Rudolf Nureyev and Elizabeth Taylor, the ads have continued.

I was amazed to find the latest one, of Janet Jackson having her own private wardrobe malfunction, in the new pages of W and of Vanity Fair. This marks the second time Janet has done the “legend” ad. In the first, she was wrapped in mink up to her beaming face. Now, she has unwrapped. She is wearing skintight leather pants and knee-high boots, with a long fur vest thrown over her lean, taunt, naked torso. Janet has one hand hooked into her pants, pulling them down provocatively.

Her expression is stunning. Her short hair is wind-swept and she sports a challenging “Look, but don’t touch!” expression. I liked this ad very much, because I admire the one Jackson member who hasn’t traded solely on her famous brother’s fame.

I have admired her strength in breaking away from the dysfunction of her family and forging her own career. Yet she hasn’t abandoned family ties; I recall her standing behind Michael’s heartbroken little girl at his funeral, looking so concerned for the child. (Now, Paris looks almost as grown-up as Aunt Janet, and is nearly as self-composed.)

I have always thought Janet might someday make her mark, bigtime, on the screen or on the legit stage. For the time being, she sings, dances, takes an occasional role in a small movie and is fabulous to look at. And, the advertising “Mad Men” of today — who continue the Blackglama shoots — evidently think so too.

But when I telephoned my friend Peter Rogers, who dreamed it all up, he snorted that Janet can’t compare with his stars of yesterday and he thinks the ad is terrible, cheap and trashy. “She is the difference between celebrity and legend.” (Sigh! What do I know?)

I asked Peter if he gets paid for his brilliant original creation of asking “What becomes a legend most?” He went back to portrait painting down in New Orleans, saying, “No, of course not!”

* * *

IF YOU happen to be in Hollywood this Friday, you still might be able to score a ticket for “An Evening Honoring an Extraordinary Artist” at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

We do mean the Comeback Kid himself, Robert Downey Jr. Robert will receive the 25th Annual American Cinematheque Award. It’s going to be one of “those” nights in L.A. — paying homage to Robert will be Michael Douglas (readying his Liberace movie, with Matt Damon) … Jodie Foster Garry Shandling Robin Wright Joel Silver Anthony Michael Hall Jennifer Aniston (surely accompanied by her hunky Justin Theroux!) … and Jack Black. Samuel L. Jackson, Stephen Fry and Ben Stiller offer pre-taped tributes.

Robert is the go-to star when you explain that even the most reckless celebrity can teeter at the abyss and be declared a lost cause. But that it is possible to save oneself — with lots of help from friends and family who really care.

A minimum of self-pity and a soupcon of smarts doesn’t hurt either.

23 comments so far.

  1. avatar rick gould says:

    Sigh. Why is Janet Jackson trying to act like Rihanna, who is half her age and has far less class?
    Speaking of stars heading into middle-age, in a field even less forgiving of age than Hollywood, is the music biz: Mariah, 41; Janet, 46; and poor Whitney, 48. The last two haven’t had real hit in over a decade… all still big names… names in headlines still, tho more often tabloid headlines… what comes next?

  2. avatar B.eadle says:

    I think I agree with Peter Rogers.

    • avatar LandofLove says:

      Ditto. That “pulling down your pants” pose has always struck me as incredibly vulgar. As I recall the Blackglama ads of the past, they were always glamorous and even witty—definitely not cheap.

      • avatar Mr. Wow says:

        Dera LandofLove…

        At least she is not grabbing herself, in the manner of her late brother and Madonna.

  3. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    I agree with Peter Rogers. The ad is terrible, cheap and trashy. But then Janet Jackson, well, is terrible, cheap and trashy. And by the way, just what was in all those black garbage sacks she hauled out of her brother’s house just mere hours after he died under the cover of darkness which nonetheless were captured by the paparazzi? As for legend, the only legend associated with the Jacksons, including Michael, is the pathological dynsfunction.  I feel sorry for Michael, however, because of the “friends, family, and other assorted strangers” the family was the worst. And they are still interested only in the ATM of their brother.

    I also feel sorry for his children.  Prince and Paris in particular. If I ever run into Arnie Klein again I will pick up where Elizabeth Taylor left off. After the “unveiling ” of the children at the “memorial concert” in England, many looked at Prince and wondered. Does he merely look like Debbie Rowe? Or Debbie Rowe’s pimp as Elizabeth Taylor referred to him.  What a dreadful man.

  4. avatar Mr. Wow says:

    Dear Baby…

    I am sure Miss Jackson has her issues, but she’s the best of the bunch. Papa Joe, Mama Katharine and the other utterly untalented brothers and sisters are total parasites.

    My feeling is Janet was much less an enabler than the rest of his family, and alas, all his his friends–Miss Taylor didn’t do Michael any favors with her compulsion to protect people who were “sensitive and wounded.”  She loved him (or whatever) she put her blinders on and that was that. 

    Frankly, I can’t imagine the level of their conversation going much further than: “Oh, Michael, I was so abused by MGM”…Oh, Elizabeth, I was so abused by my father!”…OH, Michael, my father beat me too!”…Ohhhh, Elizbaeth.  Here. Does this necklace make you feel better?”

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      I really am content with my memory of “Hi, I’m Elizabeth Warner” and really am content with trying desperately to forget everything that followed. And everyone. Particularly the “entourage.”  She was Earth Mother. But, well, she got too earthy.

  5. avatar Mr. Wow says:

    Dear Baby…

    Actually, a lot of good things happened after “Hi, I’m Elizabeth Warner”—she  got her head around the concept of re-hab and that she might, just might, be an out of control drinker. (Privately, she was willing to admit she was a prescription drug addict.)  

    But no matter how hard she tried to control those addictions, and all her good works for AIDS, she was still herself and susceptible to all her old emotionalism and unreality.  And never ever, for a moment in her life was she alone–from cradle to grave there was an “entourage.”  I  don’t imagine she she spent one night completely alone in her entire 79 years.  I’m sure the thought came to terrify her–as much as she might romanticize such a normal thing.

    That she turned out as nice as she did–and she was, actually, a nice woman–is a fucking miracle.
    Michael?—that was just two childish egos bouncing off each other.  And she never had to work as hard as Michael did as a child.  Maybe she realized this, and was even more moved to be his champion.  Elizabeth’s  descriptions of a “nightmarish” MGM always made me laugh. Only Judy–who didn’t care for Miz Liz at all–used similar language.  And as the the great Ann Miller once said to me: “Judy was a genius, but a more tiresome person you cannot imagine; the eternal victim.  You know what?  We all worked hard, we all were used.  We all were underpaid.”

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      We all have the melodramas and some of us get lost in them and some of us don’t which is really what Ann Miller was saying.  She never did. Could have. Just refused to allow herself to.

      Elizabeth Taylor went downhill in some ways when she moved to Los Angeles. And went flying over a cliff with Michael Jackson. It was, well, bizarre. But as one of her many publicists during the latter years put it, when your star begins to fade you the best way to keep it twinkling is to latch on to someone else’s.  But yes, through it all she was a nice person. It’s just that, well, some people saw ET Warner on the caller id and not only didn’t answer but shut the answering machine off. And not just because of Michael Jackson.  

  6. avatar Jay Gentile says:

    I’m with Peter Rogers on this. Janet Jackson looks trashy, like she’s about to masturbate. Her music, too, has become so overtly sexual that I can’t enjoy it anymore. Her songs are just dirty. This girl seems to have huge sexuality issues since she’s forever flashing her bits.

  7. avatar D C says:

    Is the ad trashy?  Yes.  But so is 90% of advertising (if not more).  I didn’t have a body that good when I was 16.  And if I had her money I still couldn’t look like that.  Even with lots of surgery. 

    Hmmm… maybe a donut will make it all better…..

  8. avatar BeanCounter says:

    Janet.  Ms. Jackson?  You are no longer in the running towards becoming America’s Next Top Model.

  9. avatar strawberry45220 says:

    I could see if you were talking about  Kim Kardashian , Paris Hilton or somebody else, that are famous for just being famous that is the idea of celebrity, but this is Janet Jacskonn  she earned it and is just as much  accomplished as the women who did the campaign before and  surpassed some of them already, she sold over a 100 million recoerds , 10 numbers, ,  5 grammys  and   has been an oscar nominee. so yes  Peter  you don’t know
    and this is 2011 and not the 1960′s anymore  I think Janet and  blackgama did a wonderful Job bringing a fresh new  and modern look to  blackgama instead of grandmas’s  mink look ,  so maybe that’s why  you aren’;t getting paid  any more for ideas …. there dated.

    • avatar snowwhite4577 says:

      ABSOLUTELY!

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      The only thing Janet Jackson has earned is a reputation for being trashy and she earned that with her “wardrobe malfunction” that obviously was well-planned for the sole purpose of flashing her “nipple ring” that looked like some sort of kung-fu weapon which maybe it was.  Like it or not that little episode added a little “kinky” side to her image. She wears it well. Along with her Blackglama.  Or should that be underneath her Blackglama?  

      • avatar TheTexasMom says:

        Baby, what is your definition of earned?   The multiple Grammy Awards, film and TV roles were not earned?

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        She played off Michael just like the others did. She was just more successful at it than they were. Just my opinon. But an opinion others share.

        Regardlss of anything she has worked hard of late to present a trashy image.  And that is what people see now. Particularly in this Blackglama ad.  Someone pointed out elsewhere that Cher got a little “trashy” at times as well but Cher never went beyond the costumes and if she had, well, had she “flashed” a nipple ring the reaction would have been the same.  Cher would never have done that. And if you think Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction was an accident it wasn’t. The “nipple ring” was part of her costume. Now this. Not everyone is comfortable with all the “free and easy sex” onstage. Turned a lot of people off when her brother did it. Turned a lot of people off when Madonna did it. Keep it in the bedroom. And people wonder why the transmission rates of AIDS are increasing . These so-called “musical talents” who have to add some “entertainment” to the entertainment by grabbing their crotches.  Cher never had to. This Blackglama ad is almost obscene to be honest. No bra and pulling her pants down. What a role model.

  10. avatar TheTexasMom says:

    If Janet wasn’t tugging at her pants I think the picture would be perfect however I do wonder about the target auidence.  Who is it?

    As for Micheal, I hardly think Janet was an user/enabler, she was her own person since 1986′s Control, her breakthrough album.  What ever he was Micheal was was used from childhood to grave, from family, friends and even his doctor.  In this sense Nancy Reagan had it right, just say NO.

  11. avatar snowwhite4577 says:

    I will admit …I am biased. I love Janet Jackson.  The only person’s opinion that I agree with here is strawberry’s.  THis is a woman who worked her butt off (literally and figuratively) to get the star power she has now. To compare her to Rihanna (truly trashy…made money off of her assault ), Mariah, etc…is disgusting simply because she works it- she is a perfectionist. She does not just sing …she is a true performer….something we are sorely lacking nowadays, despite everyone saying otherwise. 
    As far as the sexuality… sex sells. Where have you been….She is just doing what she needs to be doing to stay in a game she helped to create. 

    And everyone blasting her about her showing her body and trying to be like these younger people…you are so wrong…these younger people are trying to be like her…..

    • avatar TheTexasMom says:

      SnowWhite – I agree with you on every point.  The younger people are trying to be like her and Janet has worked for everthing she has gotten, be it good or bad, great or what have you.  Plus she is georgous!

      I just don’t like the tugging on the pants, but that’s just my personal preference.

      • avatar snowwhite4577 says:

        I like your opinion too, TexasMom.
        :o )

      • avatar jsjm51 says:

        snowwhite and texas mom – I loke both of your comments because at least you guys aren’t as judgmental as most on this blog. People get so high and mighty.  If you don’t like the ad, don’t look at it.  I think she looks great.  I’m so glad that baby snooks was actually in on the whole wardrobe malfunction personally and knows exactly how it went down or so she thinks.  Gosh if it weren’t for her knowledge of Michael and Janet as well as the entire family I don’t know what any one of us would do. 

  12. avatar Aline says:

    There is sexy and there is trashy. Whether it’s grabbing your crotch, pulling the top front of your pants down with your finger or flashing a pierced nipple, it’s all trashy vulgar. Oh, and Rihanna gets the Low Class Vulgarity award for wearing her necklace with the word “c**t” on it for all the world to see. My, how proud her family must be.