Paula Froelich, a reporter for the New York Post’s "Page Six," knows what it takes to cut it as a celebrity, and now she's revealing the secrets of those in the spotlight. Her new book explains the importance of attitude, timing, location and looking the part on the road to money, status and stardom in any field. Paula Froelich was invited on the “Today” show to discuss her new book “It!: Nine Secrets of the Rich and Famous That Will Take You to the Top.” Here’s an excerpt.
The Rules of Fame (and How They Can Make You a Success)
Admit it. You have at least once in your life fantasized about being that intriguing, charismatic person with that ineffable star quality who walks into a room and all heads turn. The “it” person.
For many, this is a dream that begins and ends in junior high school. For others, it is a daydream that gets honed through high school and college, and then after, into an actual ambition, a goal. But often it doesn’t get translated into a plan, mainly because the daydreamer doesn’t know how to move from dream to reality. If you are stopped in your tracks at that point of paralysis, knowing you have the goods to make it, to achieve success, fame, stardom — it’s time to take action.
Very few people are simply born with some innate “it” quality that is unattainable to the rest of us. Trust me. If that’s what you believe from watching too many “E! True Hollywood Stories” or reading too many issues of People magazine, I am here to tell you that you have been misled. Stars, whether in show business or in any other walk of life, are made, not born.
As a reporter on the nationally renowned New York Post “Page Six” gossip column for the past five years, I have seen fame come and go, the famous rise and fall. I have seen how some people know how to work it and some don’t, and as a result, I have learned what works and what doesn’t and am about to pass on what I’ve learned to you. The truth is that with a modicum of talent and a lot of hard work, virtually anyone (guided by some good advice) can move beyond their drab, no-name universe into that cherished inner circle known as the A list.
These rules are valuable not only for those who seek fame, celebrity, and to have their name in lights, but also for anyone who wants to achieve a dream, launch a business, or get their ideal job. If you don’t believe me, look at Donald Trump, who in the early nineties, just after proclaiming himself a billionaire for the first time, turned to his then-wife Marla Maples as they passed a bum on the street and said, “That guy has more money than I do.” But Donald knows that what he is selling is a dream, a brand — himself! There are thousands upon thousands of examples, on a grander or lesser scale, of individuals who have learned how to harness the techniques of the best PR people (who are, after all, largely responsible for making the famous famous), learned how to use the media, learned how to transform themselves into stars.
So ask yourself: Are you bored with your humdrum life? Have you begun to achieve success in your field, but are at a loss as to how to rise to the very top of it? Are you itching to be fabulous, famous — to be “it”? No worries. Just read on, honey, and think HOT.
FIND YOUR TALENT, AND OTHER LESSONS MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME
Everyone has a talent, I swear. It may be something esoteric, as in the ability to compose a symphony. On the other hand, it could be something as mundane as being the best housekeeper in town. (Need I remind you of the success of Heloise, Martha Stewart, and the various domestic divas out there, cranking out books and TV shows and making a fortune?) I don’t care what your talent is, everyone has something they do well — perhaps even better than anyone else.
So here are the ten rules of talent and getting ahead.
Rule #1: Find whatever it is you are good at, and do it!
“Pulling a Donald”: When someone makes their own name more famous than their company or their product. Through relentless self-promotion, branding, and other Machiavellian means, they know that they can sell any product off their name. Sort of a “horse before the cart” theory. Well-known perpetrators include Martha Stewart, self-help guru Tony Robbins, and Leona Helmsley.
One of the most powerful publicists in New York, who has launched (not to mention saved) the careers of many celebs, including Britney Spears, Sean “Puffy” Combs, and Jennifer Lopez, is Dan Klores. Klores is a congenial man of fifty with salt and pepper hair and beard to match, along with piercing eyes that don’t miss a thing. He spent many years living and working down South, preparing for the big time before heading home, basically to rule New York. I always take his calls.
Over lunch at the sublime DB Bistro Moderne in midtown Manhattan, I asked Klores about Donald Trump’s reemergence as the poster boy for success.
Klores was Trump’s publicist for many years. “I’ve seen Donald Trump build his brand name brilliantly,” Klores observed. “His father was just a builder, but Donald always understood the importance of building a brand name and having an ego. The genius is,” Klores continued, “what real talent did he have? Well, his talent was how to negotiate, and how to add the new numbers in. He instinctively knew people, he really did.”
Along with the gaudy high rises that dot Manhattan’s skyline, Trump was so successful at building his own name — mainly through his appearances in the gossip columns and the publication of books like The Art of the Deal — that no one really cared that he had no money. He has been so good at maintaining his personal profile that when his bonds went junk, no one blinked an eye. When I was jumping through hoops to get a mortgage for my small house in the Catskills, my mortgage broker, Seth, told me, “Somebody will always lend to him because he is Donald Trump. His name is worth even more than his buildings.” Seth made this observation even before Trump’s monster television hit, The Apprentice, which is perhaps the best example of brand extension I’ve ever witnessed.
In other words, Donald Trump was able to identify his own talent (not spend a lot of time on projects that didn’t best utilize his skills) and carve out an empire by doing it. Do you want to become the “Donald Trump” of your profession, whether you are a realtor, a baker, an antiques store-owner, or a caterer? Use his career as a road map!
Or take me as an example.
My only real specific talents are writing and being able to talk to a brick in the wall — for hours, if necessary. Within the first thirty minutes I will have gotten that brick’s entire life story, have categorized alphabetically its likes and dislikes, and have gleaned the details of its love life (which usually occupies at least another half hour — love is never easy!). But I didn’t always know how to translate this “skill,” my “gift of gab,” into a career.
In all honesty, I would currently be a doctor or lawyer, if not both simultaneously, if my parents had had their way. But during my sophomore year at Emory University in Atlanta, having already completed the majority of my political science major requirements, I had a nervous breakdown of sorts. (Read: I locked myself in my dorm room for over a week, with only the pie-faced pizza delivery boy dropping by at regular intervals to feed me.) During that time, I imagined myself wearing nondescript Jones of New York gray suits for the rest of my life and getting rapists acquitted of their crimes. I began obsessively plucking my leg hairs. I know. It wasn’t pretty.
After a week of semi-insanity, I finally worked up the courage to tell my parents that I would not be fulfilling my destiny as they saw it. After making a brief speech about the importance of 401ks, Roth IRAs, and whatnot, they actually accepted my decision, which to them also meant I would end up living at home with them forever. But before my mother could start getting my room ready, I joined the staff of the school newspaper, and knew right away I had found my calling.
I figured out that to be a journalist, one must know how to write (though not always — just ask any editor!), and one must be able to chat up anyone, anytime, and wring their life story out of them without their ever knowing what is happening. Perfect for me, right?
During my career I have written for the women’s pages of a national newspaper in England, written lifestyle pieces for men’s magazines, gotten a comprehensive financial education from Wall Street traders during my stint as an over-the-counter derivatives reporter (don’t ask — I’m still trying to explain it to my mother), and finally, gotten the scoop on the biggest celebrities, the hottest events, or just the juiciest dirt — all because I have a talent for making people comfortable enough to open up to me, and an instinct for what’s news. I also had a frontrow seat as I watched agents, managers, PR people, stylists, and others create stars.
Had I ultimately decided to go to law school, I’m certain I would have made it through somehow, but I would no doubt have become an absolutely miserable person, and probably not a very good lawyer, slogging away in a back office somewhere, contemplating stabbing myself in the eye with a fork. Which leads me to rule #2.
A Raisin: A person who has a dream, but has never gone after it. Instead, they bitterly go about their other business and, like Gollum with the Ring, obsess, and cradle their dream without ever using it. They are usually the dried-up bitter people who are like the last raisin in the box,smushed up, wrinkly, and, usually, sour. I have always hated raisins.
Rule #2: Don’t try to fake a talent you really don’t have!
You know what I’m talking about. How many times have you seen someone struggling to be something they’re not? It may work for a short while, sometimes even for an entire life. But it will never make you happy, and for the most part, people end up spotting you as a fake.
Let’s say you want to be a television news anchor, but you can’t read a teleprompter no matter how much you practice, you have an awful publicspeaking voice, and you don’t connect with audiences. Or, like Albert Brooks in Broadcast News, you just start sweating buckets as soon as the red light comes on. It’s true the first two things can be somewhat overcome via continued practice and voice training, but you will still be left with the fact that you leave your audience cold (and the sweat thing). But say you tried the anchor thing for a while and in the process discovered you have a talent for news writing or for knowing how to recognize a big story. Don’t cling to the anchor dream just because that’s what you always thought you would be. Adapt, rethink, and become the best damned news producer in the business. Believe me, you will be more satisfied and more successful.
Sometimes you’ve just got to know when a dream is not attainable. A friend of mine dated a man for many years who was extremely depressed. He had always wanted to be an actor but found himself as a computer graphics guy instead. When he was younger, he never really went after the dream of acting, assuming something would just fall in his lap. Then later, he did it in a severely half-assed way. Yet he always moaned about wanting to become an actor. Because he never got off his ass and did anything in a wholehearted manner, he ended up, at the ripe old age of forty-eight, smoking way too much pot, broke, and annoying. Time for another dream, buddy.
This syndrome is evident all over, but perhaps nowhere so much as with the “stars” of the reality television shows. After selling themselves (and I do mean selling themselves) on such shows as The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Survivor, etc., the hapless “winners” always seem to give up their previous professions to try and break into show business, rather than simply accepting that they got lucky once, and going back to what they had before. Zora, the schoolteacher who captured the heart of Evan on the show Joe Millionaire, followed up her triumph by getting herself a manager and announcing she would take the sitcom and Home Shopping Network worlds by storm. Sadly, I have yet to see Zora on the tube or any of her “products” she was supposed to be hawking. She got caught up in something that isn’t real, isn’t authentic, and ditched her true self for a mirage. She should have settled for her fifteen minutes and then returned to planet earth — and her day job.
Reality Losers: Those annoying people who go on a reality show and think they should be treated like Meryl Streep. In all facets of life, RLs show up — these people who did a local commercial and think they should be a queen, the entourages of someone semi-famous, the people who don’t really do anything but through luck or good timing have scored some kind of short-lived attention. To the tune of The Wizard of Oz chant “Lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!” repeat after me: “Trista and Ryan and Bob Guiney — yuck!”
Speaking of planets, Matthew Rich, whose company is called Planet PR, is a tall, lean, impeccably mannered man who among other things helps the Miss USA pageant groom its winners for entry into public life. He says: “I tell my clients — you have to stay true to yourself. If you don’t, it will come through in your presentation.”
The media can be ruthless to people who are found to be inauthentic. Steven Gaines is one of the most formidable society journalists out there and has often noted the ability of society to chew people up and spit them out after they are revealed to be something other than they appear. Steven is perhaps the leading expert on Hamptons society and even wrote a book about it, Philistines at the Hedgerow.
He observes that it is essential, for those who attain fame or notoriety, to “have the goods to back it up.” “Tabloid life is very brief,” he told me. “It burns bright and hot and then it’s over — kind of like those old flashbulbs.” If you have faked your way to fame, you’re soon going to disappear.
A Faux: A fraud, phony, or poser.
“Talent” may seem like an intangible quality, but I like to think of it as something practical, a product a person knows how to sell, that has to be cultivated and effectively presented, and that in time will become something the public will clamor for. R. Couri Hay, a fixture in New York society and someone who has helped pave the way for the most prominent queen bees to take their places at the top of the social pecking order, advises, “You’ve got to have something to sell. You’re a dermatologist, you’re a decorator, you’re a designer.” He offers a warning, one that may seem obvious, but one which all too many people ignore: “If you’re no good, people are going to know it. It’s very hard to fake it for long.”
Rule #3: Don’t know what you’re good at? Ask someone to help you figure it out.
This is tricky. What if you really have no idea what you’re good at? Maybe you just haven’t had the right sort of feedback or mentoring, you always went along with your father’s desire that you become an engineer, but one day you woke up and realized you just can’t do it anymore. Problem is, you’ve never spent any time figuring out what you do want to do, what your real talent is.
Gary Greenberg, a successful comic and author of Be Prepared, told me about what a pal of his (let’s call him Jim) decided to do when he came to this crossroads. Jim was in banking, and on paper was doing well enough. But he was deeply unhappy, and the truth was, it showed in all sorts of ways. He performed all of his job responsibilities competently, but none particularly well. However, he had no idea how to make a change, or what he wanted to change into.
Then Jim had a brainstorm. He decided to send out a questionnaire to his closest friends and family members.
A Sample Questionnaire:
• What are my best qualities?
• What are my worst?
• Are there some things I do better than anyone else?
• Besides karaoke, are there some things I think I am good at, but really not? [Unless you want to be a singer, then take out the karaoke bit]
• What can I do that no one else can do?
• When you need help from me, what do you call me for?
• If you could pick out the perfect (legal, please)
career for me, what would it be and why?
• When have you seen me happiest, careerwise?
Jim knew he needed some perspective and some objectivity, and he decided to rely on those closest to him to help. He was astounded by the similarity of the responses. Nearly all of his friends wrote back that they thought he was especially good at event planning.
They said he was extremely good at picking the right people for the right places, at putting compatible groups of friends together. All felt that he intuitively knew the best, most appropriate venues for parties and other special occasions.
After mulling over the results for a brief time, Jim left banking and used his savings to start an events company. Today he runs one of the most lucrative events and catering companies in New Jersey, and is successful beyond his wildest dreams. He is also happy. So remember, sometimes the people closest to us know us better than we know ourselves!
Excerpted from “It!: Nine Secrets of the Rich and Famous That Will Take You to the Top,” by Paula Froelich. Copyright © 2005 by Paula Froelich. Excerpted by permission of Miramax Books, a division of Hyperion Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.