Bookworm: ‘Fame Game’ – Claim your 15 minutes

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“The Fame Game: An Insider’s Playbook for Earning Your 15 Minutes”

  • By Ramon Hervey II
  • C .2022, Amistad
  • $27.99, 333 pages

Who are you? That’s a common question and, depending on how it’s asked, you might have a dozen different answers. You’re a parent, an athlete, a hard worker, a cook, a reader, someone who’s curious, smart, colorful, serious, driven. You know who you are, and if you follow the new book “The Fame Game” by Ramon Hervey II, soon everyone will.

“The Fame Game: An Insider’s Playbook for Earning Your 15 Minutes” by Ramon Hervey II.

Like a lot of kids, Ramon Hervey II grew up with celebrities’ names on the periphery of his attention but it wasn’t until he was a young man working as a Pan Am flight attendant that he had his first real brushes with fame. Before he switched careers to work in the music industry, he served Peter Jennings, actress Shirley McLaine, and Miles Davis in-flight. Later, at Motown Records, he met Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and Diana Ross. When he went into public relations at Rogers & Cowan, “one of the premier entertainment public relations companies in the industry,” he worked with superstars like Babyface and Peter Frampton.

You’d think that with all those stars circling his life, Hervey’d know a thing or two about fame. And he does: he knows how you can catch it, or at least enter its orbit.

Comedian Richard Pryor, who was a challenge, taught Hervey that “a path of self-destruction can sabotage fame.” Ever-gracious Bette Midler taught him why authenticity is important and fame should never “define your self-worth.” Hervey didn’t trust Little Richard, who refused to let the public “dictate” his fame.

The Bee Gees showed him that fame can be repeatedly gained and lost. From Quincy Jones, he learned that superstardom can be harder to manage than mere fame (and Jones did it gracefully). Rick James taught Hervey about being “obsessed” with the wrong thing. Andraé Crouch taught him to dream, and to be honest about “self-inflicted setbacks...” Hervey showed Don Cornelius how much Cornelius needed the media’s help to be famous. And a Miss America’s “mistake” helped Hervey to find the love of his life...

Sometimes, you have to shake your head until it rattles at the way your favorite celebrity acts like a fool. Still, you almost can’t get enough of that knuckleheadedness, and “The Fame Game” gives you even more.

And yet, author Ramon Hervey II doesn’t dish just for the sake of telling. You won’t read about silly scandals inside this book, no sleep-around tell-alls or party-all-night tales. Instead, each chapter, which is built around one or more stars, offers a hint on how you can stay grounded if you’re looking at (or for!) fame yourself. Chapter headers lead readers into the tip, and Hervey uses his time with the famous to illustrate his reasoning.

And there’s where readers will smile: Hervey doesn’t unnecessarily put himself on the stage here, and there’s no gratuitous name-dropping. He acts heroically sometimes for his clients, but he’s not the hero of the story, which allows his points to shine forth. And those tips make “The Fame Game” a winner, no matter who you are.

“All the Living and the Dead: From Embalmers to Executioners, and Exploration of the People Who Have Made Death Their Life’s Work”

  • By Hayley Campbell
  • c. 2022, St. Martin’s Press
  • $29.99, 269 pages

Every day, you go to work and quietly do your job.

There’s no fanfare, no hourly kudos, parades, or regular praise; you were hired for a task or a series of tasks and that’s what you finish. It’s the work you’ve chosen and nobody notices that you do it well but, as in the new book, “All the Living and the Dead” by Hayley Campbell, they’d notice if you didn’t.

In Hayley Campbell’s childhood home, death was no big deal.

Her father was an artist who was paid to illustrate death as a theme, and Campbell recalls imitating his artwork, pets that met early demises, and a childhood friend who drowned. Death, for her, was just a part of life.

“We are surrounded by death,” she says, in our games, the news, the songs we sing, everywhere. More than 55 million people around the world die each year but most of us don’t know much about those who do the “necessary work” of dealing “with the things we cannot bear to look at...”

Are we “cheating ourselves out of some fundamental human knowledge...?”

Campbell began her search for an answer with a funeral director, who advised Campbell to “separate the shock of seeing death from the shock of grief” by ensuring that the first dead body she ever saw was not that of someone she loved.

She visited the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, to talk with a man who prepares the “gift” of body donorship. An artist showed her how he memorializes the faces of those who’ve departed, and a disaster mitigator explained how he deals with “catastrophe.” Campbell met with a crime scene cleaner, had lunch with someone who executed Death Row inmates, she heard stories from an embalmer, cleaned a cremation retort, helped an anatomical pathology technologist, spoke to a midwife, visited with gravediggers, and learned about cryonics.

“I wanted to see all of it,” she says. “But in many of these rooms... I was, for a few moments, speechless.”

Go ahead. Admit it. You were curious, too, weren’t you?

That’s the beauty of “All the Living and the Dead”: that author Hayley Campbell gives readers plenty of room to be inquisitive, offering facts that they perhaps haven’t even had a chance to conceive yet, without shame and without making anyone feel like a ghoul. This is, in fact, a wide-eyed book, it’s respectful, humble, and filled with honor and it’s not gratuitously gory, although there are a few cringey moments inside.

On those, steel yourself. Campbell doesn’t just write “squelchily,” she’s also forthright on things that left her unsettled and that which sent her reeling. That – the emotion and its lingering effects on her entire being – can feel worse than the malodorous moments here, and Campbell honestly tells readers how she dealt with that, too. You won’t be sorry knowing. 

Curiosity, RIP. Bury your lack of information. If you’ve got questions about people who work with the dead and you need answers, “All the Living and the Dead” will do the job.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.