(Originally appeared in Radar on June 3, 2008)
Everyone knows that having a famous last name can score an unqualified scion plum Hollywood roles, corporate board seats—even the U.S. presidency (we’re looking your way, John Quincy Adams). But can it get you, a clown, a mime, and a magician a prime table at Spago Beverly Hills for your birthday party? Radar’s Teddy Wayne tested this and a few other scenarios out in a prank with various institutions of power and prestige in academia, politics, and publishing—and the results confirmed what we feared about America: well-known surnames supersede all others.
It should be noted that each of the targets (anonymity preserved) was just doing his or her job; hate the game, not the player (or, in this case, the played).
Call to Wesleyan University admissions office
RADAR: This is John Taylor. Thanks for getting back to me.
ADMISSIONS OFFICER: So I wanted to talk to you about Mr. Quiznos’s visit.
I don’t know what REDACTED told you…
She mentioned his son’s desire to speak with a student who has a high-name visibility?
Yes, to gauge how he’s handled that.
I can try to arrange that, but most of our students are here, once they’re here, the name thing doesn’t really matter much. What are some of his academic interests?
I think poetry. He’s had a somewhat difficult time adjusting to his father’s visibility, and I think he works it out through poetry.
Right. Does he play a sport? Does he play music?
Not really. He doesn’t do too much in terms of extracurriculars. The poetry thing he’s latched onto in the last year or so.
And which high school does he attend?
He’s at Beverly Hills High. But…he’s had some issues with them, he’s moved around schools before, he was in Colorado before that, but it looks like he’ll graduate with them.
Okay. I’m assuming they’ll do an info session and then the tour?
I don’t know if REDACTED told you, Mr. Quiznos travels with a bodyguard at all times, and I think he’s concerned about that being conspicuous on a tour.
I handle VIPs that come to visit, so I can usually give them a tour myself. If they want me to go on the tour with them, we can avoid the crowd and have him being seen with a bodyguard.
Are there any other VIP options I could relate back to Mr. Quiznos?
Well, it would just be me handling their day. So whether it’s a private info session just with the two of them—with the info session, it gets pretty crowded, so they could sit in the back and they wouldn’t stand out. When Mr. Spielberg came to visit, I gave him the tour myself. We handle it very discreetly. In terms of sitting in a class, I can find things for Mr. Quiznos to do while Jake does his own thing, unless he wants to meet with a few faculty members and not really do the whole “sit-in-on-a-class” while he’s here.
Mr. Quiznos has a bit of agoraphobia, he doesn’t like being in large spaces with a lot of people. So I think the auditorium thing might not work out, but certainly if you can arrange any one-on-one meetings with professors, I think they’d both enjoy.
So Jake has the issues, or Mr. Quiznos?
Mr. Quiznos, but he wants to go along with him, keep an eye out on him, and make sure he’s behaving himself. And also to learn more about the school as well.
So you’re talking mostly poetry and creative writing?
More poetry than anything else. Are there any big poets at Wesleyan he could meet?
There are some who teach poetry. REDACTED is the REDACTED ENGLISH PROFESSORIAL TITLE, and she’s very good at that. She can tell Jake a little about that. And depending on the day he visits, I can see if our president is available, so we can coordinate the day that works best for them and that Mike Roth, who’s our president, might be available.
If that were the case, how much time would he be able to get with the president?
Mike likes to spend about 20 to 30 minutes with a student and a parent. He’s very good—he’s lived in LA before, he’s a faculty member himself, he was at the Getty Museum as a senior researcher, he was president of the California College of the Arts…
Oh, Mr. Quiznos is a big fan of the arts. He’s donated the Quiznos Performing Arts Center in Minneapolis and is interested in any artistic support, so they’d have plenty to talk about.
And I think Mike would really appreciate speaking about that. So we can certainly arrange that. The question will be about lunch, and whether he wants to sit in on the lunch with Jake, or have his own private lunch, if I arrange for Jake to have lunch with a student.
You’re talking about the student with a well-known parent?
Yeah, I can do that discreetly and see if someone would be willing to do that.
Yeah, I think probably Mr. Quiznos could let Jake handle it on his own. The only issue would be some dietary restrictions. And you don’t have a Subway on campus, do you—that’s the only specific issue related to them.
No, we don’t.
Good, it’s the sort of thing that would bother him.
We have a student dining facility. What are some of Jake’s dietary restrictions?
No gluten, no dairy, no peanuts. He’s a vegan as well. But I know Wesleyan has a lot of vegan and vegetarian students?
Right. I think he could find something to eat at the campus center. If they were to have separate lunches, is there anyone in particular Mr. Quiznos would like to have lunch with?
If he could meet another dean, or who else is high up on the list there. He’s very interested in higher education, and on this tour we’re trying to get him to meet as many presidents and deans as possible.
Mr. Quiznos is also interested in having Jake meet some extraordinary students. He’s into the idea of Jake seeing role models—maybe a student-body president, or a star athlete. Might that be available to be set up?
Sure, we can easily do that. I can find a dynamic student for him to have coffee or tea with.
Is there anything else you could tell me—maybe what you did with Spielberg—that I could report back to Mr. Quiznos?
It’s the kind of school where students can go to find themselves. It doesn’t matter who you are once you’re here. So if you’re looking for some anonymity, the students don’t care what your background is.
So his last name won’t matter once he’s there?
No. If he wants to make it matter, then it’s up to him, but for most students—we do have affluent families who are here, and half the time you can’t single them out. We’re not that kind of school. We have many affluent students who don’t even have a car on campus, even though they could. It’s one of those places where students are very conscious about the influences of wealth, and they don’t want that to be a factor to their college experience here. We’re very well known as a campus where you don’t know who’s who, because students don’t care. If he’s looking for some anonymity, he could probably find it here.
Jake’s had some emotional troubles throughout his life because of his last name, and I think Mr. Quiznos would appreciate knowing that, once he’s there, he’ll be treated like everyone, and there’s not going to be any special gratuity extended to him because of his last name.
Yeah, and most of the stuff—faculty don’t care about these things, they care about what your intellect is and who you’re making of yourself. You don’t have a choice of what family you’re born into, and people are cognizant of that here. I think he’ll get a glimpse of that when he comes here.
His SAT scores are a bit lower than the median there. You don’t have a minimum cutoff, do you?
We don’t. It depends on what he or she can bring to the class.
A 1620 out of 2400. It’s a bit below the median, and his grades have been uneven throughout his high school career. And the other serious thing is, he had some shoplifting issues about a year and a half ago that haven’t come up since then, but they were over the course of several months. Is it worth his applying—the low grades, the low SATs, the shoplifting, do those things disqualify him from the start?
I don’t think they necessarily disqualify him off the bat. Is this someone who’s able to show redemption? The admissions process is a very holistic process. We look at you from your grades to your recommendations to what you’ve shown that you’re capable of doing. We don’t see it as a one-factor kind of thing. If you want to say, I want a second chance to prove that I’m a better person than what my records show, then I think they’re willing to look at you in that sense and say, Okay, we’re gonna give you this chance.
I know most of his poetry centers around that. Is that an indication of someone trying to get better to you, and might even be worth using in his application—his shoplifting poetry?
Right. I wouldn’t even spend too much time on that now until he sees the school. It shouldn’t be what’s stressing him now. It should be what top schools he wants to apply to. There’s gonna have to be someone that shows redemption and remorse and says you really want to take that next step in life, and we can certainly talk about that more during, since it’ll be a private tour.
He doesn’t talk about it much–he’s in therapy, but it’s mostly in his poetry. You mentioned the English professor earlier. Might he be able to fax her some of his poems beforehand and then meet up with her to discuss them?
Sure, sure. You can send everything to me and I can make sure she gets them, or you can send them directly to her. If he’d like to share that with her, he certainly do that.
Great. I think he’s been looking for a mentor figure for his poetry, and like I said, it’s pretty much exclusively about the shoplifting incidents and what that means to him.
That makes sense. Well, I think I have everything. If you can give me a date next week, we can go back and forth and put something together.
Thanks very much.
Call to Sen. Lautenberg (NJ) offices
RADAR: I’m the assistant to George Lucas, and his daughter Amelia is a freshman at UCLA this year. She’s interested in an internship this summer in your DC office, and we had some questions.
LAUTENBERG STAFFER: Sure, absolutely. Does she have any Jersey connections? I’m curious how she picked Senator Lautenberg’s office.
She’s interested in moving to the tri-state area someday.
Yeah, definitely. We’re accepting summer internship applications now. The normal application materials are a resume, a cover letter, then a brief writing sample, 3 to 5 pages.
Could it be from anything?
Yeah, I always say that best shows the applicant’s writing ability.
I don’t know how much writing she’s done at school. She’s not a freshman, and she’s not in any writing-intensive classes. She’s more sort of fashion and communications. She’s written fashion copy. Is that applicable?
Sure, whatever she has that she thought was a good piece of writing. It doesn’t have to be directly related to politics, like the Iraq war.
She’s doing fashion this year, and it’s definitely not going to be Iraq—it’ll be more like describing—in good language, I’ve seen a sample along the way—sort of like advertising copy you’d see in a fashion magazine.
That’s totally fine. We do a lot of press in the office, too, so a lot of shorter writing, short sentences that caters to a specific audience and has a specific tone.
And do you have cut-offs for GPAs?
She’s not doing so well this semester in her studies. There’s a chance she might be able to transfer, or drop out of UCLA for a year or two. Do you accept them if they’re not current college students still?
Yeah, I think that would be a possibility.
So even if she’s flunked out and is taking time off to think about her options for her future, it might be a possibility still?
It would not exclude her.
About number of days a week…she’s kind of insistent that it might be a maximum two days a week, maybe one if possible. Can you handle a shorter workload like that?
Yeah, it varies, really. We have different options about interns. I don’t think that would exclude her. I can tell you that the more time the interns put in, it’s better for the interns as well. The more she was here, the more experience she’d get.
Between you and me, my sense is she’s looking for an excuse to spend a summer in DC and party a bit.
I’m reading between the lines here—that’s why I think she’s asking for the one or two days a week maximum.
So you’re saying she’s not really that interested in politics?
I think she’s interested, but she’s in trouble with her dad about flunking out, and I think this is a way to get in his good graces, and have a legitimate reason to go somewhere else for the summer and be away from the parents.
Really. Does her father know this, or you know her…
I know her, and I think he’s willing to approve it if it’s a legitimate internship, and I think it’s the kind of thing she might actually get into, but like I said, she’s a fashion student.
She’s kind of looking to get away and she’s looking at DC—she has an interest here…
Yeah, I think New York City would be too blatant, and DC is sort of a happy medium.
The question for me is, Do you think she would want to be here and do what we asked her to do?
I think if it was one day a week, she’d definitely do the work and you wouldn’t regret hiring her. The other six days a week she’d be partying, but she’d take her one day of work a week seriously, knowing that it would eventually get back to her father. And we could certainly keep up a liaison between you and me so you could report back.
Yeah, okay. Well, this is new for me! But I think it’s worth her sending her stuff over and we’ll take a look at it.
And her father would at some point over the summer probably visit her. Would there be a chance in the senator’s schedule where they could meet him at some point?
Most likely, I’m sure he’d be interested in something like that. I can’t guarantee because I’m not in charge of his schedule, but I imagine he would be very interested.
Great. And she wanted to know if there were a bunch of younger women in the office she could hang out.
Yeah, it’s a younger crowd.
And she wanted me to ask if there’s a policy against inter-office dating.
There’s no policy, it’s happened before. We want to keep a professional environment, but there’s nothing that explicitly says you can’t date someone in the office.
And the last thing she was concerned with, she’s a fashion major with a pretty outrageous style. Do you have a dress code?
We have a professional dress code—the guys wear suits, the women wear professional outfits. So she’d have to dress professionally.
She’d dress professionally, it’s more colors and patterns.
Yeah, you can look stylish, as long as you’re professional.
And dyed hair is not an issue? Piercings, you’re generally okay with that sort of thing?
Yeah, generally. As long as she looks professional, because high-profile people come in, and we wouldn’t want anything that would reflect poorly on the senator.
Right now—she’s a bit rebellious because of the situation with her father—she’s got spiky pink hair and I think one nose piercing and an eyebrow piercing. Is that too much?
That might be a little much. I would probably say it’s better if she toned it down.
Okay. Maybe take out the nose or eyebrow, one of the two, perhaps.
Yeah, definitely. That would definitely be more appropriate. The senator, he’s old school, he came from the business world, so he does stress a professional atmosphere, so I would say tone it down from what you described.
Okay, thanks a lot. I’ll give you a call back when I have some more information.
The friendly interviewer called back unprompted a week later and left a message saying he hadn’t yet received Amelia’s application and wanted to make sure she was still applying.
Call to Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant Spago
RADAR: This is John Taylor returning your call. I’m the assistant to Larry King, it’s for Mr. King’s son Timmy, for a birthday party sometime in May.
SPAGO RESERVATIONIST: How many people?
It should be 7 or 8 kids, I’d be chaperoning, and then we’re hoping to add a children’s clown, a magician, and a mime who could sit at the table with them.
Okay. Is this a lunch or a dinner?
Hold on, let me see what I have available…[ON HOLD] it looks like we’re pretty open. You wanted a private room, yes?
No, the problem is Timmy is a bit claustrophobic and can’t really eat in enclosed spaces, so we’re hoping to do it in the regular dining room.
Oh, in the regular dining room. Okay…once you have a date, I’d call back and we could certainly do something, that’s not going to be a problem.
So in the regular dining room, would you be able to permit a clown, a magician, and a mime? They wouldn’t be running around or anything, they’d just be at the table.
Oh. Um…so they’d be seated with the kids?
They’d be seated with the kids, and they’d be doing their shtick at the table. They wouldn’t be loud or anything.
Let me ask. Hold on a second…[ON HOLD] What we’d probably have to do is seat in the gallery, which is the area next to the patio.
What’s it like there?
It’s an area we usually seat for lunch, so you’d be the only group there.
Is there no way to be in the regular dining room?
I think with a clown and a magician and stuff, it’d be awkward for other diners.
No, the clown’s not dressed in a clown outfit. He’s dressed regularly. He’s more like a comedian, an insult comic, who teases the kids as they eat. He’s dressed in all black, he looks like a regular guy.
Okay…I think probably the gallery would still be best. Because then if the kids did want to get up and jump around…
They’re pretty well-behaved kids. They’re Hollywood kids, they know how to act in a restaurant. Mr. King has specified he would prefer that they be in the main room, and he might come down to join them later on. Like I said, the clown’s going to be looking like a regular guy. The magician—I can talk to him—but I think he’ll be able to look presentable as well.
Is it the clown more, or the magician that you’re—because the clown shouldn’t be an issue. Is it the magician you’re more concerned about?
Um…hold on one second.
Sure. [ON HOLD]
I think we’ll be able to make it work. I think it shouldn’t be a problem. Once you have a date, call back and we’ll make a reservation for you in the dining room. We still have to be conscientious of other guests…
Like I said, the insult comic will look regular, I think the magician—he’d probably require his cape or something—and the mime would look like a mime, but it could look kind of hip, too, it wouldn’t look too out of place.
And they’ll all be seated?
They’ll all be seated.
Okay, I’m going to check with our general manager, I’ll talk with her this afternoon and give you a call back.
That’d be great, because I can’t commit to a date until I know you guys can handle it. I think the deal-breaker is Mr. King doesn’t want his son to feel like he’s being shunted to the side—
So I think it’d be a deal-breaker not to be in the main room.
Okay. Well, I’ll talk to the general manager and find out for you.
Thanks very much.
The reservationist called back a week later having consulted with “Wolfgang himself,” and they had decided that, unfortunately, having a clown, magician, and a mime in the dining room might be problematic for the other diners, but they would be happy to set up a private room.
Call to Hyperion Books
RADAR: I’m an entertainment agent at ICM. I work with Angela Becker, who’s one of Madonna’s managers. We’re trying to shop around ideas for a book and gauge initial interest.
HYPERION ASSISTANT: Oh, wow! Yeah.
Her daughter, Lourdes, has written an essay that Madonna’s interested in turning into an illustrated book. It’s an essay for school on global warming—she’s in 5th grade now—and its tips on global warming for kids. Madonna read it, and her teacher loved it, and we’re thinking it could make a good illustrated book for kids.
I haven’t seen the essay myself, but they gave me some bullet points to run through with you to see if it might be a possible idea. Basic tips like bike whenever possible, don’t take car services. I guess the way to pitch it is, it’s more for upscale kids, and how they can reduce global-warming footprints.
Do you want to set up a meeting in person?
I’m actually just calling around a bunch of places now to see about initial interest, and then we’ll definitely set up meetings later on.
I’m sure [REDACTED] would be interested in talking to you about this.
Does this seem like a possibility—upscale kids?
I don’t think we would want to aim for a specific market that way. I think you’d probably have to make it a little more universal.
These tips—you tell me if you think they aren’t universal enough. “Don’t buy plasma-screen TVs,” for instance—
I know it, I mean, she’s Madonna’s kid, you know?
Is she open to brainstorming different ideas for a global-warming book?
We could certainly talk to her. She’s a good kid. You’ll see by these bullet points that she’s got a very sheltered upbringing. The third bullet point she had for me is “Plant as many trees as possible around your home and estates.” I could see tailoring that to saying, “Plant trees in your neighborhood,” for instance.
She says, “Ask your parents to make your homes solar-powered,” which she has the plural homes, but I could see her saying, “Have them make your home solar-powered.”
Okay. How would this be illustrated? Is she interested in getting an illustrator?
That’s the other thing that’s great. Madonna’s close friends with Sting, and Sting’s son, he’s 14 or 15, they’re talking about having him illustrate it. They faxed me over one of his drawings, and he’s a very talented artist. Could we do that, or do you handle your own illustration in-house?
Generally, we match up illustrators ourselves, but sometimes things come attached to an illustrator. What’s Sting’s son’s name?
I think it’s Jeffrey.
I don’t deal with Sting. That’s a whole other set of situations.
This is looking in the future, of course, but what kind of publicity department do you have?
We have a standard publicity department, six or seven people. They’re really good.
Do you do much TV publicity?
Yeah! This is the Disney book group, so we have really close ties with TV. Definitely.
Great. Madonna of course has MTV connections, but MTV might be skewing a little too old for Lourdes’s book. Would you amenable to Nickelodeon stuff, or do you stick to Disney and Disney subsidiaries?
That’s a good question. We don’t just do Disney subsidiaries, so I think that’s a possibility.
Lourdes is thinking about getting into acting in the next couple of years, they’re talking about it. We’re in preliminary talks with Disney TV productions about a made-for-TV movie. Have you ever done product placement with books in movies?
Definitely. Are you thinking of making a Disney Channel movie?
If we went with Hyperion, we’d definitely do whatever we could to tie it in. We’ve been talking with Disney about some sort of TV show, a serial show, or a TV movie where Lourdes is the star. She’s 12 now, but they’re thinking about starting her early, and any tie-ins would be amazing.
I’m sure if the project suited that, they’d be open to it.
People are always eager to point out hypocrisy when people do environmental things. The last bullet point is “Don’t fly in private jets.” She actually does herself fly in private jets. Her people are concerned that Lourdes’s lifestyle is in contradiction with her tips.
[laughs] Oh. In general, I don’t think it would be good for the book if it’s really message-driven that way. So if she’s open to adjusting the style of the book, I don’t think that would even matter if she does fly in private jets.
Madonna would be interested in getting involved somewhat, but she really wants to make it Lourdes’s project. Not have it be “I got this because I’m Madonna’s daughter.”
Can you think of any ways that we’d be able to get Madonna behind it, but without making it so clear that she got it because she’s Madonna’s daughter?
Is she open to doing publicity for it? Like if she had appearances on TV, would she give a shout-out for it?
I’m sure she’d do that. I’m thinking about book tours. I don’t think she’s the kind of person who’d go along on the book tour with her daughter. She’d feel she was stealing her thunder. She’s trying to build up self-esteem for Lourdes, and doesn’t want her to think that everything she got is because of her mom, you know?
Right. That’s fine. So she’s just willing to promote it in her own…yeah.
Madonna obviously has a bit of a checkered reputation. Are you okay with Madonna promoting a book for kids?
Oh, definitely. It’s Madonna!
Yes, she is.