Net Worth: Why phone a friend when you can buy a celebrity?

Friday, July 17, 2009

If there is one thing this generation of reality TV and gossip blogging has taught us, nothing is more important than being in the presence of celebrities.

Sure, “celebrity” is often a nebulous term. But for every ninth-billed actor on a bygone sitcom or former Miss January 1986, there is someone out there who thinks that person is divine.

Capitalizing on that concept is a new site called Hollywood is Calling.

Its premise is simple enough, having been “created to make it possible for people all across the globe to be inspired and entertained by live phone calls from actual celebrities.”

So for a fee, a famous individual will send you a personalized e-mail video greeting card ($5) or make a brief phone call at a random time ($19.95). For the high-rollers, Hollywood is Calling offers a Telephonic Personal Appearance, which is a live phone call made “at a date and time designated by the purchaser” for $300. Suggested scenarios include congratulatory wedding day calls, nightclub promotional events and bar mitzvahs.

Now, let’s be clear. Scarlett Johansson will not be calling you. Robert Downey Jr. will not be calling you. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will not be calling you.

But Ron Palillo might. You know, Arnold Horshack from TV’s “Welcome Back, Kotter.”

Not to be mean, but there are a whole lot of celebrities on the Hollywood is Calling list who range from obscure to inexplicable. Of the 121 notables proclaimed, I’d never heard of at least a third of them, which calls into question the concept of “celebrity.” About another third were met with a response such as, “Oh yeah, that guy,” once their handy credits list was perused. Others were certainly familiar. How many folks couldn’t recognize Russell “The Professor” Johnson of “Gilligan’s Island” fame?

But I have a hard time believing someone is willing to shell out $300 to have Leonard A. Lies (aka the “Machete Zombie” from the original “Dawn of the Dead”) call and wish them a happy Mother’s Day.

Perhaps a better title for the site might be Tenuous Claim to Fame is Calling.

How else to explain the inclusion of those such as Piggy Thomas, a cast member of the 2000 edition of MTV’s “Road Rules”? Or Larry Thomas, who was the Soup Nazi in one episode of “Seinfeld”? (Get me Oscar-nominated actress Kristin Scott Thomas, and we’ll talk.)

On the flip side, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit how cool it would be to speak with Vernon Wells, who played the mohawked thug Wez in “The Road Warrior.” Same with Erin Gray, who starred as Col. Wilma Deering on the late-’70s TV show “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.” Or, as I liked to refer to her in ninth grade, “the future Mrs. Jon Niccum.”

I decided to hire this service — and expense it all to the Journal-World, of course — to see how it worked. However, after starting to fill out forms and numbers and personal info, my interest waned. Just a simple scroll down the 53-point Terms of Service page spooked me. According to this, you have little recourse if the hired celebrity ends up stalking you for the rest of your life.

Had Hollywood is Calling been able to offer that angle in 1979 with Erin Gray, I’d still be a loyal customer.

— Entertainment editor Jon Niccum explores facets of pop culture that have established a unique niche on the Internet in Net Worth. He can be reached at 832-7178.