Thursday, December 03, 2009

Privacy, Then and Now

Tiger Woods, who named his yacht Privacy, was born half a century too late. As he laments the exposure of "matters that are intimate and within one's family," Woods' pain recalls a time when two of the world's most famous actors lived together on and off for decades with the full knowledge of and complicity by the media to keep their private lives private.

As a magazine editor back then, I was involved in the final chapter of Katharine Hepburn's life with Spencer Tracy, a married Catholic for whom divorce was unthinkable. For years, even the sleaziest Hollywood journalists had kept silent about their relationship out of respect for two serious people who guarded their privacy as well as they could.

As she and Tracy were making the last of their nine movies, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," in 1967, Hepburn wanted the world to hear about their life together in their own words and scheduled a joint interview, but Tracy failed to join her--twice.

He died just after the picture was finished and, out of respect for his wishes and his family, Hepburn kept her silence. Over the following 20 years, she told their story to a writer on the condition that it be published only after her own death. It was, in 2003.

In an era when non-famous people debase themselves for reality TV and even crash the White House to audition for it, it's hard to imagine celebrities wanting or being able to preserve their privacy as Hepburn and Tracy did.

Certainly not Tiger Woods as he withdraws, at least for now, from public life and reflects on what happened to him:

"Although I am a well-known person and have made my career as a professional athlete, I have been dismayed to realize the full extent of what tabloid scrutiny really means. For the last week, my family and I have been hounded to expose intimate details of our personal lives...

"But no matter how intense curiosity about public figures can be, there is an important and deep principle at stake which is the right to some simple, human measure of privacy...Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn't have to mean public confessions."

Amen to that, and good luck with the pack of hounds who call themselves celebrity journalists.


Holte Ender said...

The celebrity news hounds (and I use "news" advisedly) who chase Woods and others, do it for one reason, the massive audience there is for this type of journalism. People just love it, even, in Wood's case, people who have no interest in golf but absolutely adore scandal and titillation. Not sure if this is the 1st Amendment at work or a damning indictment on society.

Fuzzy Slippers said...

Gorgeous! I love the Tracy-Hepburn comparison (except it seems that Tiger was a bit less selective and bit more er, active in his extramarital affairs than was the marvelous Spencer Tracy).

I agree that Tiger's private life should be private. He's not a politician, after all. :D