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Hollywood and the Stars: Can Fame Last?

David Langness | Jun 17, 2024

PART 3 IN SERIES Fame, Renown, and Celebrity

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Jun 17, 2024

PART 3 IN SERIES Fame, Renown, and Celebrity

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

At one point in my professional life, I worked in Hollywood’s Motown building, so I often walked down the nearby “Hollywood Walk of Fame” — a few thousand stars’ names, set in concrete, on the sidewalk.

What a strange concept for a monument, I first thought. I mean, Hollywood isn’t the cleanest place in the world, so trash and litter and graffiti and even worse things often obscure the names of the stars. Also, any attempt to honor people that requires walking on their names seems a little, well, odd.

Apparently, that’s why Muhammad Ali insisted that his Walk of Fame star be mounted on a wall of the Dolby Theatre — the only one of 2700+ stars not sunk into the sidewalk. Since he shared his name with the prophet Muhammad, he wisely wanted it protected from the soles of people’s shoes.

RELATED: How Would You Like To Be Famous?

If you ever take a stroll down the two-and-a-half miles of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, you’ll see some names you probably know, but the big surprise for most people is the huge number of names they do not recognize at all. You may wonder, like I did: who were these people? Gladys Swarthout? King Baggot? Hugo Winterhalter? Edna Mae Oliver?

No disrespect intended — I’m sure everyone immortalized in brass, terrazzo, and concrete on the Walk of Fame made important contributions to the entertainment industry in their day. They may have been famous at one point, but they’re largely forgotten now, thanks to the fickle finger of fame. Every time I walked down Hollywood Boulevard, I wondered what people in a century or two might think — would they recognize any of the names? Would all the stars of today turn into the forgotten curiosities of tomorrow?

Mostly, though, I wondered: can we glean any wisdom from this?

If you’ve ever visited the ruins of a past civilization, you understand that question. Few people even remember the names of the kings and queens and emperors and empresses who powerfully ruled those cultures, whose names once evoked awe or loyalty or terror in their subjects. But now, both name and fame have completely vanished, their traces swept away by the windblown sands of time.

Ever heard the venerable Latin phrase sic transit gloria mundi? Literally, it means “Thus passes the worldly glory,” often expressed as “all fame is fleeting” or “this too shall pass.” The Baha’i teachings illumine that ancient truth this way:

Every soul seeketh an object and cherisheth a desire, and day and night striveth to attain his aim. One craveth riches, another thirsteth for glory and still another yearneth for fame, for art, for prosperity and the like. Yet finally all are doomed to loss and disappointment. One and all they leave behind them all that is theirs and empty-handed hasten to the realm beyond, and all their labours shall be in vain. To dust they shall all return, denuded, depressed, disheartened and in utter despair.

But, praised be the Lord, thou art engaged in that which secureth for thee a gain that shall eternally endure; and that is naught but thine attraction to the Kingdom of God, thy faith, and thy knowledge, the enlightenment of thine heart, and thine earnest endeavour to promote the Divine Teachings. 

Verily this gift is imperishable and this wealth is a treasure from on high!

So it seems that this passage from the Baha’i teachings identifies one “imperishable” exception. In his writings, Abdu’l-Baha made a singular distinction between gaining earthly fame and achieving everlasting glory:

Consider: eminent personages whose fame hath spread all over the world shall, erelong, fade into utter nothingness as the result of their deprivation of this heavenly bounty; no name and no fame shall they leave behind, and of them no fruit and trace shall survive. But as the effulgences of the Sun of Truth have dawned forth upon you and ye have attained everlasting life, ye shall shine and sparkle forevermore from the horizon of existence.

Peter was a fisherman and Mary Magdalene a peasant, but as they were specially favoured with the blessings of Christ, the horizon of their faith became illumined, and down to the present day they are shining from the horizon of everlasting glory. In this station, merit and capacity are not to be considered; nay rather, the resplendent rays of the Sun of Truth, which have illumined these mirrors, must be taken into account.

RELATED: Why Do We Seek Fame?

In his 1875 book The Secret of Divine Civilization, Abdu’l-Baha further explained the concept of attaining lasting fame:

It is clear that life in this fast-fading world is as fleeting and inconstant as the morning wind, and this being so, how fortunate are the great who leave a good name behind them, and the memory of a lifetime spent in the pathway of the good pleasure of God.

So, yes, one kind of fame can last, the Baha’i teachings say — when it comes about through selfless service to humanity and devotion to spiritual principles:

Consider the human world. See how nations have come and gone. They have been of all minds and purposes. Some were mere captives of self and desire, engulfed in the passions of the lower nature. They attained to wealth, to the comforts of life, to fame. And what was the final outcome? Utter evanescence and oblivion. Reflect upon this. Look upon it with the eye of admonition. No trace of them remains, no fruit, no result, no benefit; they have gone utterly — complete effacement.

Souls have appeared in the world who were pure and undefiled, who have directed their attention toward God, seeking the reward of God, attaining nearness to the threshold of God, acceptable in the good pleasure of God. They have been the lights of guidance and stars of the Supreme Concourse. Consider these souls, shining like stars in the horizon of sanctity forevermore.

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Comments

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  • Wendy Scott
    Jun 21, 2024
    -
    Why seek fame? It seems to me it would cause many difficulties. Princess Diana comes to mind. It doesn't sound like fun. Perhaps people think they can handle the problems fame produces—before they are famous.
    I recently had the privilege of meeting Renée Fleming after a concert she gave. I was so overwhelmed by her beauty and kindness that tears came to my eyes, but I moved on after that and allowed others waiting to meet her. I'll never understand how mobbing a famous person can be good for either the person or the fans. As you say, it ...all goes away after time passes although I think Ms. Fleming will have a page in music history that won't be turned anytime soon.
    BTW, I never heard of the "stars" you mentioned either.
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