Fame in the 20th Century

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First edition

Fame in the 20th Century is a 1993 BBC documentary television series and book by Clive James. The book and series examined the phenomenon of fame and how it expanded to international mass media proportions throughout the 20th century. The 8 episodes were divided in roughly 8 decades, from the 1900s to the 1980s. Each episode highlighted world famous people during that part of the century. James delivered interesting and amusing comments about the portrayed celebrities and the various ways they became famous.

In the United States, the series were broadcast on PBS.


James and his team developed the series as a study on the concept fame, and more specifically "world fame". They focused on over 250 people who are "undeniably world famous". Certain artists, musicians or sports figures became well known even for people who don't know much about their field. Louis Armstrong is for instance world famous, even for non-jazz fans or experts. Pelé became the most famous soccer player, even in the US: one of the few countries in the world where the sport isn't popular. People who know nothing about art have heard of the name Pablo Picasso and know his style. People who are not interested in tennis have heard of John McEnroe, due to his bad behavior on the tennis court. More people know Luciano Pavarotti than Plácido Domingo.

Clive James focused on fame in the 20th century, because the arrival of mass media, film and television changed forever the ways people became famous. In previous centuries people could only become famous by doing something that was remembered ages later. Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte conquered countries, Jesus Christ developed a religion, ... In the 20th century people could become world famous in less than no time and without doing anything, thanks to the arrival of mass media. Movie stars like Charlie Chaplin, for instance, became global stars due to the nearly universal reach of film. James cites Chaplin as the first truly world famous 20th century celebrity. The invention of the film close-up made people on film screens appear larger than life and thus increased the emotional involvement of the audience. This often led to mass hysteria and confusion between an actor's stage persona and the roles he played on the screen (as in the case of Rudolph Valentino). Certain politicians in the century have used the media to promote their own image to the public, for instance John F. Kennedy, who looked like a movie star, and Ronald Reagan who was a former movie star.

People could become world famous in a matter of a few days. Orson Welles became notorious after his radio play The War of the Worlds caused mass hysteria in the United States. Salman Rushdie, who was already known in literary circles, became a household name to the broader public due to the fatwa spoken out against him in 1989. Clive James sees the USA as the place where this new type of mass media fame was born. According to him international fame is only possible if the celebrity becomes famous in the USA. Cricketer Jack Hobbs was world famous throughout the British Empire in the interbellum, but unknown in countries where cricket was not popular, like the USA. Babe Ruth however became internationally famous even though baseball was played hardly anywhere else outside the US.

Other celebrities have been around for so long that the reason they originally became famous has been almost forgotten. Elizabeth Taylor has been cited by James as an example of someone who originally achieved fame as an actress, but later became more famous for her weddings and lifestyle. As James observed, the fame of some celebrities fades away after a few years. Silent movie stars like Florence Lawrence and William S. Hart, for instance, have nowadays sunk into obscurity. Other celebrities have become more famous over time. James cites T.E. Lawrence as an example. The British military officer became famous during World War One, but only became truly world famous with the general public thanks to the 1962 movie Lawrence of Arabia. Celebrities like Charlie Chaplin, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, Michael Jackson, The Beatles on the other hand, have never remained out of publicity and are nowadays famous for simply being who they are. Some people became famous due to their association with other celebrities. Examples are Yoko Ono (the wife of Beatle John Lennon), Lady Diana (who married Prince Charles in 1981) and Wallis Simpson (whose affair with King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom caused his abdication). Another phenomenon examined in the series is the change of someone's fame during time and thanks to mass media coverage. Charles Lindbergh, first famous as an aviation pioneer, became, to his horror, even more famous when his son was kidnapped and murdered. Dwight Eisenhower's fame as a general in World War II helped him win the presidential election a decade later. Joseph McCarthy used the media in his hunt against communism, but in the end the media worked against him. Elvis Presley's fame grew to legendary proportions after his death, when he sold more albums than during his lifetime.

When Clive James was asked by Charlie Rose in 1993 to name the three most famous people of the century, he cited Elvis Presley, Mohammed Ali, and Bruce Lee. He also mentioned Adolf Hitler, saying, "but the fact is the young Neo-Nazis in Germany now don't really know much about Hitler. So that kind of fame not necessarily lasts."

Famous moments[edit]

The television series made use of seldom seen archive material and world famous film and audio material where celebrities did or said famous things. Sometimes the footage wasn't that famous, but was used as a typical example of what the public associates with the celebrity or to show them during a more casual moment, instead of as an icon. Examples are:

Celebrities portrayed in the series[edit]

Early 20th century celebrities who were already famous in the late 19th century[edit]

Clive James included them because these celebrities were internationally famous at the turn of the 19th century into the 20th century.

William Randolph Hearst,[1] Thomas Alva Edison,[1] Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom,[1] Leon Tolstoy,[1] Arthur Conan Doyle,[1] Rudyard Kipling,[1] Sarah Bernhardt,[1] Isadora Duncan [1] and Buffalo Bill.[1]

Celebrities who became famous in the 20th century[edit]


Enrico Caruso,[1] Wilbur Wright and Orville Wright,[1] Louis Blériot,[1] Marie Curie,[1] Theodore Roosevelt,[1] Florence Lawrence,[1] Francis X. Bushman,[1] William S. Hart,[1] Theda Bara,[1] Harry Houdini,[1] Robert Falcon Scott,[1] Roald Amundsen,[1] Henry James,[1] Jack Johnson,[1] Wilhelm II,[1] Paul von Hindenburg,[1] Ferdinand Foch,[1] George V of the United Kingdom,[1] Lloyd George,[1] Lord Kitchener,[1] The Red Baron,[1] T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia),[1] Mata Hari,[1] Lenin,[1] Henry Ford,[1] Douglas Fairbanks,[1] Mary Pickford,[1] Charlie Chaplin,[1] Greta Garbo,[1] John Gilbert,[1] Sigmund Freud,[1] Pablo Picasso,[1] Igor Stravinsky,[1] Albert Einstein,[1] Albert Schweitzer [1]


Suzanne Lenglen,[2] Anna Pavlova,[2] Nellie Melba,[2] Amy Johnson,[2] Malcolm Campbell,[2] Henry Seagrave,[2] Jack Hobbs,[2] Donald Bradman,[2] Babe Ruth,[2] Jack Dempsey,[2] Charles Lindbergh,[2] Al Capone,[2] Louis Armstrong,[2] Duke Ellington,[2] Josephine Baker,[2] F. Scott Fitzgerald,[2] Rudolph Valentino,[2] D. H. Lawrence,[2] James Joyce,[2] Coco Chanel,[2] Noël Coward,[2] Gertrude Lawrence,[2] Al Jolson,[2] Buster Keaton,[2] Laurel and Hardy,[2] T. S. Eliot,[2] Marlene Dietrich,[2] Maurice Chevalier,[2] Jeanette MacDonald,[2] Nelson Eddy,[2] Mae West,[2] George Gershwin,[2] Fred Astaire,[2] Ginger Rogers,[2] Bruno Hauptmann [2]


Benito Mussolini,[3] George Bernard Shaw,[3] Adolf Hitler,[3] Rudolph Hess,[3] Joseph Goebbels,[3] Hermann Göring,[3] Heinrich Himmler,[3] Eva Braun,[3] Johnny Weissmuller,[3] Franklin D. Roosevelt,[3] Eleanor Roosevelt,[3] Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi,[3] The Marx Brothers,[3] Bing Crosby,[3] Shirley Temple,[3] Arturo Toscanini,[3] Walt Disney,[3] Gary Cooper,[3] Howard Hughes,[3] Amelia Earhart,[3] James Stewart,[3] Henry Fonda,[3] James Cagney,[3] John Wayne,[3] Errol Flynn,[3] Clark Gable,[3] Vivien Leigh,[3] Jean Harlow,[3] Edward G. Robinson,[3] Joan Crawford,[3] Bette Davis,[3] Katharine Hepburn,[3] Spencer Tracy,[3] Ernest Hemingway,[3] Francisco Franco,[3] Orson Welles,[3] Edward VIII of the United Kingdom,[3] Wallis Simpson,[3] George VI of the United Kingdom,[3] Salvador Dalí,[3] Jesse Owens,[3] Joe Louis,[3] Max Schmeling,[3] Neville Chamberlain,[3] Joseph Stalin,[3] Judy Garland,[3] J. Edgar Hoover,[3] Billie Holiday [3]


Winston Churchill,[4] Charles de Gaulle,[4] Philippe Pétain,[4] Bob Hope,[4] Humphrey Bogart,[4] Ingrid Bergman,[4] Hirohito,[4] Hideki Tōjō,[4] Isoroku Yamamoto,[4] Erwin Rommel,[4] Bernard Law Montgomery,[4] Lord Louis Mountbatten,[4] George Formby, Jr.,[4] Gracie Fields,[4] Vera Lynn,[4] Laurence Olivier,[4] Douglas MacArthur,[4] David Niven,[4] Ronald Reagan,[4] Frank Sinatra,[4] Benny Goodman,[4] Cary Grant,[4] Tommy Dorsey,[4] Artie Shaw,[4] Harry James,[4] Gene Krupa,[4] Glenn Miller,[4] Betty Grable,[4] Rita Hayworth,[4] Dwight Eisenhower,[4] George Patton,[4] Jean-Paul Sartre,[4] Simone de Beauvoir,[4] Jean Cocteau,[4] Chester W. Nimitz,[4] Harry S. Truman,[4] Ava Gardner,[4] Audie Murphy,[4] Guy Gibson,[4] Douglas Bader,[4] Mao Zedong,[4] Alfred Hitchcock,[4] Charlie Parker,[4] Margot Fonteyn [4]


Liberace,[5] Lucille Ball,[5] Dezi Arnaz,[5] Edmund Hillary,[5] Tenzing Norgay,[5] Roger Bannister,[5] Elizabeth II,[5] Richard Nixon,[5] Joseph McCarthy,[5] Edward Murrow,[5] Paul Robeson,[5] Richard Burton,[5] Gene Kelly,[5] Sophia Loren,[5] Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis,[5] Marilyn Monroe,[5] Joe DiMaggio,[5] Arthur Miller,[5] Jack Lemmon,[5] Tony Curtis,[5] Brigitte Bardot,[5] Billy Graham,[5] Diana Dors,[5] Guy Gibson,[5] Richard Todd,[5] Kenneth More,[5] Alec Guinness,[5] Grace Kelly,[5] Rainier III,[5] Hugh Hefner,[5] Doris Day,[5] Rock Hudson,[5] Miles Davis,[5] Farouk I,[5] Aga Khan III,[5] Prince Aly Khan,[5] Juan Manuel Fangio,[5] Stirling Moss,[5] Charlton Heston,[5] Aristotle Onassis,[5] Maria Callas,[5] Evita Peron,[5] Marlon Brando,[5] James Dean,[5] Bill Haley,[5] Elvis Presley,[5] Colonel Tom Parker,[5] Pele,[5] Nikita Khrushchev,[5] Fidel Castro [5]


John F. Kennedy,[6] Jacqueline Kennedy,[6] Elizabeth Taylor,[6] Sean Connery,[6] Christine Keeler,[6] John Profumo,[6] Sammy Davis, Jr.,[6] Peter Sellers,[6] Steve McQueen,[6] Rudolph Nureyev,[6] Yuri Gagarin,[6] Lee Harvey Oswald,[6] Jack Ruby,[6] Lyndon B. Johnson,[6] Diana Ross,[6] The Beatles,[6] The Rolling Stones,[6] Brian Epstein,[6] Maharishi Mahesh Yogi,[6] Yoko Ono,[6] Bob Dylan,[6] Che Guevara,[6] William Calley,[6] Muhammad Ali,[6] Martin Luther King,[6] Robert Kennedy,[6] Jane Fonda,[6] Leonid Brezhnev,[6] William Shatner,[6] Clint Eastwood,[6] Neil Armstrong,[6] Charles Manson,[6] Andy Warhol,[6] Prince Charles [6]


Henry Kissinger,[7] Mother Teresa,[7] Diane Keaton,[7] Al Pacino,[7] Cher,[7] Elton John,[7] Jack Nicholson,[7] Warren Beatty,[7] Robert Redford,[7] Robert De Niro,[7] Paul Newman,[7] Raymond Burr (as Ironside),[7] William Conrad (as Cannon),[7] Peter Falk (as Columbo),[7] James Garner (as Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files),[7] Telly Savalas (as Kojak),[7] The Osmonds,[7] Gerald Ford,[7] Mark Spitz,[7] Bobby Fischer,[7] Olga Korbut,[7] Alexander Solzhenitsyn,[7] Jodie Foster,[7] Roger Moore,[7] Björn Borg,[7] Billie Jean King,[7] Chris Evert,[7] John McEnroe,[7] ABBA,[7] Bruce Lee,[7] David Bowie,[7] Patty Hearst,[7] Idi Amin,[7] Woody Allen,[7] Dustin Hoffman,[7] Steven Spielberg,[7] Barbra Streisand,[7] John Travolta,[7] Farrah Fawcett,[7] George Lucas,[7] Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof,[7] The Sex Pistols,[7] Jimmy Carter,[7] Pope John Paul II,[7] Meryl Streep,[7] Larry Hagman (as J. R. Ewing in Dallas),[7] Ruhollah Khomeini [7]


Lech Wałęsa,[8] Margaret Thatcher,[8] Mark David Chapman,[8] John Hinckley, Jr.,[8] Sylvester Stallone,[8] Lady Diana,[8] Michael Jackson,[8] Joan Collins,[8] Arnold Schwarzenegger,[8] Madonna,[8] Oprah Winfrey,[8] Eddie Murphy,[8] Bill Cosby,[8] Bob Geldof,[8] Oliver North,[8] Nelson Mandela,[8] Mikhail Gorbachev,[8] Donald Trump,[8] Martina Navratilova,[8] Muammar al-Gaddafi,[8] George H. W. Bush,[8] Tom Cruise,[8] Julia Roberts,[8] Mel Gibson,[8] Harrison Ford,[8] Salman Rushdie,[8] Václav Havel,[8] Patrick Swayze,[8] Bruce Willis,[8] Mike Tyson,[8] Saddam Hussein,[8] Norman Schwarzkopf,[8] Luciano Pavarotti [8]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar Chapter 1: The Close-up Stakes Its Claim, 1900-1927 | clivejames.com Archived 3 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai Chapter Two: All Ahead Warp Factor One 1918-1932 | clivejames.com Archived 4 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av Chapter Three: The Charisma Kids, 1930-1939 | clivejames.com Archived 13 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar Chapter Four: Twin Pearl-handled Guns, 1939-1945 | clivejames.com Archived 13 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax Chapter Five: In Bondage to Cyclops 1945-1960 | clivejames.com Archived 13 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah Chapter 6: Float Like a Butterfly, 1960-1969 | clivejames.com Archived 13 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au Chapter 7: Towering Earthquake, 1969 – 1981 | clivejames.com Archived 30 December 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag Chapter 8: The Monster Walks Amongst Us, 1981-1992 | clivejames.com Archived 13 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine.

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