Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Talentless Scions

On another site I was discussing children following in the footsteps of their famous parents- with reference to various musicians with more famous parents. A handful have lived up to or excelled their parents- Jeff Buckley, Norah Jones & Kirsty MacColl spring to mind but by far the most.

With actors though it is another story- many in that profession equal or exceed the success of famous parents- Kate Hudson, Michael Douglas, innumerable Redgraves, Baldwins, Sheens, Fondas etc spring to mind. Not to mention thespians who are the children of non-actors involved in the entertainment industry.

Dynasties are much more likely to emerge in fields where talent is difficult to distinguish. Talent wise there is not much to separate a Hollywood A-Lister and the average jobbing actor on the stage in provincial theatres, because fundamentally acting isn’t a tremendously difficult task.

Being connected to directors, writers and producers is much more critical than mere ability in achieving success.

Song writing on the other hand is very difficult and it is quite easy for a layman to tell the difference between a brilliant song and a perfectly competent but unexceptional tune. The children of the Beatles and Rolling Stones are not going to achieve more success as song writers than someone born to a builder and a shop assistant in Preston if they cannot write a catchy tune.

Therefore the children of successful actors have a much easier time following in their parents footsteps than those of song writers.

Dynasties exist in all fields, even intensely meritocratic pursuits like sport, but are most noticeable in areas where talent is the least critical and connections matter. Based on that idea it can be concluded that other areas where talent is not very important include politics*, media** & fashion.

* Assorted Bushes, Kennedys, Benns, Prescotts, Hurds, Maudes.
** Various Milnes, Corens, Toynbees & more.
*** Multiple daughters of Beatles, Stones as well as the odd Geldof.

11 comments:

Macheath said...

Good point - though I'd argue that at least one of the Coren progeny is witty enough to justify a journalistic career.

On matters thespian and the ubiquity of nepotism, I know of a mother who demanded to know why her son - 11 years old - had not been offered a leading role in the school play.

The teacher explained that the cast was made up of senior pupils - 5th and 6th formers - but this cut no ice with the mother. Drawing herself up to her full height, she delivered her killer argument:

"His father's first wife was in Upstairs Downstairs, you know!"

Ross said...

Both Victoria & Giles Coren are okay, but there are thousands of people at a similar level of talent.

"His father's first wife was in Upstairs Downstairs, you know!"

It's quite weird for a wife to be boasting about who her husband's ex is!

Macheath said...

Weird, but typically unscrupulous stage mother behaviour - ready to pull any string available to ensure her little darling has a head start in 'the business'.

James Higham said...

Being connected to directors, writers and producers is much more critical than mere ability in achieving success.

Don't forget sleeping your way to the top.

Laban said...

I see John Humphrys' son is reporting for the Telegraph ..

Anonymous said...

It is hard to imagine that many unconnected Journalists have such a poor academic record as Toynbee and got their first job at the observer.

Is there any journalist who dropped out of Oxford and without any experience in the media got a job at national without family connections.

Chuckles said...

'Regression to the mean' can be a real dog at times.

Ross said...

Laban- Doesn't surprise me.

Anon- She is one of the clearest beneficiaries.

Mark Wadsworth said...

That's a very good point.

Re sport, the only sport where this is a lot of father/son or brother/brother stuff going on is Formula 1 motor racing, but as others have pointed out, what really matters is
a) The team manager (10 points if it's Ross Brawn, 6 if it's Adrian Newey).
b) The car (6 points if it's a Ferrari, otherwise 1)
c) The driver (2 points if it's Michael Schumacher in the old days, else 1)
in that order.

Ross said...

In F1 the entry costs are prohibitive to many, so knowing someone on the inside probably counts for a fair bit in terms of being given a chance.

Joseph Takagi said...

A lot of nepotism relates to PR. It's reckoned that the owners of Chloe hired Stella McCartney as much for the free publicity she could bring as her ability at making clothes.

That's because once you get past the general level of being able to make clothing, there's not much separating fashion designers. A few (Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent) have genuinely changed how people dressed, but most just do what others do.