What’s the allure? Why does anyone subject themselves to being so encapsulated? Does The New Yorker still exert such a literary spell on the imagination that to be recognized in its pages is desirable, no matter what the actual outcome?
Ian Parker is fairly sympathetic to his subject (in 2008), George Clooney, but the piece makes the movie star smaller than life with no insight to his art or craft of acting. But then Clooney isn’t Olivier. There just isn’t that much there.
And I say this as a Clooney fan. I thought he created a very compelling character in Doug Ross on ER: his friendship with Mark Greene and slow maturing to a relationship with nurse Hathaway was very good television. I love his Danny Ocean, times 3. I thought his Michael Clayton was a nuanced performance. But the reveals of the piece make him seem like a strange narcissist who needs to be “protected” by those who care about him, while he single handedly tries to give “fame” and “celebrity” a kind, very good-looking face.
There are moments in Parkers piece that I liked:
“ [Clooney]'I’m perfectly willing to give up control' as in the matter of the house renovation, perhaps—'but somebody has to be in control.' It’s no good, he said, with a likable hint of Martha Stewart in his manner, 'if nobody’s asking, ‘Who wants wine?’ Maybe they’ll get wine or maybe they won’t. Maybe they’ll get cheese, or maybe not.'”
I agree with George on this. (Now no eye rolling Steed.) Nature abhors a vacuum. Someone in the group is the planner, someone brings the group together, and then plays host.
For Clooney, that sense applies most deeply to his male friends:
“'He loves the guys and the camaraderie of the guys,' [Richard] Kind said, talking of Clooney’s long-standing male friends, most of whom are connected to the entertainment industry. And then he added, 'He loves the notion of the camaraderie.' This was an amplification, not a correction; but it hinted at Clooney’s social purposefulness."
In that instance I see Clooney as Cary Grant/Archie Cutter in Gunga Din, off on escapades with Ballantine and MacChesney. (Hey, maybe doing a remake of that grand epic would serve Clooney better than Leathernecks did.)
George and Me and a CSF Leak
There is one thing about George Clooney that I understand intimately: the problems of a CSF leak.
A spontaneous cerebrospinal fluid leak happens when there’s a tiny tear in the fabric, or dura, of the spinal column. The spinal fluid leaks out of the column and then there isn’t enough in the base of the skull to cushion the brain against the bone like there should be. That’s what the headache is. The spinal column is an astonishing hydraulics system, among other things.
Here’s Clooney on Larry King: “I basically bruised my brain. It's bouncing around my head because it's not supported by the spinal fluid.”
That’s a pretty good description. I know, because it happened to me too, seven years ago. Clooney’s spinal tear happened when he was filming Syriana. He accidentally fell to the floor when tied to a chair. I don’t even know what the onset trauma was for mine, which isn't unusal. I had a horrible pain across the back of my skull for a few days. I finally walked into an emergency room. Two dry spinal taps later-—something I wouldn’t wish on my worse enemy--and we had the diagnosis (althought they first thought it was meningitis, because the menges get inflamed from the rubbing).
The first line of treatment is complete bed rest-—keeping the body prone-—lots of fluids, and steroids, to see if they will shrink the hole back.
I was lucky. That worked for me. I had one relapse, eight months later and had to go through the bed rest and steroids again. It did resolve again, and I’ve been fine since.
Clooney was not so lucky. The next line of treatment after steroids is an epidural blood patch-—it acts like putting a patch on a hole in a tire. But it means you have to find the general area of the leak, which is done by injecting dye into the spinal column. These are two horrible, invasive procedures that have to be repeated if not successful.
In Parker’s piece, Clooney still has lingering headaches. As in all lives, it’s just one of the thousand things he can’t control. I’m glad he likes to plan parties. Now they can help keep his mind off the pain.