Remember the name: Can fame make you live forever? | MARK HUGHES COBB

Irene Cara. Remember her name?

If so, you've aged yourself as certainly as your license showing a birth year beginning with 19.

This isn't mockery, to forget she was a real human, as are most, with the possible exceptions of Sting, Ryan Reynolds and Jack White, semi-functional gizmos sprung loose from a hellish Chuck E. Cheese for wayward kids, tossed writhing on trash heaps, due to the grating tendency to whine and smirk, their visages mistaken for the "Punch Me!" boxing game roughly 1,000 times per day.

But it's hard to miss the Oyzmandias-level hubris when a pop artist throws out the wish that their name will live forever. Gloria Gaynor has survived, thanks to house-electronica and drag shows, but has "Fame" worked the same for Cara?

That's as in "Ozymandias," the sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley, not to be confused with one of the same title by friend Horace Smith, written in competition, the kind of thing writers sat about doing on vacation in ye olden times, before theme parks, pickleball or streaming-on-demand.

"Ozymandias" chronicles massive changes, soarings and collapses, through humankind's ego-driven accomplishments, vast in their day, later lost to dust, through time and disregard.

How many of us have read Shelley lately, speaking of irony? We're generally more familiar with a work by his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, who wrote "Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus," on another of those summer idylls. After absorbing a collection of German horror tales, "Fantasmagoriana," the group challenged one another to pen ghost stories. Percy wrote ghastly tales published as "Journal at Geneva (including ghost stories)." Lord Byron began, but abandoned, a vampire tale called "A Fragment." John Polidori picked up that fumble and ran it in as "The Vampyre," the first published vampire story in English, predating Irishman Bram Stoker's "Dracula" by 78 years.

And yet how many — aside from my fellow sci-fi/fantasy/horror geeks — recognize the name Polidori? Maybe if Francis Ford Coppola had slapped his name upside a bloodsucker flick. Fame.

Both Shelley's and Smith's "Ozymandias" sonnets ponder impermanence. Smith's asks if someday London's ruins will be viewed like that of buried Egyptian troves, back in their day just being unearthed, brought back to light. Ozymandias was the Greek name for Pharoah Ramesses II, the GOAT, with competition from Thutmose III, not to be confused with Tutankhamun, immortalized, ala Shelley, by Steve Martin's disco ditty "King Tut."

Shelley's sonnet notes Ozy's pedestal was barely readable:

"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!"


Nothing beside remains. Round the decayOf that colossal Wreck, boundless and bareThe lone and level sands stretch far away.

As the kids today, or possibly the day before yesterday, say: Ointment delivery, stat, for that sick burn.

Thing is Cara, unlike many Macy's parade-sized egos of today's pop stars, should remain better known. A multi-talented child star, she starred in TV from "Electric Company" to "Love of Life" to "The Tonight Show" to "Roots: The Next Generation," cut albums in Spanish and English, appeared in a major concert tribute to Duke Ellington alongside Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack and Sammy Davis Jr., and performed on and off-Broadway in shows such as "Ain't Misbehavin'," "The Me Nobody Knows," "Maggie Flynn" opposite Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy, and "Via Galactica" with Raúl Juliá. In 1976, she starred in musical film "Sparkle," based loosely on the Supremes, with score by the legendary Curtis Mayfield. It flopped on release, but has achieved a kind of cult status since.

Cara rose to greatest fame — Fame! Again, if you're not hearing the call-and-response, you're probably 1) under a certain age, 2) not interested in things made before you were born, or 3) Not at all a musical theater geek — in Alan Parker's 1980 "Fame," a sort of "A Chorus Line Jr.," introducing the world to the idea of performing arts high schools. The groundbreaking 1974 "A Chorus Line" is nearly all audition, followed by one boffo closing number. "Fame" went further, following a series of often-painful auditions — MontaGOO, MontaGOTS — that could have inspired the most cringe-worthy bits from "American Idol," on through the kids' years, and into early forays in the pro world.

"Fame" spun off roughly four TV series, the first a direct sequel featuring several of the film's cast, though not Cara; a 1988 stage version, "Fame — The Musical"; and a 2009 film remake. Actor-performers from the movie and TV series formed a band, titled, duh, The Kids from "Fame," releasing several albums, touring and such.

Its success lit the fuse for the '80s teen-movie boom, especially those built around music, such as "Footloose," "Dirty Dancing," everything John Hughes produced, and "Flashdance," for which Cara also sang and co-wrote the Oscar-, Golden Globe- and Grammy-winning theme song, "Flashdance ... What a Feelling."

Chances are you remember the name "Fame" — Fame! Seriously, the exclamation marks matter — even if you can't recall the film. Cara's the heart, not just as singer of the title song, but the film's emotional core. From auditions, students funnel into tracks: Dance, drama and music. Cara's the driven all-star, chosen by all three. Her character Coco was rewritten around Cara's skills.

Cara made Oscar history, with two songs nominated in the same category, same year, for the driving theme and ballad "Out Here On My Own." Her next Academy Award appearance resounded even louder, as she helped write "Flashdance ... What a Feeling," winning an Oscar. She became the first Black woman to win since Hattie McDaniel in the 1939 "Gone With the Wind" and the first Hispanic woman since Rita Moreno in the 1961 "West Side Story." Cara was the first bi-racial woman ever to win at the Academy Awards, in any category.

NBC built a sitcom around her, titled "Irene," though it didn't get picked up. She continued singing and acting in TV and film, working with folks including Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, Diahann Carroll and Tatum O'Neal, and on stage played Dorothy in "The Wiz," and Mary Magdalene in "Jesus Chris Superstar." Her last top 10 hit, "Breakdance," came in the mid-'80s. Credits began to taper down in the '90s, and slowed even further this century, though Cara continued to record and perform music.

You could call it ironic that few of the "Fame" cast became household names, folks such as Lee Curreri, Laura Dean, Antonia Franceschi, Paul McCrane, Barry Miller. ... But.

Curreri starred in five years of the TV series, toured with the band, and continues to write and perform music, working with notables such as Natalie Cole. Dean has worked in opera, musicals and other TV and film. Franceschi worked in "Grease," and as a dancer choreographer with the New York City Ballet, one of the last generation hand-selected by George Balanchine. McCrane has worked steadily. You'd recognize his face from "RoboCop" (the superior 1987 original), "The Hotel New Hampshire," "Wiseguy," "Cop Rock," tons of guest-episode work, and his long-running role on "ER." Miller won a Tony for his role in the 1985 Neil Simon Broadway hit "Biloxi Blues," and also appeared in films including "Saturday Night Fever," "Peggy Sue Got Married" and "The Last Temptation of Christ." Like McCrane, he's also done tons of roles in TV.

Ozymandias/Ramesses II ruled 1,500 years after the pyramids, but cetainly looked to those peaks, embarking on his own ambitious building schemes. Though there's only a teensy bit of space at the apex of a pyramid, there's a whole lot of structure and sides. From wind and weather, chances are that thinnest part may erode first.

For those seeking fame, a lesson in stone: There's a whole lot of life, and work, beneath the top.

Mark Hughes Cobb
Mark Hughes Cobb

Reach Tusk Editor Mark Hughes Cobb at, or call 205-722-0201.

This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Remember the name: Can fame make you live forever? | MARK HUGHES COBB