Nell Minow
Corporate Governance expert, 'Movie Mom'

Nell Minow

Editor of The Corporate Library, and 'Movie Mom' for Beliefnet.com and radio stations across the country.

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We love second acts

Q: Not so long ago, Alec Baldwin called his teen daughter names in a horrifying phone call heard around the world. Now he's co-hosting the Oscars ceremony. Was the decision to spotlight Baldwin a wise one? And after a public figure embarrasses himself or herself so profoundly, how do they regain their footing? Who has managed to overcome such shame, and who has failed to?

F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong. He said there were no second acts in American lives. We're all about second acts.

There's nothing we love more than an underdog unless it's a comeback. Indeed, the second act is so firmly established that we are all now very sophisticated at parsing each step of the way, from the initial apology (points taken off for passive voice, subsequent revelations not covered by the initial statement, or for blaming substance abuse or trauma) to the gantlet of talk shows and magazine covers.

And many people have come back from far worse than Baldwin did. Look at Marion Barry. He's back in trouble again and I would not put it past him to have yet another comeback. Marv Albert is back on the air. Don Imus is back on the air. Eliot Spitzer is invited to comment on news stories and Rod Blagojevich is competing to become the apprentice for another guy who has had some ups and downs, Donald Trump.

Reality shows let us see celebrities in rehab and losing weight. Angelina Jolie has gone from an out-of-control wild child to a respected advocate for the world's children. Part of this is because we love a comeback, though some of it is because we have misplaced the line between someone who is a celebrity and someone who has actually achieved something. I'm not willing to say that Blagojevich has made a comeback. I'd put him in the category of being in denial about how close he is to going away for good.

Baldwin lost his temper at his teen-age daughter. This is something most of us can understand as parents or as former teens. There isn't anyone out there who didn't feel relieved, in reading about Baldwin, that our phone messages and emails are not of sufficiently widespread interest to be made public.

But he had much more to come back from than an embarrassing angry voicemail. He was a one-time leading man whose age and weight had taken him out of consideration for top roles. He made bad career choices and bad life choices. But his experience shows us that patience, talent, persistence and the right kind of pride paid off, as he is now more respected professionally than ever.

I once heard Baldwin tell a story on an episode of "Inside the Actor's Studio" that became one of our family favorites. It was a long time ago, so I won't have all the details right, but it was something like this. Baldwin was riding in a cab, and the driver said he wanted to be an actor and asked him for advice.

"Oh, that's wonderful!" Baldwin said. "You will have a great life, meet great people, be exposed to great literature. Get a lot of training, try out for community theater, put on your own shows if you have to."

"No," said the cab driver. "I want to go to Hollywood and get an agent and be in movies." "Oh," said Baldwin. "You don't want to be an actor. You want to be a movie star. That I can't help you with."

I don't know many lessons more important in achieving success than that one. When in doubt about what to do next, pick actor, not movie star.

By Nell Minow  |  March 11, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  The comeback Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Not everyone loves second acts -- I don't. I find Marion Barry and Don Imus disgusting, and always have. I too don't understand why Angelina Jolie is on this list.

Posted by: eat-the-rich | March 12, 2010 10:58 AM
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Sorry, I don't think Angelina should be on that list. She has been volunteering for UNICEF since around the time of Sneakers, long before she publicly kissed her brother or the rest of that stuff. She just toned her image down when it was outliving it's usefulness. The charity work was both fulfilling and a consistently great way to promote herself, a win-win. I commend her for her smart move in that regard.

Posted by: digtalcomp | March 12, 2010 8:48 AM
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