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Computer makes it easy to pad a resume
By BARBARA FREDRICKSEN
Published July 28, 2007
When I first started this job as arts and entertainment writer for the Times 14 years ago, I probably wrote a few lies.
That's because many of the performers who sent me information about themselves for stories unashamedly fudged their credentials and experience.
Many claimed to have performed on Broadway, which is the pinnacle as far most actors are concerned. Some claimed movie credits. Others said they had performed at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall.
My all-time favorite, though, was an actor whose resume said he had "appeared on Good Morning, America." I called him and asked some pointed questions. He finally admitted that his "appearance" was during a crowd scene outside, where he was one of hundreds lined up along the barrier to wave at the camera.
Since there was no way to check all these resumes, other than calling a long list of theaters and asking someone to dig up an ancient theater program, I had to leave the information out or trust that the documentation (copies of newspaper articles and the like) sent to me was genuine.
That all changed, though, with the advent of several Internet master databases. If someone claims a Broadway credit, for example, I can click on that database and see if it's true or false. As for Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, I quickly learned how to determine if the performer did a genuine paid performance at those prestigious venues or merely rented a room there and put on a recital or show, which anyone can do.
So now that the Internet has matured and just about everyone is using it, I'm running into another problem: self-generated fame. With the sophisticated home computers, just about anyone can go on the Internet and create a gorgeous, professional-looking Web site and list all kinds of credentials and achievements for themselves.
From there, they can create imaginary entertainment writers who "interview" or profile them for imaginary publications. Using these made-up Web sites, the phonies send out press releases, which are copied verbatim by unsuspecting (and less picky) publications, and those articles are placed on the Internet, too, thus giving the fibbers an impressive online presence and a certain feel of authenticity.
It gets even more complicated when the performer creates compact discs on his home computer, complete with slick cover art, and proclaims himself a "recording artist."
All this stuff - printouts of souped-up resumes and phony interviews, copies of homemade CDs and reams of glossy photographs - arrives on my desk, along with a syrupy call from his "agent" (his mom? sister? Aunt Sylvia? Cousin Billy Bob in Omaha?), giving the impression I'm dealing with a famous person who has somehow slipped by me on the radar.
So now I either spend precious hours tracking down primary sources (back to the telephone) or I leave out what might be true facts, except I can't track them down to a primary source.
Where does that leave the audience?
There's no foolproof way to protect yourself from paying big bucks to see a self-manufactured star. But your chances are better if you buy your tickets from established venues that screen these performers to make sure you're getting a star, not a sham.
The Florida Legislature recently passed a law that addresses another egregious showbiz problem: groups who claim to be famous acts from the past. I first ran into this problem when a local venue announced a show by "the original Platters." The Platters were a big deal when I was a kid, so I knew they were getting older - and that at least two of the originals were dead.
A quick records check revealed a tangled web of lawsuits, settlements, copyright infringements, member changes and more lawsuits over use of the group's name. In this case, the act coming to Pasco had one member from the original group and the legal right to use the name.
That experience taught me to be very careful when dealing with nostalgia acts.
Now the Legislature has passed a law, and Gov. Charlie Crist has signed it, allowing a $5,000 fine for anyone who fraudulently impersonates an existing band.
Groups can still do tributes to a band, but they can't claim to be, say, the Ink Spots, unless they have at least one member from the original group and/or are legally entitled to use the name. The aim of the "Doo-Wop Bill" is to make sure that audiences actually get what they think they're paying for. Just as important, it prevents rip-off groups from devaluing the genuine performer.
The bill was encouraged by Jon "Bowzer" Bauman of Sha Na Na, who grew tired of imposters claiming to be him and of watching other phonies and fakers passing themselves off as genuine rock 'n' roll legends.