When Tiger Woods returns to the PGA Masters tournament in Augusta this week, his most fearsome opponent might be F. Scott Fitzgerald, who declared, “There are no second acts in American lives.”
The Gatsby author had a point: A great number of scandalised public figures retreat from the klieg lights of scrutiny to live out their remaining days in the dark motel of shame. But a few manage to rise from humiliation and re-enter public life to become even brighter and more beloved than they were before they blew it.
Few stars have fallen more precipitously in recent months than Woods, a one-man industrial complex whose public image had been hovering above mortals for years.
Tiger’s halo clattered violently around his ankles after that overpublicised incident in November involving car windows, golf clubs and his very, very unhappy wife and it was not helped by subsequent revelations suggesting that Tiger’s legendary swing was not limited to the golf course.
Woods has made some valiant, if desperate-looking, attempts at public atonement, and the odds are tilting in his favor: He is expected to make a full professional recovery from personal disgrace. An adoring public in America especially likes to see character flaws in its stars. The gaffes and screw-ups provide a more intimate understanding through which we might relate more personally to our heroes. To wit: Good Tiger + Bad Tiger = Human Tiger.
And he’s in good company. The following luminaries all thrived after similar disasters befell them:
In 1943, Joan Barry, an actress in her early 20s, claimed to be pregnant with the child of 54-year-old Charlie Chaplin, who was already on thin ice with moral crusaders such as Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper because of his notorious affection for very young women.
Chaplin was pilloried. Several years of trials ensued, replete with salacious details. His public image went further south when, during the ordeal, he wed 18-year-old Oona O’Neill.
Chaplin, a British citizen, was prosecuted and sued for paternity. During a boat trip to Europe in 1952, he was barred from returning to the United States, and he lived in exile in Switzerland for 20 years. At 83, Chaplin returned briefly to Hollywood to pick up an honorary Oscar, and the entertainment world finally cared more about his contributions than his sins.
On February. 2, 1950, Ingrid Bergman gave birth to Renato Roberto Giusto Giuseppe Rossellini, the son of Italian film director Roberto Rossellini. This would have been a joyous Hollywood event if Bergman hadn’t been married at the time to a neurosurgeon named Peter Lindstrom. Hollywood moralists whipped up a storm of public outrage against the actress.
With wretched timing, the scandal broke while her latest film, Joan of Arc, was still in theaters with Bergman in the titular role as the virgin saint.
The actress arranged a quickie divorce and a marriage to Rossellini, but it was too late: Her films were picketed and criticised by clergymen. And the actress so beloved for her role as a freedom fighter in Casablanca was denounced on the Senate floor in 1950 by senator Edwin Johnson who described her as a “free-love cultist” and a “powerful influence for evil.”
But Bergman came back with a bang, winning an Academy Award for Anastasia in 1957 and her third Oscar in 1975, as Best Supporting Actress in Murder on the Orient Express.
Not a whole lot of men in public life would have the chutzpah to pull such a stunt, but the incorrigible Allen couldn’t help himself. In 1992, at the age of 56, he became involved with 21-year-old Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow, his girlfriend of 12 years. His film Husbands and Wives opened during the scandal to widespread cringing as audiences watched Allen’s character, an aged university professor, drool over the young Juliette Lewis.
Allen and Farrow came to an acrimonious end, but Allen remained involved with Previn and went on to make some of the most artistically and commercially successful films of his career, such as Match Point (for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay).
Wilson is the author of A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-examined
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