Is Entertainment News Really News?
Is entertainment news really news? How much notice should actors receive in the newspapers, and why? In London’s media in the mid-eighteenth century, questions about the value of celebrity news were as warmly contested as they are now. The writer of a note “To the PUBLISHER” (ca. 1756) criticizes newspapers’ excessive coverage of theater news—and especially, their copious news of actors. Following the doings of “imaginary heroes,” he protests, is of no interest to the “enlightened part of mankind” and “can be of no service to the lowest class” because it does not develop readers’ good taste*. Fortunately, no one heeded this curmudgeon. News of London’s theatrical celebrities continued to stream into periodicals and pamphlets, for two reasons.
First, entertainment news was a hot commodity. The Public Advertiser actually paid the playhouses for the privilege of advertising their offerings. Providing timely, accurate entertainment information to readers gave them a market advantage, for “those Papers which contain the greatest Number of PLAY-BILLS, and other Accounts of Public Diversions are always most called for,” as the Advertiser’s predecessor, the London Daily Post and General Advertiser, opined.
… from 1747 to 1776 David Garrick controlled hiring, actors’ salaries, and the entertainments offered there, many of which he wrote, adapted or appeared in himself.
Second, theater news occupied a large space in the media scape because the managers of the theaters in Drury Lane and Covent Garden owned shares in several newspapers, and they exploited to the full the opportunity this gave them to promote their theatrical products.
As part-owner and manager of Drury Lane, one of London’s two official theaters, from 1747 to 1776 David Garrick controlled hiring, actors’ salaries, and the entertainments offered there, many of which he wrote, adapted or appeared in himself. In an eerie foreshadowing of modern media convergences, Garrick was also a proprietor of newspapers including the St. James’s Chronicle, the Morning Post, the London Packet, and yes, the Public Advertiser. These papers, not coincidentally, advertised and reviewed Drury Lane’s theatrical productions. In the same year our curmudgeon objected to actors’ media overexposure, the name of the century’s most renowned actor, David Garrick, appears over 300 times in the Public Advertiser, usually in advertisements for which the newspaper paid Drury Lane Theater.
Garrick contributed his own theatrical criticism, both anonymously and not, to these newspapers and other media. He also employed his considerable social and cultural influence over an extensive network of writers and publishers to promote certain consistent images of himself—what one might call a personal brand today—in the media over the course of his long theatric career.
Is entertainment news really news? In the eighteenth century, when it appeared in the newspaper’s motley pages, not cordoned off in a separate section, but alongside urgent foreign dispatches and elegant opinion essays, it was certainly staged as such. However, the burgeoning space entertainment news occupied in the media scape and the public imagination owes much to the entwined interests of the theater and printing industries. David Garrick and the Mediation of Celebrity reveals the actor’s successful exploitation of the power of the press in the production and mediation of celebrity.
* This incomplete clipping from an article in the Forster Collection suggests an origin in the Morning Chronicle; the source remains unknown. Forster FL4-3321.488.