In the old Hollywood studio system, publicists worked overtime to create mythical pasts for movie stars.
They changed names and histories to make stars appear more wholesome. Often, the goal was to bypass hypocritical studio morality clauses and the Hedda Hoppers of the age. Tabloids wanted to dig up dirt. The studios wanted to protect their cash cows.
Today, we’re still looking for dirt. But thanks to social media and the Internet, it’s much easier to uncover the lies that masquerade as truth.
Enter Tracie Egan Morrissey, a founding editor of Jezebel.com, who has been intrigued by — and uncovered — celebrity fakery.
Her latest coup was digging into Hilaria Baldwin’s claim to being Spanish. The wife of actor Alec Baldwin is many things. A yoga instructor and wellness author, she owns Yoga Vida, a group of yoga studios in New York. Here is what she isn’t: Spanish.
She did not grow up in Spain, and her occasional Spanish accent is an affectation. Hillary Hayward-Thomas was born and raised in Boston.
On Dec. 21, a Twitter user posted a tweet that began: “You have to admire Hilaria Baldwin’s commitment to her decade-long grift where she impersonates a Spanish person.”
That was enough for Morrissey to transform into Sherlock Holmes and write an Instagram story detailing Baldwin’s American background and false assertions. She neatly summarized her finds: “In reality, her family are pilgrims with a vacation home in Mallorca.”
Now, celebrities have often strained credulity. Most are protected by fame, fortune and a battery of handlers, who work overtime to shield them from reality. True, Baldwin is less a celebrity than the wife of one. But her various claims remain egregious — and that’s the real issue. Cultural appreciation is great. Cultural appropriation is problematic.
And to state the obvious: In a digital age, appropriating a Spanish identity — or any identity that doesn’t belong to her — is risky. The internet knows all.
Posting one graduation photo on Instagram is sufficient to sink the most prodigious lie.
So the questions are twofold: 1. How did she get away with it for so long? 2. Did she forget how easy it is to check? (Baldwin isn’t alone in her appropriation quest. Both Rachel Dolezal and Jessica Krug are White women who pretended to be Black or Afro-Puerto Rican, respectively. Both also taught at universities.)
Bottom line: Entertainment journalists often use press releases supplied by celebs or their reps. Plus, Baldwin claimed her Spanish heritage in podcasts and Hola! magazine. Slamming the press, as her stepdaughter Ireland Baldwin did, is disingenuous. If you don’t want to be caught in lies, don’t tell them.
For the last four years, we’ve endured President Trump using Twitter to spread lies about COVID-19, the deep state, the Democrats — and most recently, election fraud. The damage to our democracy is massive. Social media is a powerful force in society — and it can be used for much good or great evil.
But for reporters, it is also a source of revelation — it can reveal the truth. And then share it, with thousands or millions, depending on how viral it goes. Which is something celebrities, pseudo-celebs and politicians should remember.