In their heart of hearts, most writers would welcome being plagiarized. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then wholesale theft is genuflection. Deep inside, I hoped someday someone would covet my work enough to steal it.
I just never imagined it would be Wayne Newton.
Actually, I'm going to refuse to use the P word here. I prefer to think of what happened as a tribute, although that's not how the Las Vegas Review-Journal put it when its editors were caught in one of those was-our-face-red moments. "Several paragraphs of concepts and identical phrasing." That's what the clarification regarding Wayne's column said.
I know. You're thinking to yourself: Wow! Wayne is a writer, too? The man appearing nightly at the eponymous Wayne Newton Theater at the Stardust Hotel and Casino, the guy who put the head in headliner? Actually, no. But Wayne is a Samaritan, and when columnist Norm Clarke was on medical leave Wayne was one of the local celebrities who filled in on Norm's column, along with Carrot Top and Wolfgang Puck.
Wayne wrote in his guest column that he had come to the realization that "some old thoughts are quite poignant." Unfortunately a number of readers noticed that those poignant old thoughts happened to be substantially mine. Like this:
Anna's book: "I learned to look at all the good in the world and try to give some of it back, because I believed in it completely and utterly."
Wayne's column: "I learned to look at the good in the world and try to give some of it back because I believed in it completely and utterly."
Now, I don't want you to think that Wayne's whole column was refried Anna. The truth is, I did not start "in this wonderful world called show business when I was 4 years old." And it wouldn't really be honest of me to claim that "I cannot express the joy I receive from entertaining our men and women in uniform who pay the ultimate price so we can be free."
I know that there's nothing new under the sun, that there's a standard round of column ideas and we've all gone around them. All pundits know that you will write a column about, say, negotiating peace in the Middle East and get three or four letters from writers who have done books on the Middle East and who find it "curious" that you did not mention their work, particularly the book they are currently promoting.
Once, when I was writing columns about my two little boys, I got a flurry of communications from a woman who suggested that I was cribbing from her unpublished journal entries. Amazingly her sons, too, were being toilet-trained, playing with Lego blocks and calling one another "big stupid head." Luckily when I gave birth to a third child she did not, or she would surely have said I was stealing the concept that the whole thing was horribly painful.
There is a certain specificity to some of what we do, at least in terms of syntax. Siegfried and Roy's guest column discussing Celine Dion's fear of tigers, for example, was pure Siegfried and Roy. But when I read Wayne's column, more than half of it had a peculiar and highly specific resonance. Hadn't I also decried "the manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house," although from what I saw on "MTV Cribs" Wayne and I are on different planets, housewise? Hadn't I also written "Remember that love is not leisure, it is work" in precisely those words? In the argot of another Vegas big shot, the Amazing Kreskin, what a mind meld!
Poor Norm came back from medical leave and had to lead off with what he called "a touchy subject." He asked Wayne's flack, who also happens to be Wayne's sister-in-law, about "considerable unattributed material" in Wayne's column. She wasn't what we in the news biz call responsive. "I think we might think twice about writing anything for your paper again," she huffed.
Well, I can tell you that that's not Wayne's attitude at all, because I had the opportunity to speak to the man himself. It seems his wife was having some root-canal work done in L.A.--isn't that the way?--when her dentist gave her a copy of my material. Here's what happened, in Wayne's words, not mine: "I loved it. I thought some of the thoughts you had in there were some of my own also."
Wayne says there was another page to his column, a page that properly credited me and somehow never reached the editors. "I in no way was trying to plagiarize from anyone," Wayne said. Then, in the kind of smooth move that has earned him the moniker Mr. Las Vegas, he added, "The truth is that if I was going to plagiarize from anyone it would have been somebody like you."
Look at those guys in Vegas who dress up as Liza or Barbra. They're not plagiarizing; they're paying tribute. Would it be too much for me to think of Wayne as an Anna impersonator, and to reciprocate? As I load the dishwasher and fold the laundry in the Anna Quindlen Theater at the Heavily Mortgaged Home, where I appear nightly, I croon, "Danke schoen, darling, danke schoen." Ah, this wonderful world called show business. Or words to that effect.