Playing the Fame Game; You Don't Have to Be Famous to Get Your Own Biography

Article excerpt


Being famous and dead used to be the prerequisites for gaining the attention of a professional chronicler. Now through the Internet you can secure the services of celebrated practitioners of the art such as Francine du Plessix Gray, famous for her book on the Marquis de Sade, who along with Judith Thurman (Colette, Isak Dinesen) and Diane Wood Middlebrook (poet Anne Sexton), are available at a website called the Bio Registry.

The cost of a 2,000-word profile by an established biographer, based on information provided by the subject, starts at [pounds sterling]2,700 - which is split between the website operator and the author - but the price is lower for a life crafted by lesser-known writers. The finished pieces can be posted on the client's own website and at the registry.

Those liberated from obscurity, however, will still have to fight for recognition on the Net, which is increasingly crowded with the stories of the celebrated. A site called Lives, which has links to thousands of online destinations of the famous, calls itself 'the largest guide to biography on the Web'. Its offerings run from Bud Abbott and Alexandra the Great to the Mexican guerrilla leader Emiliano Zapata and Frank Zappa, and include specialised lists such as Women Inventors and Canadian Air Aces. Visitors are still nominating their Person of the Century, a list that includes Gandhi, Einstein, Churchill and Bill Gates.

Time magazine's site has the biographies of its 100 most important people of the 20th century and the results of online polls. The popular choice for entertainer of the century is Elvis, but in fifth place, ahead of the Beatles, George Lucas and Walt Disney, comes Rolf Harris. Is there a global didgeridoo lobby?

The Munich-based World Biographical Index is a scholars' resource that contains 2.4 million short biographies of the world's eminent that stretch back to the 18th century, among them 530,000 entries from the British Biographical Archive.

The Goons and Britney Spears don't make the cut here, but their particulars, and those of 25,000 others, are maintained at Biography. …