Hollywood 'hysteria' has a life of its own

December 06, 1997

Hollywood 'hysteria' has a life of its own


Staff Writer

SHARPSBURG - It is a rumor more resilient than the Energizer Bunny, probably because so many people want it to be true.

According to the well-told story, Brad Pitt, the movie star and former "Sexiest Man Alive," recently bought a home near Sharpsburg. And for the past several weeks there have been more purported Brad Pitt sightings at local bars and restaurants than those reports of Elvis working at a carwash in Kalamazoo, Mich.

"It's humorous hysteria," said Dennis Frye, rumored in one version of the Pitt story to be hosting the Hollywood hunk at his Mills Road home.


Funny but not true, at least according to Frye and others who should probably know. Pitt's publicist said the actor has neither bought nor rented a home near Sharpsburg. The man who lives in a home rumored to be Pitt's southern Washington County getaway said he is definitely not Brad Pitt.

Despite the denials, which were printed previously in The Herald-Mail, the Pitt story goes on and on and on.

"It's taken on a life of its own, hasn't it?" said Sharpsburg resident Jan Wetterer, who said she believes the Pitt story.

"Every time people are together, it comes up," she added.

The saga has a vague familiarity to it. Several years ago a rumor swept through Hagerstown that a local resident had won a national contest on MTV and was going to play host to the rock band Bon Jovi.

The Bon Jovi story made its rounds at local bars for days, with people insisting it was true. But the tale was eventually proved false when someone from another part of the country won the MTV contest.

Celebrities are common elements in "urban legends" - rumors that are passed from person to person as if they are the absolute truth. Unlike the Pitt and Bon Jovi stories, they often involve a funny or quirky twist.

One recent hot - and false - urban legend is that a child actor from the wholesome 1980s television show "The Wonder Years" has grown up and is now the lead singer for the controversial music group Marilyn Manson.

"These things don't die. They just change form," said Robert Keefer, who teaches critical thinking courses as an associate professor of psychology at Mount Saint Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Md.

A popular vehicle for spreading urban myths is "friend of a friend" communication - where the person telling the story doesn't actually have personal knowledge, but knows someone who knows someone who does.

"The stories are always specific, but hard to run down," Keefer said.

Similarly, several people familiar with the Pitt story said while they have never personally seen Pitt or have solid evidence that he is living near Sharpsburg, they know someone who does.

One town resident, Brad Dixon, told a Herald-Mail reporter last month that he saw a man who looked like Pitt at a local bar. Dixon refused to be interviewed for this story.

A lack of actual witnesses makes it difficult to determine the starting point of any story or prove that it is indeed a myth, Keefer said.

"It's very hard to prove a negative. In fact, some people say it's impossible," he said.

That might be why the Brad Pitt talk continues.

Wetterer said there must be some truth in the "interesting speculation" she and other townspeople have engaged in about Pitt living in their midst.

"I think they do want it to be true, but I also think they believe it is," she said.

Frye, who is president of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War sites, does have a Hollywood connection. He helped to convince filmmaker Ronald Maxwell, director of the Civil War epic "Gettysburg," to film the movie "Gods and Generals" in Washington County in 1999.

But he said there is no truth to the rumor that Pitt is his roommate.

"I'm flattered that somebody would think Mr. Pitt would stay at my residence. I can absolutely, with certitude, tell you that is not the case," Frye said. "There's not room for both of us anyway."

Even some of those who want to believe the Pitt story admit there are some unanswered questions - primarily why a Hollywood star would want to move across the continent.

"A lot of these stories, if you start thinking about them, make no sense at all," Keefer said.

But he added that even when the stories are debunked, they often go on.

"People hope they are true. The fact that they aren't is just too bad," Keefer said.

Staff writer Laura Ernde contributed to this story.

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