James Franco, actor, creative writing student, and soon-to-be published author, attended last night's National Book Awards at Cipriani downtown, where he spent most of the evening, it appeared, basking in the attention of being the most famous person at the party: He was more recognizable than honoree Gore Vidal, more rakishly handsome than Dave Eggers, and probably richer than anyone else in the room. Franco stayed into the wee hours of the night, smiling his crinkly eyed smile at an evolving locus of giddy publishing women who trotted up to pay their respects, some of whom, as the evening grew drunker, could be seen boldly resting their hands on his famous shoulders.
And then, suddenly, at around 1 a.m., he was alone.
It's a terrible truth that when famous people are alone, they're more alone than normal people, because everyone is watching them be alone. Whether or not an actual spotlight came down on Franco at the moment of his abandonment is unclear — Cipriani's lighting is very theatrical, in general — but immediately, the energy around him changed. The aura of celebrity that had protected him all evening swiftly morphed into an aura of panic, like a tropical storm cloud rolling in to darken a blue sky. He glanced around nervously, which of course only exacerbated the problem. People looked away and began to whisper. "What do we do?" New York writer Erica Orden hissed, gripping our arm urgently. "Should we talk to him?"
"About what?" I said. We could only stare, subtly.
Nearby, a group of girls jostled each other in Franco's direction, but none went forward.
It is, of course, impossible to know what went through Franco's mind as the seconds ticked by. Perhaps, literary young man that he is, he was trying to recall the advice Robert Benchley offered in his 1932 New Yorker essay "Filling That Hiatus" about being suddenly abandoned at a dinner party. Should he pretend he was talking to someone nearby? Start barking like a dog and crawling around on all fours? No. Franco fiddled with his wine glass. Then! Franco had a realization. Moving quickly, he reached into his pocket. The crowd held its collective breath: a cell phone! He clicked it off lock and began texting wildly. A murmuring arose: Was James Franco pretending to text in an awkward situation?!?! Corners of eyes watched curiously as Franco paused, nodded, and then, with a casual glance backward at the party — was there anyone he needed to say good-bye to? No! — headed downstairs, into the night, as though he had received a message informing him he was urgently needed somewhere else.