The first rule of television goes like this: Everyone on TV is famous; otherwise, why would they be on TV? In fact, the medium has a nearly inexhaustible ability to create new stars where none existed, even on the news, and even in wartime.
The latest product of TV’s Instant Celebrity Charisma Machine is NBC’s Arthur Kent, a mild-mannered reporter in Saudi Arabia who in three weeks has become a media Superman. How super? He’s able to dodge tall missiles in a single bound, speed his image around the world in a flash — and look infuriatingly good doing it.
Kent didn’t ask to become the man of the hour or the object of female fan worship and has done nothing except his job to merit the thunderclap of attention he’s receiving. In short, it’s not his fault. So it is with all due respect to him that we present 20 items from our Kent dossier. We promise — they’re just the facts.
1. He was born in Medicine Hat, Alberta, on Dec. 27, 1953.
2. He received a B.A. in journalism and history from Carleton University in Ottawa.
3. His father, Parker, was associate editor of the Calgary Herald for 20 years; his sister, Norma, 39, is host of a Canadian consumer show; and his brother, Peter, 47, is a senior news correspondent on the Discovery Channel’s World Monitor.
4. He got his first journalism job at 19 at the Ottawa affiliate of the CTV network, and at 21 became the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.’s youngest correspondent ever.
5. He reported on Afghan guerrillas in the late 1980s and covered the 1988-89 Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.
6. He has two 1989 Emmys — for his coverage of the revolution in Romania and for the NBC special China in Crisis.
7. His contract with NBC expires in 1994.
8. He is the only Gulf war correspondent to have fan clubs.
9. His cult was formed Jan. 20, the moment he crouched mid-broadcast, apparently to dodge a missile, and kept reporting. ”This is not a drill, New York,” he said. ”Let’s go, let’s go.”
10. Newspaper articles have variously claimed he regards his newfound popularity with interest, gratitude, mystification, embarrassment, and scorn.
11. He has acquired at least three nicknames: the Scud Stud, the Desert Fox, and the Satellite Dish.
12. He is divorced.
13. His appeal, says Playgirl editor Barbara Haigh, is that ”he’s attractive in a classic way — more like an actor or a model. He keeps his wits under trying circumstances, and looks awfully handsome doing it.”
14. There are no plans to film The Arthur Kent Story, but casting directors are willing to speculate on who could play him: Marcia Shulman of Shulman Casting suggests Kevin Costner or ”a slightly older Timothy Hutton.” Judy Courtney of Courtney and Newton picks Costner, Christopher Reeve, or Pierce Brosnan.
15. His reporting uniform is an open-necked shirt and a brown bomber jacket. Says Douglas Erwin, design assistant to Alan Flusser: ”Most reporters have safari jackets or the most awful suits. But he’s a very ’90s correspondent — the open neck says he can get dirt under his nails but still come up looking good.”
16. He is six feet tall.
17. He has a small scar on his left cheek.
18. Since January, NBC Nightly News ratings have jumped. Male viewership has always been strong, but NBC has made sharp gains recently among 25- to 49- year-old women. The Kent factor? “I’m sure Kent helped,” a spokeswoman says briskly, “but he’s just one of many contributing elements.”
19. When not called into action by urgent world events, Kent lives in Rome.
20. His roof leaks.