Born in Tenterfield, in country New South Wales, Peter George Woolnough was performing from an early age. In the 1960’s, he and a friend named Chris Bell formed an ensemble called ‘The Allen Brothers’, and became a reasonably popular cabaret act both live and on television.
Peter Allen, as he now called himself, got his start when he joined a tour with Judy Garland in the late Sixties. In 1971, he began recording as a solo artist, and over the next two decades, had a number of hits, notably “I Go To Rio”, “Arthur’s Theme (The Best That You Can Do)” (which he co-wrote and shared in the Oscar for) and “I Still Call Australia Home”. A musical retelling of his life story, “The Boy From Oz”, starring Hugh Jackman, was a Broadway hit in 2003 and 2004, with Jackman winning a Tony for his performance.
Andy Warhol understood one thing about the general acceleration of life and culture in the self-reinforcing media spiral of the twentieth century: that there would be no more ‘nine days’ wonders’. We wouldn’t have time to be that patient any more. We wouldn’t have the attention spans. We would lose interest in things much more quickly, a bottomless appetite for novelty that even the internet struggles to fill.
In particular, he saw this as happening to celebrities: to them, he alloted 15 minutes apiece. It’s almost like he foresaw how debased the currency of ‘celebrity’ would become in the face of the relentless banality of reality television. Which makes it all the more remarkable that he first wrote the words “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” in the program for a 1968 exhibition of his work at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden.