What about the writers Robert Nathan and John Cheever? Don Delillo?
Or...some TV pesonalities? Like...say, Hal Linden or Carroll O'Connor ("Who's she?") or David Ogden Stiers or Marion Ross? Loretta Swit?
There is a good chance someone my age or older might recognize some of these names, but I'd bet big money anyone younger than I am would pretty much be in the dark about these people who reached pretty big heights in their respective careers.
After only -- what? -- three or four decades, many of these names that used to be often on the tongues of their respective colleagues and of the public are, at best, occasionally Googled to jog the old memory (as I had to do with Hal Linden).
These were people who made a mark on their fields -- the tier under the legends, who disappear more quickly than the legends, also, are destined to do, some day. (Many of my high school students don't know who John Wayne is. Still more couldn't name a single movie he was in. None of them have any memory of the show M*A*S*H. Most have never heard of Alfred Hitchcock.)
If it were not for school and annoying teachers like me, the kids would not recognize names like Twain and Steinbeck.
Even the more current people, like Toni Morrison -- still alive and still writing and still brilliant -- are not common knowledge.(Delillo is still writing. Does your teenaged daughter know who he is? Does your forty-year-old neighbor? Do you? He's won a Pulitzer.)
So what's the point of rising on the ladder? What's the point of fame? I write and Toni Morrison writes. I compose and Alexander Desplat (I know -- who's he?) composes. In a few decades, none of us will be remembered, however high we climb.
There are just too many people, now, and too much information saturation for us to have Shakespeares or DaVincis in 500 years.
The thing is, we do what we do because we love it. In the end, time will wipe us all out like a sandstorm over a Saharan city. Fame is worthless in the long run. What's worth something is doing the thing. And I just did. And I will do it again on Friday -- whether anyone reads or not.