On the night before I moved away from my hometown, I leaned over and kissed Larry Kaminsky. Larry was the stupidest boy in our class and the butt of all the jokes. But he wore his jeans slung low on his hips, in a style that continues to attract me even to this day, and he was the sexiest boy I knew. When I kissed him, all the kids in the play ground started pointing at me and whispering and saying that I had cooties. You remember cooties, don't you? That nebulous social disease--an unseen, unknown curse that comes upon you when you do something stupid or gross? The plague you can't really catch, but being around someone who has it leads other people to believe that you have it, too, which amounts to the same thing?
Cooties are a childish thing. So it's hardly surprising that, schoolyards aside, the place they thrive in, the place that's a virtual petri dish full of cooties, is, yes, that playground of the stars, Hollywood. And Hollywood cooties are a truly virulent strain. I may have been horrified at getting Larry Kaminsky's cooties, but I knew I was leaving town and that the people in my new neighborhood would never know about it. But since no one ever really leaves Hollywood, once you've got them in this town, they're almost impossible to get rid of.
Even stars of heroic proportions are subject to cooties. Faye Dunaway, for instance, got cooties after she made Mommie Dearest and people seemed to confuse her with the wire-hanger-wielding Joan Crawford (who in real life, I might add, never got cooties). Dennis Quaid got them after Great Balls of Fire, because his over-the-top, over-hyped portrayal of Jerry Lee Lewis just didn't cut it, and because Jerry Lee Lewis himself has cooties. Mickey Rourke has cooties-- not because he insists on being a Rodeo Drive homeboy, not because of the greasy hair, the stupid bandana or the Harley, but because he keeps making those semi-pornographic movies, and seems to enjoy them. Michael J. Fox got them because he wouldn't settle for being the clean-cut, shallow guy that he really is. Fame, massive popularity, a new baby, and a shitload of dough weren't enough... no, he had to go make Casualties of War. Daryl Hannah has them because she still looks like a mermaid six years later. Richard Gere, even before he became the butt of emergency room jokes all over the country, had a case of cooties the Dalai Lama couldn't cure. Those uniformly wooden, narcissistic performances after he was so good in Looking for Mr. Goodbar just pissed people off. Steve Guttenberg (who bears a striking resemblance to Mickey Mouse with muscles), has cooties so bad that starlets who've worked with him talk openly about what a lousy kisser he is. And Rob Lowe, what can I say? He caught cooties initially by doing a duet with Snow White on the Oscars, then caught another dose--the first case of video-sexually-transmitted cooties ever reported.
And speaking of the Oscars, I think the real reason people watch them is to see who'll get cooties on live television. If Kim Basinger weren't so hot off of Batman, she might have gotten them this year because of her Star Trek dress and her unprompted defense of Spike Lee (who probably doesn't need some glamorous honky telling the world how fab he is). Sally Field clinched hers for being too needy (they may have really really liked her when they gave her a second Oscar, but by the time she accepted it, they were already beginning to shiver). Teri Garr got hers the way Rob got his, by acting in one of those deadly Oscar production numbers (cootie watchers take note: all production numbers lead to cooties). Barbra Streisand almost got them by almost falling down in a see-through jumpsuit--but money, money, money kept them away.
Which reminds me, power is probably the only real cootie vaccine. Don Simpson, Jon Peters, and Cher all have transcended cooties: nobody with that much clout has cooties no matter how creepy they are. Which shows that you should not fuck with Mike Ovitz, who can give you cooties for looking at him the wrong way, but who doesn't have them himself. Okay Mike? Of course, power comes and power goes. David Puttnam, once a Coca-Cola cohort and head of Columbia Pictures, got cooties for being an arrogant Brit and assuming that he knew more about Hollywood than anyone else.
The one thing to remember is that there's no such thing as cootie justice. You can get cooties even when you do the right thing. Cliff Robertson wound up with stool-pigeon cooties, even though just about everyone applauded him for blowing the whistle on David Begelman. (Begelman got cooties in that celebrated scandal too, but they're like trompe l'oeil cooties: he's made so much money for the right people that to a lot of folks the critters looked like dollar signs.) Danny Aiello (referred to as Danny Iego by his fellow actors) should have cooties for continually saying how he's as good as Bobby De Niro, but he doesn't. Yet, Sylvia Miles shouldn't have them because she's a great actress, but she keeps pointing that out, so she does. Chris Walken has them, but shouldn't--sure he's a little scary, with the electric hair and all, but the reason he's got cooties is that he was there when Natalie Wood took a dive, which was just bad luck. Andrew Dice Clay should have them and probably will, but not nearly as bad as he deserves. John Travolta has them even after a successful comeback, which makes no sense at all. (Maybe it's the Scientology.)