Hollywood Cooties

Some cootie strains are amazingly site-specific. For example, you can be big on television, but still have movie cooties. Roseanne Barr has them so bad that they almost rubbed off on Meryl Streep. Bill Cosby can't seem to shake his movie cooties, but he has enough clout and money that we're likely to keep seeing more and more of his cootie-infested films. Mark Harmon can't shake his movie cooties either: he played Ted Bundy so well on the small screen, but on the big screen he really does seem like Ted Bundy. Don Johnson has movie cooties because when he's larger than life, he seems lower than low. Cybill Shepherd has them because she made a lot of critics think she was talented in The Last Picture Show and they won't be fooled again.

One of the most interesting cootie phenomena is the "Cootie Movie," a film so icky almost everyone associated with it is at least temporarily tainted. Even a movie that has a cast of stars, great expectations, and does big box office can get cooties. Steel Magnolias, for example, is a cootie movie--even with its glittering cast and an Oscar-nominated performance, it still felt (as somebody suggested to me like material that would have been better played by a repertory company of drag queens. The remake of Stella was a cootie movie for sure, no matter what Bette Midler says. Less Than Zero won a Cootie Movie Oscar, and Andrew McCarthy the Cootiest Actor Award. Then there's Hello Again, starring the tallest cootie in the world, Shelley Long.

Corey Haim and Corey Feldman already have them because they are the nightmare versions of teenage actors, a nightmare phenomenon itself, and because drug problems are passe. Most of the brat packers came down with them, which is hardly surprising. And poor Molly Ringwald, the most talented of that crew, seems to be taking career advice from the Cootie Monster. A whole group of young actors seems to be trying to get cooties. Julia Roberts is gonna get them if she keeps romancing and discarding her leading men. Johnny Depp is gonna get them if he keeps tossing around those engagement rings. And the latest Depp-engage, Winona Ryder, courted the cooties in a big way by being too tired to do The Godfather III, a film any other actress would have died for.

And now for the stars of the Cootie Hall of Fame: James Woods and Sean Young have created their own ultra-virulent cootie strain. Everyone agrees by now that he has them. Noting your SAT scores in every interview is just too heavy handed; comparing yourself at every turn to De Niro and Nicholson is foolish when you yourself recently starred in The Boost; and divorcing the much ballyhooed beauty Sarah, months after marrying her. . .you can't help wanting to give this guy a wide berth. Sean, Woods's partner in litigation, has them too... her unusual mental state is discussed openly in print, and her being let go from Batman and Dick Tracy in the same year would have been reason enough. The important point is, though, that neither James nor Sean would have been major cootie cases if they hadn't gotten together. The dynamics of their relationship seem to have had a synergistic cootie effect. Whatever happened on the set of The Boost (another cootie movie), they should thank their lucky stars that they didn't stay together and have children. Cute little baby, right? Only don't get too near... this one has cooties so bad that they might want to get out that plastic bubble John Travolta was in in that weird TV movie. This movie star offspring would be the cootie kid that ate Hollywood.

You don't have to die young to be cootie-proof, but it sometimes helps. If Marilyn Monroe had lived, she would probably have done something sooner or later that would have exempted her from this list. But she took too many pills, so now she's safe. Elizabeth Taylor is still kicking, but she's cootie-proof partly because she spends so much time almost dead. Of course, she's done everything in the public eye all along and said "screw you" to anyone who didn't like it, and that's had a certain cootie-proofing effect. Anjelica Huston, Jacqueline Bisset, and Audrey Hepburn are all cootie-proof because they're sexy, classy, talented and take risks (though one more Wild Orchid, and Bisset could prove me wrong). Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, and Louis Malle are all cootie-proof because they're wild, crazy guys, who do work that's better than anyone else's. Woody Allen is cootie-proof because he's stuck to his guns and made us laugh and cry in the process, and because he has Vincent Canby to apologize for him when he does make dreck. Marlon Brando is cootie-proof because he's always been the epitome of cool, and not even his later antics (having an Indian refuse his Academy Award, getting so fat that he can hardly stand) put a dent in his game of playing hard to get. If Sean Connery weren't cootie-proof, what he said about slapping a woman around being not such a bad thing would have left him crawling with the critters. But actually, and this just proves how cootie-proof he really is, he's more popular now than ever. And, last but not least, Donald Sutherland is cootie-proof. I know, I know, he's played all those creepy characters. But I love him. Blame it on Larry Kaminsky.

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Martha Frankel is a free-lance writer based on the East Coast who wrote the column "Knifestyles of the Rich and Famous" for the original Details.

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