Steve Guttenberg: The Luckiest Man in Hollywood
Critics go to poetic lengths to ridicule the acting ability of Steve Guttenberg. But his movies have collectively made over a billion dollars. And suddenly he's back with three more.
"Let me read you some of your reviews," I say to Steve Guttenberg.
"Shoot," he says.
"I'm quoting: Steve Guttenberg's star billing is getting to be a surefire negative guarantee."
"I'am not bragging," Guttenberg says with a shrug, "but my movies have grossed well over a billion dollars, so I don't really think that's true. Do you have the piece where Rob Reiner and Billy Crystal take some shots at me?"
"No, but I do have the one that says: Guttenberg has, on a lower order scale of merit, the same nervous energy of ten projected by Tony Roberts."
"I've read what's been written about me and for some reason, people get a big kick out of making sport of me. I don't know why, but I have lots of theories. A friend of mine said to me, 'Tall trees catch a lot wind. And the birds pick at the sweetest of the fruit.' There's a lot of truth to that, don't you think?"
"Truthfully, I have no idea what that means. Here's another one: Steve Guttenberg [is] a bland smudged Xerox of Chevy Chase."
"Hmmmm. Chevy lives around the corner from me. What else can I say? Did you read the review that called me a barking dog?"
"Missed that one," I admit, "but this one says: Guttenberg has a wide-eyed schmucky quality that makes him bizarrely inadequate as Isabelle Huppert's lover."
"I would love these guys to review Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe's marriage. What would they say? 'OK, what is she doing with him, that skinny, bald, bespectacled Jew? No, this marriage would never work."'
"Well, they'd be right about that."
"I'd like to think," Guttenberg says with a wide grin, "a lot of these reviewers are dead now."
When my editor called and asked if I wanted to interview Steve Guttenberg, all I could remember was that he was the guy from Diner who wouldn't marry his girlfriend until she passed a rigorous football exam, and that he was in The Bedroom Window, a terrible takeoff on Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. When I ran a list of Guttenberg's credits off my computer, there were close to two dozen of them! But you're probably ahead of me, right? You knew he was in 3 Men and a Baby and its sequel, too many of those Police Academy movies, and both Cocoons. He's also been in movies that either you didn't see, wish you didn't see, or wish had never been made. Really. They include The Chicken Chronicles, Can't Stop the Music, Amazon Women on the Moon and Don't Tell Her It's Me (in which the central joke is Hodgkin's disease).
Watching these movies is pure torture. But Guttenberg isn't kidding: his movies have grossed well over a billion dollars, and if you think that's no big feat, the only other people who are in that club are the big action-adventure stars and perhaps Tom Hanks.
I asked around the industry, and found that there are two schools of thought about him: (1) he's the luckiest man who ever lived, and (2) he's the nicest guy in the world. Some people mention his great chest, and others remark that he's good-looking in a nonthreatening way, but the words "lucky" and "nice" are the ones that come up most often.
Now that I'm talking to him, all I have to say is this: if you had a sister, you'd want her to marry Steve Guttenberg. He cooks, he gardens, he's kind to young children. He's what my grandmother would call a mensch, although Grandma didn't know about that groupie he tied up. We'll get to that later.
Guttenberg showed up to my suite at the Mondrian hotel on time. Not 20 minutes late (which, in actor-speak, is early), but exactly at 11. He put out his hand and said, "Hi, I'm Stevie Guttenberg." Yep, Steve. He was wearing a crisp white T-shirt and jeans, and he looked like the boy next door.
And now we're settled in talking. "So," I say, "are you the luckiest man in Hollywood?"
"Definitely." he says, his head bobbing up and down. "Are you kidding? I was just thinking that this is my 20th year in the film industry! I started two days after high school, and I've traveled the world, done so many fabulous things, met the most wonderful people. So they can make fun of me all they want. I'm still here. And I'm still getting work."
If you're expecting a smirk, forget it. Guttenberg says this with a sweet, sincere smile.
"Let's talk about Can't Stop the Music, because it's possibly one of the most disastrous movies ever made."
"I was 20 years old. I had my 21st birthday party at Studio 54, Sammy Cahn sang me 'Happy Birthday.' My grandmother was dancing with Leatherman from the Village People and amyl nitrate was coming through the vents. My father kept saying, 'I feel great, what's with this place?' He was dancing with Valerie Perrine's topless friend, I kid you not. People talk about Can't Stop the Music now because it's got the whole gay aura, and it was supposed to be a family movie! But all I can say was that it was an incredible experience for me. Just great. I'm glad I had it. Because I come from Massapequa, Long Island, and I never though! I'd get to do and see the things I did. Allan Carr produced Can't Stop the Music, and he had already done Grease, there was nobody bigger than him, and everybody thought this movie was going to be huge. Everything he touched turned to gold. So they gave him gobs of money. There were limos and food and Twinkies and girls and dancers. It was great. But I knew the movie was a disaster while we were promoting it. In the beginning, it was me and Nancy Walker [the director] and Valerie Perrine and Bruce Jenner and all the Village People. By the time we got to New York, Bruce had dropped off; by L.A.. Valerie dropped off; in Wisconsin, the Village People said they couldn't make it. By the time we got to Miami Beach. I was the only one there."