Relatively speaking, sharing famous names hasn't hastened some actors' careers

December 19, 1993|By Jessica Seigel | Jessica Seigel,Chicago Tribune

The movie "Beach Babes From Beyond" is far less funny than a "Gilligan's Island" rerun, despite remarkable cameos by breasts not normally found in nature and riveting suspense generated by a bikini contest.

So how did big Hollywood names like Stallone, Swayze, Travolta and Estevez end up in this super-low-budget erotic adventure, to be released straight to video stores this winter?

The incredible credits are no fluke. Swayze and Estevez, joined by McQueen, team up again in "Squanderers," about two dudes who spend Mafia millions on Porsches and call girls. McQueen and Swayze, joined now by Norris, appear together once more in "Death Ring," about an evil millionaire whose annual hunting party makes prey of humans.

But, oh, look. What is that printed between the parentheses in the credits on the "Beach Babes" cover box? It reads: "STALLONE (Jacqueline), SWAYZE (Don), TRAVOLTA (Joey), ESTEVEZ (Joe)." That's Sly's mother, Patrick's brother, John's brother and Emilio's uncle (as in Martin Sheen's brother).

Small print on the "Squanderers" and "Death Ring" boxes reveal the McQueen is Steve's son Chad and the Norris is Chuck's son Mike.

These are the lifestyles of the relatives of the rich and famous, brought to you by the B-world of the expanding direct-to-video and overseas movie market. Call it the "lucky sperm club," quips Chad McQueen, who is finally secure enough about himself to joke about the legacy of his megastar father, who died in 1980.

The Hollywood tradition of venerable acting dynasties like the Fondas might suggest that what's in a name always breeds celebrity. But in a town filled with "relatives of," most will linger on B-movie lists, except the truly gifted few.

"There's always the curiosity if they can carry on [the family name]," says Gary Bettman, who produced "Death Ring." "In a lot of cases they can't. In most cases they can't. Did it happen to Peter Fonda? It happened with Mike Douglas but did it happen with Eric Douglas [his brother]?"

Deedee Pfeiffer (sister of Michelle) and Frank Stallone (brother of Sylvester) are still in B-land. Dark good looks and growing acting skills may some day make Chad McQueen a star, but probably not the Norris kid. "He's terrible," said one producer.

"[The market] is completely name driven. Names period," said Terese Linden, vice president for Artist View Entertainment, which distributed "Squanderers." "Everyone wants to make a buck. It's nepotism at its finest. It's what this whole city is about."

In the strictest sense, nepotism actually means giving jobs and perks to your own relatives. These producers and directors are giving jobs to someone else's. But as long as the public is mesmerized by stars and their families, low-budget Hollywood will cast the "relatives of" for their bottom-line dollar value.

"Honestly, from our point of view, it's a living," says Ms. Linden. "We call it making a 'family' movie. That's our way of laughing at it. It's funny."

But the relatives of the stars are not laughing all the way to the bank as they try to prove themselves and create an identity separate from their big-name relative -- often a parent or older sibling.

Slow start by Sheen's brother

The very mention of "Beach Babes From Beyond" makes Joe Estevez wince. "Do I want to see it?" he wonders, seated at the kitchen table of his small apartment on a picturesque winding street near Dodgers Stadium.

The answer is "probably not," though Mr. Estevez has nothing to be ashamed of in his role as the earnest old-time surfer, Uncle Bud.

"Quality does make a difference to me, but you don't know [in advance]," says Mr. Estevez, who this year acted in 30 video movies at a fee of about $1,800 a day. "It could be a classy, quirky movie, or it could turn out a piece of trash."

Twice divorced, Mr. Estevez lives modestly. He is not a clean freak, as suggested by a badly stained carpet and haphazard housekeeping. Photo-machine pictures of his two young daughters are taped to the bare wall.

It is hard to imagine his older brother by eight years, Martin Sheen, in similar surroundings. Considering their physical resemblance, the comparison is hard to forget.

Because of the likeness, Mr. Estevez was paid to fly to the Philippines as a double after his brother suffered a heart attack and breakdown on the set of "Apocalypse Now." This little-known, uncredited doubling job for long camera shots is not something Mr. Estevez brags about. Like his brother, he also suffered from alcohol abuse at the time.

More to the point, the job was a metaphor for their relationship, which is not close. His older brother, who took Sheen as a stage name, already was famous by the time Mr. Estevez finished high school yearning to be an actor. Instead, he joined the Navy, took factory jobs and acted in community theater.

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