Actors' don't just show angst they feel it, too


Insecurities: Feast or famine work schedules and the fear of rejection create uncertainty, even for stars.

March 01, 1998|By Don Aucoin | Don Aucoin,BOSTON GLOBE

Dustin Hoffman has been a major movie star for more than three decades, one of those rare actors whose careers can be judged as both a commercial and artistic success.

Yet there Hoffman was in the New York Times last week, a quivering bundle of insecurities, confiding that he has always felt like a "fluke" who never believed he had really "arrived," and concluding that "in a way I've been hanging on by my fingertips for the whole ride."

Huh? Clearly, there is stuff going on inside an actor's psyche the rest of us can only guess at.

Caroline Nesbitt, a stage actress now on tour with "Enchanted Doll," a production of the Underground Railway Theatre of Boston, clears up some of the mystery in the current issue of American Theatre magazine.

In a vivid, heartfelt account of her decision (eventually rescinded) to leave acting, Nesbitt describes the toll taken by the "many thousands" of times she has auditioned for roles but has been turned down: a "debilitating self-loathing and creeping nerve paralysis that made looking in the mirror every morning seem like an act of courage."

And then there is an actor's schedule, which "swung wildly from being horrifically busy to listlessly nonexistent." Not to mention the short money, the condescension from others in more remunerative professions, the envy at the success of peers.

Although Nesbitt ends on an eloquent note of affirmation, re-embracing the actor's life because she knows it is the only one for her, the chronicle of her near-exit is useful for anyone tempted to buy the romantic image of acting. Surely few of us would have the stomach for the constant rejection actors face, a rejection, Nesbitt writes, that "is not merely a stumbling block. It is an omnipresent and devouring predator, the only haven from which is recognition." Or not; viz., Dustin Hoffman.

Subculture success

Just this week, the top entertainment honchos at NBC and CBS -- chucking traditional network broadcast standards to the winds -- said they'd happily make room in their lineups for "South Park," an animated series featuring four third-graders who swear like longshoremen.

But in the March Spin, Chris Norris makes a good case that such a fate would spell doom for "South Park," because it is the sort of cult hit that can only thrive in the subculture.

Norris argues that "South Park" would make "a curious transfer to the larger culture" because of the limitations inherent in its obsessions (barfing, talking turds), and because it is neither as original nor as richly written as, say, "The Simpsons" or "Monty Python's Flying Circus."

Whether it stays on Comedy Central or moves to the big leagues, "South Park" is not destined for a long run, according to Norris: " 'South Park's' essential comedic device -- the clash between childhood innocence and adult puerility -- is otherwise known as 'junior high,' and everyone graduates sooner or later."

A '90s kind of guy

David Geffen, a principal (with Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg) in the movie studio SKG Dreamworks, shelled out some of his $2 billion fortune so he could live in Jack Warner's opulent Beverly Hills mansion.

Beyond the house, a reliance on their gut instincts, and recognition as among the dominant Hollywood powers of their respective eras, what else do Geffen and Warner have in common? Not much, to judge by a John Seabrook profile of Geffen in the current New Yorker, along with Jean Stein's oral history of Warner.

Warner knew movies and little else, and was especially bad at human relationships; Geffen, notes Seabrook, is "the only man in the history of American cultural capitalism who has succeeded in three different industries -- popular music, Broadway, and Hollywood."

With Warner, everything was about business, even family, according to those who knew him or were unlucky enough to be related to him. He was so ruthless that he fired his own son, Jack Warner Jr., and double-crossed his own brother, Sam, with whom he had founded Warner Bros., so Jack could take over as president.

Geffen is a kinder, gentler, '90s kind of mogul, at least on the surface. Though he's a bad enemy to have, he's an extraordinarily good friend whose business success rests on the development of what Seabrook calls a "relationship economy." Born during Geffen's years in the music industry, where he befriended artists (Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, the Eagles) he shepherded to the top, that style still holds now that he's in the movie world, Seabrook says: "When you become part of Geffen's relationship economy ... it seems as if there were nothing he wouldn't do for you."

TV family

For some baby boomers weaned on television, TV moments linger in the memory as vividly as episodes from their own lives, and seem as real. Deplorable? I guess so. But sometimes, people form a bond with TV out of a psychic necessity.

That appears to have been the case with Tony Earley, whose Harper's memoir of a lonely childhood is titled "Somehow Form a Family," a reference that will not be lost on "Brady Bunch" fans.

More than a mere recollection of a TV-addicted youth, more than a reminder that TV idioms often become our idioms, Earley shows how, in a sad and disconnected home like his, television could fill the empty places.

In beautifully understated prose, Earley evokes a boy's emotional reliance on shows such as "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Good Times" and "Happy Days."

Pub Date: 3/01/98

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