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Jewish World Review Jan. 18, 2002 / 5 Shevat, 5762

Phil Perrier

Phil Perrier
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Consumer Reports

I'M SPARTACUS! -- ON a recent talk show Will Smith, while plugging his new movie "Ali," began a sentence with "As a fighter, I abstained from sex..."

He didn't say "Training as a fighter," or "playing a fighter." No, he referred to himself as a fighter. Granted, Smith did train for months to prepare for Ali and he did spar with real live boxers but that does not make Will Smith a "fighter." Smith, no doubt, thinks he is a fighter because he got paid $20 million to portray Ali, (more than Ali ever got for a fight) and because he was surrounded at all times by various assistants and helpers who are all paid to kiss his trunks. If Will Smith ventured into the prize ring against even a middling professional boxer he would be knocked unconscious.

Will Smith's blurring of reality is merely the latest in an annoying trend of Hollywood stars transforming themselves from picture to picture. Who can forget Tom Hanks' proxy astronaut career following "Apollo?" Hanks appeared with real astronauts at public events, he did commercials for the space program, he practically changed his name to Neil Armstrong. Hanks was asked about his adjustment to weightlessness more frequently than the real astronauts themselves.

However, Hanks' interest in the space program seemed to evaporate after "Saving Private Ryan," at which point he became a self-appointed surrogate World War II veteran; this time appearing in ads for the World War II monument and speaking with various veterans groups. Not that there is anything wrong with bringing an issue to light but just once he could have said something like "Hey, look, I'm just an actor, I was never even in the military, the real veterans deserve all the credit." But it seems as if the illusion of film fooled Hanks himself into thinking he had an intrinsic right to speak for veterans.

This phenomenon becomes particularly unpleasant when the actor plays a rock star. "The Buddy Holly Story" and "La Bamba" spawned the singularly unwelcome musical careers of Gary Busey and Lou Diamond Phillips. Other tonally challenged stars who acted themselves into singing careers include Keanu Reeves, Randy Quaid and Bruce Willis. Lets just hope Gene Hackman and Wilford Brimley never play rockers.

The most gristly instance of a film role instigating bad music involves the unlikely casting of Don Johnson as Elvis. Thus leading to Johnson's abortive musical career. Though Johnson did sing long enough to find himself in a duet (in more ways than one) with Barbra Streissand. Hopefully, the new Mr. Streissand, James Brolin, will be too busy making commercials to embark on his own singing career.

Movies do have a powerful way of shaping people's opinions about actors. John Wayne, for example, in many minds is considered a super patriot and sort of imaginary war hero, though he never fought in a war. In fact, while John Wayne and Ronald Reagan were making war movies in Hollywood, Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart were flying actual bombing missions in Europe. John Wayne's sons even got medical excuses saving them from on service in Vietnam. But to John Q. Public, The Duke will always be the ultimate American.

So never mind that tv self-help guru John "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" Gray is on his fourth marriage. Speaking of marriage, it is hard to imagine a more turgid crock of nonsense than Hollywood's attempt to sell publicity relationships. Did anyone think Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley were in love? Does anyone really think Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz are hot for each other? I'd sooner believe in a union between Seigfried and Roy to the Olson twins?

JWR contributor Phil Perrier is a Los Angeles-based writer and stand-up comic. Comment by clicking here.


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09/25/01: What's important
09/20/01: A sleeping giant awakes

© 2001, Phil Perrier