Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Guttenberg Bible by Steve Guttenberg

I have always been fascinated by the movie DINER, Barry Levinson’s 1982 directorial debut.  Over the past 30 years, I’ve watched it perhaps a hundred times.  No exaggeration.  The first time I heard the term ‘sleeper’ used, it was to describe this film.  In high school, I tried to emulate the characters by spending long nights in a Perkins Pancake House (there were no actual diners in my tiny western Pennsylvania town) smoking cigs, eating french fries with gravy and drinking coffee while wrestling with what my friends and I considered issues big and smallOn prom night, I couldn’t wait to get rid of my date so I could meet the guys at the DINER, as we had come to refer to Perkins.  I know the script almost from memory.  I even bought the screenplay and used to have college roomies prompt me with a line so I could recite the next, a practice I look back on and see just how annoying that must have been.  

I was hooked on the great ensemble cast (Steve Guttenberg, Mickey Rourke, when he was beautiful, Paul Reiser, Daniel Stern, Tim Daly, before he got his teeth fixed, Kevin Bacon, Ellen Barkin) who were all at the beginnings of their careers.  I never would have guessed Bacon would become the biggest star of them all.  I loved the dialogue that seemed authentic because it was so idiosyncratic ("Y'know what word I'm not comfortable with? Gesture”), the way they talked over each other, how they talked about everything while talking about nothing.  I enjoyed the story (the football quiz, the whole left side of the menu, the sandwich scene) for being funny and honest.  It was what I hoped my relationships with my friends would be like; that there would be in these relationships camaraderie, fellowship, banter, and guys who had your back.
Perhaps my senses have been dulled a bit by reading Tommy James’ memoir last month but when I saw that Steve Guttenberg had written a memoir, I had to read it in hopes there would be some killer new info on DINER.  Did I get my DINER scoop?  Not as much as I had hoped but I kept reading anyway.   


Overall, The Guttenberg Bible is a pretty standard celeb book (and give the title a break.  What else are you going to call it when your last name is Guttenberg?).  He talks about how he really didn't have any idea what he was doing in Hollywood or even how to become an actor.  He had a bad last name, bad hair, and no experience so he hustled like hell and for a while he became a guy who could play the likable characters that many movies during the 80's seemed to need.  

What I had forgotten about Guttenberg was the string of mainstream hits he had:  Something for Joey (a required weeper for all 6th grade boys in my day), all those Police Academy movies (mostly bad and of their time but big commercial hits), Cocoon, Three Men and a Baby.  Hell, this guy started off in The Boys From Brazil acting alongside Gregory Peck, James Mason and Olivier! Now, could he pull off Chekhov or even be a supervillain in the next Spiderman movie?  Probably not but that's okay with me.  Ultimately, he seems like the nice guy he tended to play; a kid from Massapequa, Long Island who made it big for a while.