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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Russell Crowe in eclipse: How Hollywood celebrity has changed

Ruseel_croweRussell Crowe’s new film, “The Next Three Days,” is a box-office stinker. A thriller released by Lionsgate, the movie did a paltry $6.8 million over the weekend, accompanied by a raft of mediocre reviewsone of the worst starts for any picture in nationwide release this year.

Why has the public largely given the Oscar-winner the cold shoulder in recent years? Sure, unlike Will Smith, Johnny Depp or Tom Hanks, who manage to stay affable despite the attention that comes to them as movie stars, Crowe has become better known for throwing a phone at a hotel clerk, constantly sniping with the media and refusing to show any easy affability or vulnerability. When Crowe sat down to talk with my colleague Steven Zeitchik recently, he was as prickly as ever, complaining about the burden of celebrity, challenging the premise of the reporter’s questions and mocking the whole idea of a film junket, even as he was about to do one himself. “If I were ever going to torture somebody,” he said, “I’d put them in a room where they can’t leave and have someone new come in every three minutes and ask the same question.”

But Crowe is hardly the only celeb to bristle in the glare of today’s 24/7 news cycle. When Kanye West was being interviewed by “Today’s” Matt Lauer this month, the hop-hop star went ballistic when Lauer aired a clip of West interrupting Taylor Swift’s MTV acceptance speech, in itself another one of West’s media missteps. Unhappy about constantly being grilled about his steroid use, former Dodgers star Manny Ramirez stopped talking to the media entirely. When sportswriters asked Lakers star Kobe Bryant on Friday about his appearance in an ad for a new ultra-violent video game, Bryant snapped: “That’s a silly question,” he said, raising his voice. “Next question.”

Nor has Crowe broken new ground when it comes to bad behavior. I was reminded of this over the weekend when I read the newly released “Steve McQueen: The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon.” Like Crowe in his heyday, McQueen was the epitome of masculine cool, a virile, sometimes surly, often inscrutable alpha male action hero.

McQueen clashed with his costars and bullied his directors. He was so insecure that when he was starring opposite Paul Newman in “The Towering Inferno” and discovered that Newman had 12 more lines in the script, McQueen insisted that the screenwriter insert more dialogue so as to even things up with his costar. The similarities between McQueen and Crowe are striking. McQueen’s friends recall him as being chilly one minute, unbelievably warm the next. As for Crowe, “A Beautiful Mind” filmmaker Ron Howard said that directing the actor was like “shooting on a tropical island — the weather is going to change several times a day.”

In his personal life, McQueen was perhaps even more reckless than Crowe. The married McQueen had innumerable affairs and one-night flings, even keeping a rented office for his trysts. He drank and used drugs to excess.

Yet for all McQueen’s flaws, the public adored him. When he died at age 50 of cancer in 1980, there was a huge outpouring of grief.

“Steve was a charmer,” recalls producer David Foster, who was McQueen’s press agent for most of the 1960s. “He could do whatever he wanted [messing] around in his private life, but he really watched himself in public. He’d never get caught throwing a phone. He knew how to enchant the media. He’d ask who the reporter was, what they liked or didn’t like, and then when he did the interview, he’d charm the hell out of ’em.”

Of course, the public adored McQueen because relatively little was known about his peccadilloes. In the ’60s, at the peak of his stardom, a compliant press still largely only printed the legend when it came to America’s royalty, whether it was JFK and his extramarital affairs, Mickey Mantle and his boozy womanizing or McQueen and his escapades.

When making “Le Mans” in 1970s, McQueen got behind the wheel in the midst of an all-night coke binge, took a curve too fast and crashed a sports car into a cement bunker, sending the actor and his companion, a Swedish soap-opera star he was sleeping with, through the windshield. All McQueen had to do was call his agent, Stan Kamen, who as Marshall Terrill’s new McQueen biography recounts, “magically appeared” the next day to clean up the mess. It never made the papers.

If that sort of accident happened today, it would be instant headline fodder, since the modern-day news cycle has an immediacy and repeatability that didn’t exist in McQueen’s day. When McQueen got into trouble, his press agents had time to strategize and decide how to get the news out, if at all, and if so, whom to give it to. In today’s universe, stars are in the public eye every step of the way, whether it’s on the film set, in a taxi or at the grocery store. Everyone they meet is a potential paparazzo, armed with a cellphone camera whose pictures can show up on TMZ in the flash of an eye.

But Crowe has also run up against something that McQueen never had to contend with: Our culture’s attitude toward masculinity has radically changed in the decades following McQueen’s box-office reign. In mid-20th century America, our heroes had a swagger to their step, a drink in their hands and were allowed, even encouraged, to live outside the bounds of responsible behavior. When Mickey Mantle and his teammates got into an epic brawl at the Copacabana nightclub, it only enhanced his reputation. When Norman Mailer got into fistfights with other writers and stabbed one of his wives, his literary stock only went up.

In today’s culture, when you throw a phone at a desk clerk, your stock plummets. Is this all for the good? In some ways yes, since the alpha males of the past often ended up ruining their lives, along with most of their marriages, with all their womanizing and boozy excess. Yet we’ve lost something too, since many of today’s best-known actors and athletes are cautious and dull, fearful of jeopardizing their careers with any intemperate behavior.

Perhaps that’s why we still secretly swoon over bad-boy behavior, at least as long as it’s set in the gauzy past. Why else would we so adore Don Draper, who gets to booze it up and sleep around on “Mad Men” every week? Yet we can’t accept it in modern life, and especially not when it is accompanied by a whiff of arrogance or a sense of privilege, not to mention the moaning and groaning we get from Crowe, West and a variety of sports stars about the price of fame.

Steve McQueen came from a school whose motto was: Never complain, never explain. Maybe that’s why even today, long after his death, McQueen is still the epitome of cool, his name and likeness used to sell more than 50 products, from Gap jeans and Absolut vodka to Ford Mustangs, while Russell Crowe still can’t figure out how to sell himself, much less his latest movie.
 

Here's a look at the McQueen mystique in action:

 

Photo: Russell Crowe at a special screening of "The Next Three Days" in West Hollywood.

Credit: Angela Weiss/Getty Images

 
Comments () | Archives (42)

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I loved Russell Crowe in L.A. Confidential. He was explosive, dynamic, and unpredictable. No one knew who he was at the time and perhaps that had something to do with it. The problem with Crowe is that no one likes a baby or a bully. He needs to stop complaining and do his job. We all have aspects of our professions that tax us and bother us...it's called work for a reason. He should take his money and open a black box theater in Australia and put on hard hitting meaningful "art". He can do political Kabuki theater and never have to do a single junket or be asked another question. If you don't enjoy your job then simply quit and find a new one. Unless you enjoy the dumptrucks full of cash that allow you and your family to be provided for for generations to come...then you might want to ease up on the martyrdom routine.

yep. mikex hits the mark, while Goldstein is just ruminating about PR politics. It's what's on the screen that counts. Crowe's lost his edge and comes across as stuffy and self-important in his performance now.

I had a good laugh at John's clueless comment about McQueen vs Crowe's acting ability-Steve's performances in films such as "The Sand Pebbles", "Papillon","The Cincinnati Kid" and "Nevada Smith" all show what a very talented actor he could be.

I for one understood you mikex, and agree with much of it. But I do think you should start a blog. As for Russell Crowe, anyone who thinks he is "the finest actor of his or any generation" really needs help. @moviefan lol.

McQueen wasn't so great so much as a lot of the movies he was in were terrific in a way that seems to utterly elude today's filmmakers.

The man had an interesting and agreeable screen presence, but I've always been a bit mystified as to the hold he had on people then, and continues to have today. If one examines his performances, he actually didn't do much (something that can, admittedly, describe a few other actors, including Gary Cooper), which may be exactly why he's still seen as being the epitome of "cool," if coolness is an attitude that sends the implicit message, "Screw everyone and everything; I really don't care."

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Bob Ford is one of the best American westerns ever made, its gross notwithstanding. It isn't a Brad Pitt film exactly, its more like an ensemble film with Casey Affleck the main character Bob Ford. Pitt was probably along just to get the film made. The performances of the subordinate players vastly overpower Pitts' effort. Coward Bob Ford ranks with some of the best films of Howard Hawks and John Ford, including Red River and My Darling Clementine. The Coward Bob Ford is certain to become an enduring classic despite its meager box office. The Good German, though supposedly modeled on the film style of Michael Curtiz reminds most of the Victors, made in black and white, with a German backdrop in the sixties. The Good German was alright. I was one of those who paid to see both of these. I paid to see Nine also but was pretty disappointed. A fourth film should be added to this group: The Hurt Locker. It's Oscars are really a message from the craft people to the execs who run the studios telling them that art and integrity are more important than the enormous box office of meaningless whales like Cameron's Avatar. The tug of war between art and commerce is an issue for every commercial film made.

What marketing genius said "YAH! LET'S OPEN AGAINST HARRY POTTER!" fire his azz and run him out of town.

@ mikex: The "mocking" that you seemed to enjoy doing is why I hate going to the movies these days. It doesn't matter if there were only six people in the theater; obviously your comments got the ball rolling for the other four people closer to the screen. I'm glad I wasn't there to have to either call the usher or ask for my money back because your talking during the movie would have disrupted my viewing the movie, bad or not. How about buying the DVD when it comes out and turning it into a drinking game while you're at it? My friends and I can wait until the movie is over and we've left the theater before we discuss how good or bad it was.

As for Goldstein comparing Crowe to McQueen, it's not even apples vs. oranges. There is no equivalent to Steve McQueen today. As for citing how the media has changed in the near 40 years since "Le Mans," that is also irrelevant. All it means is that McQueen's people were quick on the damage control front, but how that equates with Crowe and his off-screen behavior is, as I said before, irrelevant.

Patrick Goldstein did something most journalists are afraid to do-he told the truth. It's no secret that Russell Crowe is obnoxious and ill-mannered in public, that's common knowledge amongst Hollywood moguls, but for Goldstein to go in depth about the actor's personal traits is something to be commended as a writer. Well done Mr. Goldstein, you dared to tell it like it is. You certainly have my support, Sir.

Russell Crowe is one of many of today's actors who clearly has limited talent, if any. He obviously climbed the Hollywood celebrity ladder because he was liked by someone within, just like most of them. I fail to see how a talented living legend in movie-making like Ridley Scott ever thought Crowe would be an asset to his classic movies.

For someone who has has lived and worked around the Hollywood area for nearly thirty years, I have at some point ran into many Hollywood celebrities (too numerous to mention) Russell Crowe being one of them. His public temper tantrums are nothing new. A few years ago, while seated in a nice Hollywood restaurant I saw Crowe seated a few feat away, dining with friends. After the waitress had made a mistake on his friends' order, I watched Crowe stand up and yell at the waitress, thereby making an embarrassing scene saying,"Look, do you even know who I am?" Just like Steve McQueen's car wreck, the restaurant incident also escaped the newspapers.

Russell Crowe is an example of how many of today's so-called "stars" act and behave in public. He is in the same category as Bruce Willis, The late Charles Bronson, Sylvester Stallone and Christian Bale-arrogant and rude, all of whom I have seen personally in real life who wants everyone around them to know who they are. Crowe, like many, have presumably come from humble surroundings with virtual overnight successes which makes them rich and famous beyond their wildest dreams. They somehow believe their sudden financial change in the class social structure seems give them a free pass to act like snobs and to disrespect anyone who comes within close range. To me, Russell Crowe is a nobody. I refuse to see any of his movies and when someone mentions his name, it's usually a case of, "Russell who?" Let's be honest, who cares.

As Patrick Goldstein mentioned, there is definitely a marked noticeable difference to today's celebrities as opposed to "stars" of the past. Living and working in Hollywood for so long I have, at some point, met certain celebrities personally whom I can honestly say, have always been nothing but nice to me and everyone else around them, meaning-sincere and genuine. Certain well-known celebrities who immediately come to mind are: James Caan, Clint Eastwood, the late George Peppard, Al Pacino, the late Robert Mitchum, the entire original cast of Charlie's Angel's-Jaclyn Smith, Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson and Cheryl Ladd.

It's mainly because of the press reports and unpopular media coverage which surrounds Russell Crowe, that I refuse to pay to see any of his movies. Hollywood celebrities are definitely not what they used to be.

Mike Hughes,

Hollywood.

There’s an old expression: You lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. So I’m sure Russell Crowe is still busy scratching after his latest close encounter with this L.A. rag. Yes, indeed, the L.A. Times does seem to be the only organization that has perceived ... or should I say, imagined ... any questionable attitude from Crowe on his latest film junket. We’ve seen this condescending posture before, again just last week, when another self-involved ‘journalist’ got lost in space and the Tao and tried to create more false controversy. Meanwhile, elsewhere around the country, Russell was friendly, relaxed, informative and entertaining, and was cordially received everywhere he appeared.

So where were you, Goldstein? So fixated on a guy who died three decades ago, you had no time to keep up with the latest? Well, here’s a news flash:. Russell Crowe is not Steve McQueen. The two men have very little in common. And did it ever dawn on you to consider the sloppy ethics you practice in trying to deliberately align the character of Russell Crowe with someone like Steve McQueen or any of the other people mentioned in this article and for whose behavior Russell has no responsibility, though you try to badly smear him by association? How hard you work to draw a close comparison, mentioning coke binges, car crashes, extramarital affairs, steroid use, boozy womanizing, a stabbing, you name it, all with a total lack of respect, and after clearly conducting no research into the real life of the real man.

The fact is that Russell is a stable, happily married man from a very close family, now raising two young children, and he responsibly runs both a cattle farm and a large reputable sports franchise in his home country. He is not part of the sleazy Hollywood or celebrity scene you describe, nor has he ever been. You take an unfortunate incident from many years past and still go to town with it, and so no wonder he is so guarded at times with certain members of the press. A smart man, he knows when to be wary, and so that you read as ongoing testiness. A bit of a hell-raiser when he was young, like so many, he grew up and got over it. And so why don’t you? Now let me connect a couple of dots here for you: drop the judgmental bull and you may just discover an affable guy.

Yet with regard to his career, instead of looking at an overall successful track record, or his solid acting performances, or figuring out that the best efforts in movie making are very often not well rewarded at the box office, you choose to fill too much blank space before deadline dwelling on shaky connections that do not exist. The only salient point you made here is that the movie industry has changed, and almost completely, and now caters almost exclusively to those under the age of 21, or even 18. And so the more mature and discriminating film watchers, those who can appreciate the adult style of serious acting of Russell Crowe and so many others like him, are sometimes more apt to appreciate viewing a purchased DVD. You also ignore the fact that Russell and Ridley Scott released a hit film only six months ago, the epic “Robin Hood,” which is a huge success in the international market. You label “The Next Three Days” a total stinker a mere four days after it’s release, while failing to mention that the latest Harry Potter blockbuster appeared in competition the same weekend. With words like ‘eclipse,’ how blithely you dismiss what is really a very major film career.

Yeah, talk about intemperance, when a journalist is allowed to paste someone’s name on the title of a news article and then blather on for a full page, talking about everything and everyone else and about matters that have nothing to do with the person whose name and reputation is on the line. Now there’s a novel press angle if I ever saw one: smear tactic via stream-of-consciousness generality. (In the real world, we simply call that b.s.) So now, is it just me or was there at least some minor call for accuracy? No way, it seems. For example, you also mention Ron Howard and the making of “A Beautiful Mind,” and the ‘tropical weather’ Russell Crowe introduced on a daily basis ... yeah, ten years ago ... and without clarification. Fact is, Ron Howard was so pleased by the result of that mostly sunny experience that he signed on to create a second fabulous film called “Cinderella Man” with Russell four years later.

Shameful stuff, really, this crap that passes for reporting. Unfortunately, I also read the link article you included here, hoping to discover some hint of even-handed professionalism. No such luck. Just another catty and sarcastic tirade passing as film review. Hey, if you don’t like a film, be adult about it. That’s my advice to B. Sharkey. And my caution to you here? Next time you’re in a bind, try to conjure up something more credible. Your effort today reads more like disgrace.

 
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