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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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@Kevin What you posted on November 23, 2010 at 10:06 AM is EXACTLY what I was thinking. I think it should be a "fan" letter addressed to Russell Crowe.

Nothing to do with throwing phones, everything to do with the quality of the projects he's worked on since 2005.

"fearful of jeopardizing their careers with any intemperate behavior" is too bad for them. Just because they are actors earning an incredible salary for their often mediocre talents does not give them any right to throw phones, stab wives or be rude, past or present. Boorish behavior, sometimes criminal behavior, is not excusable, and I don't care how good an actor they are. The only difference is the punishment. If they can't be brought up on charges, then let the public declare them guilty.

Leaving acting ability comparisons aside, Steve McQueen was a sex symbol with lots of attitude.

Russell Crowe is extremely unattractive and no sex symbol. He's a journeyman actor but he does have a bad attitude.

I thought this was an article about Russell Crowe. It was not, it was a Steve McQueen article. I don't think you should blame Rusty, you are the perfect example of a minimally talented journalist which makes RC crazy. If you want to write about RC, do some research get into what makes him tick, stop trying to piss him off so you can write a bad boy story. You seem to be the lazy one who can't come up with an original idea.

I loved The Next Three Days, it's entertainment 10 bucks for two hours, I agree with Slypig, the idiot that wrote this story should do some research on Crowe and his work... and enough with the f#*!ing phone throwing story. Goldstein gold stinks is more like it.

"It's no secret that Russell Crowe is obnoxious and ill-mannered in public"

So...that would be on the de Generes, Leno, Letterman, Craig Ferguson, Regis and Charlie Rose shows both last week ? They are all a matter of public record on YouTube and show a relaxed and humorous Crowe -just as he has been for the past few years doing press for his movies.

And, rather hypocritically, what Goldstein fails to quote from his colleague Steven Zaitchik's article are the last, telling words....
"I, however, am only too sad to leave."

Russell Crowe is a fantastic actor and, it would appear, a decent man. He behaved badly in the past and unfortunately it seems it will be many more years until he lives that down, but his actions over the last several years show that either he's got the world's best PR agent (something there is no evidence of, given that articles like spring up everytime he opens a picture, and given that the phone thing just refuses to die) or he's learned from his mistakes and grown up some. You know, like a real human being does?

All recent examples of Crowe's "arrogance" boil down to he doesn't like the press and the press doesn't like him. No big surpise. But since we all get our information about him from the same press he antagonizes, it doesn't make a lot of sense to take their word as gospel.
Also, I REALLY don't understand people who refuse to see a movie because of someone's world behaviour. Don't watch someone's movie because you don't like their acting. Or because the movie looks bad, or whatever. But skipping it 'cause the star is a jerk? Seriously? I can't count how many fantastic movies I'd have missed that way. For example - since we're going back 30-40 years - I love Alexander Salkind's 3 Muskteers, which starred, among others, Oliver Reed. There was nothing about the real world Reed that I could like (at least going on what I've heard of him... through the press...) but his performance as Athos is one of my very favorite things on film. It's be a shame if I'd missed that just so I could get my fix of self-righteousness for that day.

Why do entertainers, of all people, suddenly have to be paragons of virtue, anyway? You know, your pediatrician may be out on parole for beating up 3 guys in a drunken bar brawl - you wouldn't know it because he's not under 24 hour scrutiny by the media. And you don't need to know it because it doesn't have any effect on how he treats little Timmy's tonsilitis.

Oh, and Steve McQueen? Awesome.

Dear Patrick

Can I suggest that you try reading this:!/russellcrowe and then ask yourself if your article is factually accurate?

Not to excuse the phone throwing but I have always found the fact that the Mercer Hotel sacked the clerk in question very interesting. If he really was the victim then surely he would have kept his job.

Russell makes interesting worthwhile films, rather than making films just for the sake of the pay cheque unlike many of his peer group. The problem in Hollywood is an obsession with money and a dearth of good scripts, which is killing the industry and driving adults between 25 and 50 away from the cinemas in their droves.

BTW: to all those on here accusing Russell of being overweight, he put weight on for this film because lots of academics tend to be rather sedentary therefore it was an observation, and probably requested by the director. Russell is on record as stating that he is looking forward to getting back in shape for his next film.

Envy is a statement of inferiority... Napoleon Bonaparte

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