Show Business: Elliott Gould: The Urban Don Quixote

  • Share
  • Read Later

(2 of 10)

from their eyes, from their movements. I can see that Gould has it."

Shifting the Focus

So can Gould's battalion of fans. For them he is a prime example of the kind of film star who needs a wave length more than a makeup man. "There's been a shift in focus of movie heroes and movie stories," says Jules Feiffer, the writer-cartoonist responsible for a new Gould movie, Little Murders. "Out of this shift came the possibility of careers for the likes of Gould, Alan Arkin and Dustin Hoffman. What really happened is that Hollywood is trying to update its mythology, and these are the stars of the new mythology." Mel Stuart, who directed Gould in the soon-to-be-released I Love My Wife, puts it another way: "Gone is the superego, the allure, the inserting of a personal quality above the role." All very true, yet it is the sense of identification with Gould the man that makes him so sympathetic to an audience.

When Gould got ready for the orgy in Bob & Carol by dousing himself with deodorant, gargling and climbing into bed in his undershorts and executive-length socks, millions of sexually unliberated men and women not only laughed at his unease but were moved and comforted by it. Audiences could share vicariously the exhilaration of his dream orgies in Move, and at the same time empathize with the vague big-city terrors that made him paranoid and the marital pressures that made him impotent. They recognized the death's-head hilarity of M*A*S*H and the rebellious comedy of Getting Straight as surely as they will sympathize with his plight in I Love My Wife, where, playing an upwardly mobile man married to a dumpy wife, he begins a compulsive series of extramarital flings and affairs.

Where Garfield Strutted

The way he looks is part of the Gould effect. It is not so much that he seems so ordinary as that he seems so little like a star. His clothes, whether custom-made suits or crumpled fatigues, never quite fit; his hair could use a trim; and he can raise a heavy beard (as he is now doing) in a matter of days. In this era of the inescapable nude scene, Gould's ordinary and not especially well-cared-for proportions come as a blessed relief. For the average American male on a Saturday-night movie date, it was once a recurring minor trauma when the leading man—Burt Lancaster, say, or Charlton Heston—shed his shirt to reveal muscles rippling in well-choreographed rows and a Mr. America chest. Gould, bare-assed in Move, evokes anything but competitive embarrassment and might even persuade a few victims of anatomical insecurity to forget about jogging.

There has not been a film star of such distinctly urban identity since the days of John Garfield. But there the similarity emphatically ends. Each was distinctly a man of and for his time. Garfield strutted down city streets in the late '30s and '40s, while Gould stumbles where somebody neglected to curb his dog. Hard times tempered Garfield into tough resiliency; the characters that Gould plays frequently need help ordering breakfast. Garfield wrestled with evil forces and emerged, if not untainted, then certainly unvanquished. Gould's characters can't hold their jwn against a teen-age mugger; they all react to corruption with a sly smile and a shrug—and then reduce it to absurdity through comic overexposure. Garfield,

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10