Sensational Steve Martin

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Will they? In the Los Angeles Times, Industry Analyst Jack Mathews has predicted that Martin will be nominated for best screenplay, not best actor. But maybe it doesn't matter. Roxanne is not the peak of his pop artistry, it is one of many, with more to come: a John Hughes comedy this fall, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, co-starring John Candy; a David Lynch project called One Saliva Bubble; a comedy with German Director Volker Schlondorff. Anyway, why should Martin, who turns 42 this week, worry about winning the approbation of Hollywood geriatrics? It is their loss if they have forever typecast him as stand-up's wild and crazy guy rather than as this decade's most charming and resourceful comic actor.

Ask those who know him well, and their testimony will be, "Steve Martin is not a wild and crazy guy." He is a shy guy, a serious guy. When he is not onstage, he is not on. "To spend time with him is like being alone," says Tommy Smothers, for whose TV show Martin wrote (and won an Emmy) in the late '60s. "Except when he is being funny." Says Letterman, in defense of Martin's reserve: "If you go to the home of a guy who shines shoes all day, you are probably not going to get your shoes shined when you walk in the door." So you will get neither cruel shoes nor happy feet when visiting Steve Martin. He is polite and distant with strangers. During an interview, he compulsively applies Chap Stick to his lips ("Do you have chapped lips?" "No, I have a habit"). He is fiercely protective of his privacy. "I don't want the way I live to get out to the world," he says. "Once private things get into print, everybody knows exactly who you are, and it makes you dull."

Never dull, Steve. His early life is archetypal -- for a stockbroker or a coupon-redemption mogul, if not for a comedian. Born in Waco, Texas, of English-Scots-Irish ethnic weave. Today Glenn, the father, is a retired real estate agent; Mary Lee, the mother, brags about her famous son in restaurants; his older sister Melinda is a California housewife. Steve says he had an ordinary childhood. "No beatings, nothing bizarre. I didn't grow up in a whorehouse," as Richard Pryor did. "We were not close-knit -- not a lot of hugging and kissing, not vocal or loud. We were middle class. When frozen food came in, we were right in there buying frozen food." In 1955 the Martins moved to Garden Grove, Calif., two miles from Disneyland, which had opened that summer.

Kismet! "I just loved the idea of Disneyland," he says. He was not alone. Indeed, at a time when the Disney dream was supposedly losing its hold on American youth, it was in fact stamping its values on a cadre of future superstars. Steven Spielberg would be charmed by Disney's marketing of an eternal Edenic childhood; Michael Jackson would find refuge in the sanitized wizardry of its theme parks. But Martin would learn, firsthand, other Disney lessons: the relentlessly cheerful huckstering, the belief that the business of America is show business. From ages ten to 18 he worked at Disneyland summers and after school. His first job was to stand at the entrance wearing a straw boater and a bow tie, selling guidebooks. The vendor netted 2 cents a book. "The norm was about 50 books a day," he says. "One day I sold 625. I think it was the record."

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