Back in 1982 AD it never crossed my mind that Dustin Hoffman would one day become a Hollywood relic. At that time he was a mercurial Hollywood mega-talent of the highest order – a chameleonic actor who lent off-beat certitude to the myriad characters he embodied. Tootsie had just been released and his body of work prior to that had been fascinatingly varied and searingly memorable. But alas, I must report, he has at long last become an appreciated, but mostly forgotten relic. An 83-year-old amulet of a bygone era when box office stars could carry a movie – when you’d go to the cinema to see the actor and not necessarily the movie. That he has recently been dogged by sexual harassment claims further tarnishes his evaporating status.
Life is so fleeting. One minute you’re delicately trimming your debonair moustache because she likes it neat and tidy, and in the next instance you’re trimming crab grass from your ears because you’re beginning to look like you should be institutionalized. Things change. Sorry Dusty, few are still interested in stories about how during casting calls for Kramer vs Kramer you found chemistry with the adolescent actor who won the part of the little kid (“And then I knew…That’s my guy?”). People little note the happenstance of the gritty, unrehearsed “I’m walkin’ here” street scene from Midnight Cowboy. Like so much celebrity stardust it positively fades into generational obscurity. It’s done. It’s over. I’m bereft.
Strangely, these behind-the-scenes Hollywood stories are preserved in my memory because when I first heard them I thought these anecdotal celebrity tales meant something special and, for whatever reason, I held them close. Wouldn’t they last forever as part of the national memory? Is there even a national repository where such memories are archived? The point is, celebrity anecdotes like these were searingly memorable to me. They were definitive Tinseltown accounts on how somebody got a part, or on how a famous scene evolved, and they were forever preserved in my mental amber. This informed my world and allowed me what I thought was a sure, swift purchase on the prevailing cultural zeitgeist. I wasn’t wrong then, but 40 years hence I think I’m wrong now.
At the risk of sounding too profound, let me just say: the only permanent thing in life is change. And now that I’ve reread that last sentence, I don’t think I ever had to worry about sounding “too profound” …or even “profound” at all. If you’re not a little profound you’re actually lost. Which is where I go to find my deepest profundity – to the Lost and Profound Dept. Anyway this whole “Dustin Hoffman is a relic” thing is more my problem than his. After all, he got to be Dustin Hoffman while I just watched.
And now Billy Crystal and has gotten old – and without anyone’s permission. As of this writing he’s 71 and counting. His relevancy has ebbed. He deserves better. We deserve better. Crystal hosted the Academy Awards 9 times. For me he was the definitive host – a little majesty mixed with unexpected, spot-on humor. It’s true. When he finished an Academy Awards show there were spots on everything (maybe I should leave the humor to him). The SNL “You Rook Mah-velous” schtick was a timeless comedic landmark. Hell, Billie Holliday babysat him and Lew Alcindor and Cassius Clay were his friends (am I dating myself?). Time stops for no man, but it is kind enough to slow down if you’re passing a kidney stone or waiting to give a speech. And while time stops for no man, GameStop’s for no hedge fund.
And don’t get me started on our 75-year-old national treasure: Mr. Steve Martin. You want a stable genius? – thy name is Steve Martin. His protean artistic skills are enviable. And even though he’s not yet going quietly into that dark night, I don’t even want there to be a dark night for him to go into. It would be best if there were no dark nights for Steve…or even for Heath Ledger. And anyway, by definition aren’t all nights dark? And double anyway, I think the Dylan Thomas quote is “Do not go quietly into that good night.” Dark night, good night. I feel so impotent. I wonder if women ever feel impotent. Well that’s another story. Anyway, I love me some Steve. After getting his COVID vaccination he tweeted: “The good news is I got my COVID shot. The bad news is I got it because I’m 75.” Don’t go Steve. Not into any night. Move towards the light and banish the darkness by saying, “Goodnight good night.”