What the Hell Happened to Steve Guttenberg?
This may come as a shock to some of you. But a long time ago, this guy was a movie star. Back in the days of Reaganomics and Rubick’s Cubes, Steve “The Gute” Guttenberg was A-list. And then, 1990 came and took it all away.
Steve Guttenberg’s first significant role was in the 1978 Nazi-themed thriller, The Boys from Brazil in which he starred opposite Gregory Peck and Lawrence Olivier. Quite an auspicious beginning, don’t you think? Well, it’s all downhill from there…
Because in 1980, Guttenberg starred opposite the Village People and Bruce Jenner in the infamous Can’t Stop the Music. Can’t Stop the Music was a musical retelling of the rise of the Village People, the disco-era music group known for including a cowboy, a biker guy and an indian and introducing America to the YMCA.
You would think a Village People musical could ride the wave of disco mania to box office success, right? It probably would have if it had been released a few years earlier. But by 1980, not only was disco no longer popular, there was a huge “disco is dead” backlash against all things disco.
As a result, the 20-million-dollar musical earned a paltry 2-million dollars at the box office. The reviews were as bad as you would expect.
Most telling of all, Can’t Stop the Music was the recipient of the first-ever Golden Raspberry for Worst Picture. John J.B. Wilson was inspired to create the awards for bad movies after sitting through a double feature of Can’t Stop the Music and Xanadu. Yep, that’ll do it.
The next year, Guttenberg appeared in the TV hockey movie, Miracle on Ice. He returned to the big screen in style in 1982 as part of Barry Levinson’s ensemble comedy-drama, Diner.
Diner was a dream job for a young actor in the 80′s. Although it was only a modest success at the box office, critics lavished it with praise. It helped Levinson’s script was nominated for an Oscar. And the cast was a who’s who of up-and-coming actors including Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Tim Daly, Ellen Barkin and Paul Reiser.
Although Diner was a small movie, it has had a lasting impact. In 1983, it was adapted by Levinson into a short-lived TV show. Reiser was the only returning cast member. The cast of the TV show included Michael Madsen and James Spader. Unfortunately, the show never got past the pilot stage.
Currently, Levinson is adapting Diner for Broadway with pop singer Sheryl Crow.
Diner gave Guttenberg’s career a bump. But as part of an ensemble, Guttenberg had to share the spotlight with a talented cast. In 1983, Guttenberg followed up Diner with a starring role in the invisible man comedy, The Man Who Wasn’t There.
The posted for The Man Who Wasn’t There included the tagline, “Being invisible will get you into spy rings, diplomatic circles and the girls’ locker room.” I think this tells you everything you need to know about the movie.
There are two upsides to starring in The Man Who Wasn’t There. One, Guttenberg had the lead role. Two, he was invisible for much of the film.
Later that year, Guttenberg returned to TV for the ABC movie The Day After. I usually don’t spend a lot of time talking about TV movies. But The Day After scared the living crap out of me and every one I knew in 1983.
It seems quaint now. But in the 80′s Cold War America was scared silly of nuclear war and the Russians. When ABC aired The Day After it was seen as a realistic depiction of the aftermath of nuclear war which could happen without notice at any minute.
I remember having classroom discussions about it in school. We were encouraged to watch the broadcast. And the next day when every single kid in school was scared shitless, we talked about it further.
In 1984, Guttenberg starred in Police Academy. Policy Academy was one of the many slob comedies released in the 80′s in the aftermath of National Lampoon’s Animal House.
Roger Ebert had this to say about Police Adacemy, “It’s really something. It’s so bad, maybe you should pool your money and draw straws and send one of the guys off to rent it so that in the future, whenever you think you’re sitting through a bad comedy, he could shake his head, and chuckle tolerantly, and explain that you don’t know what bad is”.
I think Ebert is beating up on Police Academy unfairly. Yeah, it’s dumb. It’s supposed to be dumb. And no, it’s not especially funny. But as the sequels would go on to show, you can do a whole lot worse than the first Police Academy movie.
Against all odds, Police Academy was a hit that would go on to spawn a franchise that still has life in it today. To date, there have been 7 Police Academy movies, a live action TV show and a kid’s cartoon!
Next: Cocoon and Short Circuit