Which actor or actress is like nails on a chalkboard to you? Who do you avoid at all costs? In the September 1992 issue of Movieline magazine, the writers asked a bunch of random moviegoers which stars they found the most annoying. Some of the answers will probably surprise you. Some, not so much. Whether you agree with their selections or not, these fans came up with some pretty funny quotes about their least favorite actors.
Tired of surveys that ask moviegoers, “Who are your favorite stars”? What about the stars whose very presence on-screen feels to you like fingernails on chalkboard? We asked a random sample of fans stuck in the two-hour line for Batman Returns on Hollywood Boulevard what actors they just can’t stand. With stars like Mel Gibson or Michelle Pfeiffer, you’d have to search far and wide for someone who hates them–even indifference would be difficult to find. But the following eight performers came up quickly and repeatedly in our scientific survey to determine Hollywood’s most unwanted stars.
1. JAMES WOODS
Maybe everyone just envies his terribly high IQ. But for a once Oscar-nominated actor, James Woods inspires an amazing amount of heated invective. “There’s not a script on the face of the earth that man can hide behind!” said one Woods-hater bluntly. Someone else seconded that: “Woods is transparently a jerk, regardless of the character he’s playing.” Then there’s this ultimate insult: “Woods is even disgusting on ‘The Tonight Show.'” Woods’s mother, agent and P.R. rep can claim that all this venom comes from people who mistake the actor for the psychos, creepazoids and other assorted assholes he so brilliantly portrays–and a couple of anti-Woodsters seem to confirm that view: “James Woods doesn’t act in his movies: he actually is the pissed off little creep he plays,” said one.
Another claimed, “When I watch a movie with James Woods in it, I think, thank God this is a fictional character. Then I realize James Woods is his characters.” But several of the people we talked to about Woods think the problem is that he isn’t enough like his characters: “Woods’s basic problem is that he thinks he’s a tough guy, but actually he’s a pussy,” said one person; added another, “James Woods always plays this guy in a sharkskin suit trying to be really tough. But get it straight, Woods–you’re a wimp!” Asked to be a little more precise about what it was about Woods that drove him bananas, one non-Booster said, “There’s this oozing, pustulating, rotting- from-the-inside-out hysteria to him.” All Woods-bashers tended to agree with this person’s succinct statement: “If Woods has been given the lead in a movie, then I know the movie is bad.” And one moviegoer went further than the rest: “James Woods is the only co-star Dolly Parton could have that would keep me away from one of her movies.”
2. MELANIE GRIFFITH
A few older people in the line fondly remembered Melanie Griffith’s early screen appearance in The Drowning Pool. “She was a teenage vamp, promising a lot and looking like she’d be only too happy to deliver,” one moviegoer recalled. “And I thought then that squeaky voice was charming–because I assumed that as she grew up, her voice would change.” Growing up has turned out to be, perhaps, Griffith’s worst offense.
First, because that voice didn’t grow up with her. “I know there are men who are driven wild by that baby-talk voice of hers,” said one young woman, “but the world would be a better place without those men.” And secondly, because many people seem to feel Griffith has not exactly raised the standards of adult behavior, even for Hollywood adults. “I know it’s wrong to hold an actor’s private life against them, and okay, fine, she was a kid when she married Don Johnson. Who doesn’t make mistakes when they’re young? But she married him a second time! And she keeps making movies with him!”
Other viewers seemed to be irritated by Griffith’s inimitable blend of the sweet and the sexy. “There’s this cloying quality about her that never lets up,” one person told us. “When she really starts bothering me, I take my popcorn and go out into the lobby for a while. But even there, you can still hear her voice.” Another agreed: “You know Hollywood is male-dominated when someone with the single gimmick of a cotton-candy demeanor gets cast in leading roles. Didn’t anyone who makes movies see Pacific Heights or Shining Through?” Yet another put it this way: “I can’t be the only person who’s noticed that this little-girl sexy act really doesn’t work on a woman her age–I mean, when was Night Moves? Twenty years ago?” Several Griffith detractors said that their main problem with this actress was that she keeps getting cast as women who may seem dumb, but are really very intelligent. “She was way too convincing as a know-nothing blue-collar secretary in the first half of Working Girl to be believable in the second half,” said one person. “I believed her as a porno star/stripper in Body Double,” said another, “but a spy in Nazi Germany? A Wall Street dealmaker? Frankly, I didn’t believe she could even have bought a house with or without Matthew Modine’s help in Pacific Heights.”
3. DANNY AIELLO
Considering how many movies Danny Aiello has been in over the last two years, you might think that he’s the most beloved character actor in town. Not so. “What’s happened to Hollywood that people as obnoxious and unappealing as Danny Aiello keep working?” one person asked. “I didn’t like him when he did supporting parts, but in leading roles he’s intolerable.” Another person said, “He makes me crazy. He’s an Italian Fred Flintstone.” Someone else remarked, “Danny Aiello always plays a self-pitying asshole. He’s got these eyes that are like the slots in parking meters.”
Several people recalled noticing Aiello for the first time in Moonstruck. “He was okay there, because he didn’t get Cher, which made sense, because a guy like him would never get Cher. But who ever thought we wanted to see him in another movie?” Another viewer, who’d seen Ruby, told us, “Halfway through the movie, I started wishing history had been different and that Oswald had shot Ruby, not because I wanted to see Oswald saved–I just wanted to see the movie saved from Aiello.”
A moviegoer who remembered Aiello in The Purple Rose of Cairo said, “Remember, he played the slob Mia Farrow was married to. Mia could at least escape to the movies to get away from him, but when I go to the movies, there he is!” The number of Aiello roles is, in the view of at least one moviegoer, not matched by their diversity: “No matter what I see him in, it’s like watching Rocky Marciano doing Richard III.” One young movie fan couldn’t at first place Aiello by name, but then said, “Oh yeah, he’s the guy who reminds me of my big-face relatives who insist on kissing me on the lips.”
4. SHELLEY LONG
The writers of “Cheers” seemed to quickly spot the fingernails-on-chalkboard quality of the persona Shelley Long projects, and they compensated for this with just the right measure of hilariously self-effacing dialogue. Couch potatoes everywhere fell for the nitpicky, bookish Barbie Doll Diane, adoring her pursed lips and finding the whiplash effect of her insecurity/superiority utterly charming.
Long became a major star with a massive following and exited TV triumphantly to seek out her proper place in the arena of cinema legend. That’s when the trouble started. As one of the people interviewed for this survey observed, “Shelley Long’s unfounded confidence that she is Jean Arthur reincarnated impresses you at first, then quickly puts your teeth on edge.” While many moviegoers probably adore Long, a substantial number seem to find her tight grins excruciating: “Shelley Long reminds me of my old neighbor who used to give me tips on dating. Only my neighbor would eventually shut up.”
Another person observed, “She seems to be complaining even when she isn’t talking.” The groundswell of anti-Longing may have started slowly (her early hit Outrageous Fortune played her against Bette Midler, who is fingernails on chalkboard herself to many people), but the movement has obviously picked up speed: “Shelley Long is by far the most irritating actress on the planet. She’s conceited and banal at the same time.”
The film Hello Again is apparently what launched Long into the major leagues of most unwanted actors. “The idea of a movie in which Shelley Long thankfully dies and then is brought back to life! Who were the idiots behind this movie anyway?” Long’s prissy Long Island housewife in Hello Again, compounded by her spoiled Beverly Hills matron in Troop Beverly Hills, tried the patience of another viewer thus: “She strikes me as some housewife/stewardess/schoolteacher/bitch from the ’50s.” But negative sentiments about Long are perhaps most eloquently conveyed by this remark: “I send my kids to Shelley Long movies as punishment. My kids say, ‘No, mommy, no! Not that woman again!’ ”
5. JACK LEMMON
Hollywood war-horse Jack Lemmon has won two Oscars, an Emmy, and lots of other assorted honors in a career of astonishing longevity and diversity. And yet, beloved by the masses as he so obviously is, he is thought by a remarkable number of the people we interviewed to be even more beloved by himself. “I am always aware of what a gut-wrenchingly great job of acting he’s sure he’s doing,” said one moviegoer. People tend to know exactly what drives them nuts about Lemmon: he makes them anxious.
One terse observer explained: “Jack Lemmon is the Typhoid Mary of anxiety.” Another: “Jack Lemmon is always so completely anguished in his movies. He needs Valium bad. And so do I to watch him.” This non-fan took the point further: “Jack Lemmon sweats in all his movies. And I don’t mean just a few beads. You always see him wiping his brow with a hankie. Maybe he should do us all a favor and only act in the winter months.” Of course, these comments seem to focus on Lemmon’s dramatic films; perhaps he was universally loved back in the days of brilliant comedies like The Apartment. No. “I’ve always hated Jack Lemmon,” said an impassioned observer. “I even found him irritating in Billy Wilder movies. He’s full of these tics and mannerisms and Lemmonisms–you long for a fly swatter.”
Still, many of Lemmon’s naysayers became disenchanted only when he started to act. “This man doesn’t just chew scenery. He chews soundstages, studios, cities!” said one person. Another commented, “When Jack Lemmon gets worked-up on-screen, he is like the embodiment of all those people who stand too close to you when they talk to you, who touch you on the arm to make their points and who bring themselves to tears with their own phenomenal sensitivity.” One long-term Lemmon detester summed it all up: “He is desperate to please. He embraces the neuroses that most of us try, thanks to an inherent sense of dignity, to hide. He’s full of self-pitying, blathering emotion, the kind of disgusting, shameful display that keeps me from ever watching the Academy Awards.”
Madonna and Cher are both songstresses with limited musical ability and weird screen careers. Cher’s movie career is strange because it turns out she can act and audiences love her. Madonna’s movie career is strange because it turns out she really can’t act and audiences have never done anything more enthusiastic than tolerate her. “I ‘get’ Madonna onstage,” said one person we talked to, “but on-screen her brassy nerviness drives me nuts. I just think, oh please, how did she get here? And I start getting depressed about the powers-that-be that let her into the movies.” Another interviewee exclaimed, “Why does Hollywood keep financing this woman’s underwear?”
There was near universal agreement that Madonna cannot act (as one person put it, “If she couldn’t cut it when she was cast to type as an underhanded slut in a movie controlled by her boyfriend, she’s never gonna cut it“), but that is not what’s held against her: “I don’t think Goldie Hawn or Kim Basinger or Drew Barrymore can act, but I like them because none of them grabs me by the throat, cracks gum in my face and insists she can act.” One person said, “Madonna is simply vulgar, and up there on the big screen, no costume or makeup or dialogue can hide it.”
In a similar vein, “Seeing Madonna on-screen is like being in a dubious restaurant where you fear that any minute something is going to skitter up the wall or across the table.” The most interesting and complete thesis on Madonna’s despicability ran like this: “She’s a microcosm of the whole movie industry. She’s vacuous and proud of it. She thinks she has ‘integrity’ because she has knowingly incorporated only the most brazen and campy aspects of femininity. In her brain, that passes for self-knowledge.” And finally, one Madonna don’t -wannabe suggested, “Maybe someone should give her a scene where she masturbates on the big screen like she did onstage, since, metaphorically speaking, that’s what she’s doing all the time anyway.”
7. ERIC ROBERTS
Here’s an actor who really divides the town–you love him or you hate him, and we couldn’t find anyone who loves him. Everyone we spoke to seemed to suggest there’s a queasy blurring of the on-screen and offscreen Roberts. “He gives me the creeps,” said one moviegoer. “I don’t care if he was just doing great acting as a disgusting scumbag in Star 80–he convinced me that that’s what he is, and now I can’t look at him.” Someone else cited The Pope of Greenwich Village, saying, “Anyone who can seem sleazier and less agreeable than Mickey Rourke or Daryl Hannah is someone I don’t ever want to watch again.”
Another non-fan reflected a moment and said, “He’s probably played a character who wasn’t psychotic, but I can’t think of the movie, and that’s my problem with him. He registers so strongly as a bad guy, he can’t register as anything else at all.” Asked for some specifics about what really bugs him about Roberts, one twentyish guy said, “The creepiest thing about Eric Roberts is the way he talks. I mean, it sounds like maybe he’s on a low dose of some antipsychotic drug and he has a spoonful of peanut butter stuck to the roof of his mouth.” One person who’d seen Roberts’s most recent movie, Final Analysis, said, “As usual, he was scummier than the character needed to be, so, even though he was only in the movie to get murdered, I couldn’t wait for him to die.”
8. GEORGE C. SCOTT
“Why are you even mentioning him?” one person asked, having overheard other people’s remarks. “No one takes him seriously.” Ah, but we found a lot of people used to. “I have fond memories of him back in the Anatomy of a Murder days,” one older moviegoer said, “but I have even clearer memories of the fuss that broke out when he didn’t show up to get his Academy Award for Patton. I always assumed that it was simply because he thought he didn’t deserve it, and rightly so.” Another disagreed with that analysis. “What I think is that George C. Scott has confused movies with reality. In his head he thinks he won World War II for the Allies.” One person claimed, “He’s the most pompous actor I’ve ever seen. But what gets me most is that voice of his–it’s like listening to rocks get pulverized in a quarry.”
Another viewer tried to explain Scott’s “superiority complex,” saying, “He doesn’t even try to hide that he always thinks he’s so much better than his material. Someone should explain to him, ‘You were right at home in Firestarter.'” “Don’t you always feel that he’d rather be somewhere else?” one person asked. “You know, reading great poetry in an artist’s garret where he’s appreciated? I’d like it if he’d go there.” “He’s the American Laurence Olivier,” another moviegoer said. “They both were at one time quality actors. Both turned into the worst kind of hams.”
Elaine Bailey and Brian Hirsch coauthored “The Six Million Dollar+ Men ” in our July issue
Posted on September 8, 2017, in Movieline Articles, Movies and tagged Danny Aiello, Eric Roberts, George C. Scott, Jack Lemmon, James Woods, madonna, melanie griffith, Shelley Long. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.