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- February 08, 1982
- Vol. 17
- No. 5
Riding on Taps, Teens and Talent
Girls Can't Seem to Keep Their Mitts Off of Taps' Timothy Hutton: Hollywood's New Heartbreaker
...Wait a minute! Cut! Can this be the sensitive young guy who looms as large in the dreams of teenage girls as clear skin on a Saturday night? Heaven (and Hollywood) forfend. The punk rock put-on is merely Hutton's own sendup of his sanitized screen persona, part of an impromptu home movie he was making with his new video camera. Wiser producers cast him to type: boyish, vulnerable, more lost lamb than ladies' man and hence twice as hard to resist—in short, Hollywood's own Holden Caulfield for the '80s. At 21, Tim already has an Oscar for 1980's Ordinary People plus two Golden Globe nominations for ABC's recent A Long Way Home and now his first leading role (opposite George C. Scott) in the current hit Taps.
His sudden ascent has taken nearly everyone by surprise. "They didn't understand the magnitude of the star quality of Timothy Hutton," understates delighted Taps producer Stanley R. Jaffe. He cast Hutton as the doomed leader of an armed cadet revolt at a military school threatened with closure. Marvels a 20th Century-Fox executive, "Girls emerge from the theater in groups of three and four with tears streaming down their faces." Those torrents are eroding teen allowances across the land so rapidly (it's not unusual for some kids to see the movie six times) that Taps has emerged as the winter's surprise smash. Though critically panned, the $17 million film already has grossed some $25 million. If Ordinary People established Hutton as an actor, Taps has made him bankable. "Yep," Tim smiles, "we're number one."
He's a bit sheepish, though, about his adulation among swoony young girls. The poor things—down to 11-year-old weenyboppers—want both to mother and maul him. After Ordinary People, Hutton recalls, fans tended to treat him like Conrad Jarrett, the suicidal high schooler he played. "They'd come up in restaurants and say, 'Are you okay? Are you better now?' " With Taps, Hutton found he couldn't visit New York without attracting a throng of puppy lovers. Others have begged help for their own schools that might close. "They now see me as a kind of army," Hutton cracks. "I could be a sort of consultant. You want to save your school? Okay, I have M-16s, I have artillery."
Behind the jests, Tim is finding constant adolescent attention hard to live with. "I don't think he's all that happy being famous," says his mother, Maryline, 45ish. "He'd like to go out for a pizza without being recognized, but he knows those days are gone forever." She's pleased, however, that he dates mostly actresses. "At least they're not after him for his fame."
Those dates have ranged across a wide spectrum of Hollywood eligibles. They include Kristy McNichol, 19, Diane (A Little Romance) Lane, 17, Melissa Sue Anderson, 19, and the President's daughter, Patti Davis, 29. His A Long Way Home co-star Rosanna Arquette, 22, has also decorated his arm. "I see a lot of different people," Tim says shyly, "but no one on a monogamous level right now." He acknowledges having some of the traditional butterflies that afflict anyone his age. "Of course I do—everyday things like meeting a girl, wondering whether she liked me. But I'm quite secure about my social life."
Romantically, the inside track seems to belong to Ragtime's dazzling Elizabeth McGovern, 21, Tim's co-star in Ordinary People and his date for the New York premiere of Taps. "She's wonderful to be with," he raves. "I enjoy seeing her as often as I can. We're both the same age, we both went through the incredible experience of Ordinary People together and a lot has happened to us from it." Indeed, Hut-ton still keeps in touch with his screen parents—Mary Tyler Moore and Donald Sutherland—but reserves his greatest praise for director Robert Redford, who served as father confessor in the young man's time of need. Four months before filming began Tim's dad, actor Jim Hutton, died of liver cancer at age 45. Tim, raised by his mother until he was 15, had just begun to know and depend on his father. "It was just a really awful time," he says.
Discussing the ordeal is difficult but necessary for Tim, who fears that his roles as youths troubled by neglectful parents may lead to false assumptions about his own life. Though Jim Hutton left home when Tim was 3, he and sister Heidi (11 months his senior) never felt tension or estrangement. "My parents got on so well that Dad would stay in the house when he visited," Tim reports proudly. Says Maryline, a school librarian turned miniature-book printer who is now remarried to a marine biologist, "Tim decided his father would be his only male role model."
After the split, Maryline and the kids moved first to Cambridge, Mass., then to her hometown of Harwinton, Conn. and finally—when Tim was 13—to Berkeley, Calif. Tim flourished there. His grades at Berkeley High were excellent and his lanky frame made him a natural at basketball. "I never wanted to rebel," Tim recalls. The acting bug bit in the ninth grade when Tim, clad only in grape leaves, debuted as Dionysus in a school production of Euripides' The Bacchae. "It was a good role," Tim grins, "just me and 20 girls from the chorus grabbing at me."
In 1975 he spent "a wonderful summer" with his father in L.A., where the elder Hutton was filming TV's Ellery Queen series. Tim wound up living with him for three years. "I was so happy," Tim remembers. "Everything with Dad was fine immediately, nothing awkward. He had never had the role of father to a teenage son before and he was very diligent. He got my room all set up and came to school with me to make sure my classes were working out." Jim coached his son in a school version of Guys and Dolls, performed with him in a summer stock production of Harvey, but encouraged an acting career only after Tim had earned a high school equivalency diploma. The boy's first national exposure was hardly auspicious—a small part in TV's 1978 Zuma Beach with Suzanne Somers. But the big role of Carol Burnett's son in the 1979 Emmy-winning Friendly Fire led to a host of major TV movies—and ultimately Ordinary People.
Tim's father lived long enough to see his son launched. He died June 3, 1979, eight weeks after learning of his illness. Painful tears still spring to Tim's eyes at the memory. "I didn't have too much time to get used to the idea. All I can say is that I'm glad he asked me to move down. Before that I hadn't really known my father."
Work became a two-year escape. Only last August, when Taps was finished, did he take stock. He leased a two-bedroom, two-story house in the exclusive Malibu colony and parked his red Porsche 924 outside. "I'm here for a year," he says. "I've needed time to settle down after coming off the roller coaster." He has dabbled with his video gadgets, ridden horses on the beach and listened to music on a computerized Bang and Olufsen stereo system. Now Tim is gearing up for work again—perhaps an "outrageous comedy" or a play. (Until her tragic drowning, he had planned to film Country of the Heart with Natalie Wood.)
Success (his price has zoomed to an estimated $1 million per film) has enabled him to reunite his family for the first time in 15 months. His mother flew down from Berkeley for several weeks and sister Heidi arrived from England, where she lives with husband Nick Sheppard, 21, guitarist of the New Wave group the Cortinas.
Though Tim brags that he and his mother have "transcended the parental thing and gone into friendship," Maryline says she hasn't quite given up the role. "Like any kid his age, Tim thinks up pranks with his friends. I still have to reprimand him sometimes for acting the fool." Maryline also reports that Tim and his sister went through a period of being jealous and suspicious of each other. It ended more than a year ago. Brother and sister are good friends now, although Mom says Tim is still a bit envious because Heidi has settled down so happily. "Tim longs to have a family," Maryline says. "But I hope he doesn't marry until he's 30." Tim responds, "I'd love to have kids, especially a son, but I'm too young now."
Hutton's perspective seems surprisingly mature. As the waves crash outside his beach house, Tim stares intently at something across the room. "See that," he says, indicating not the Oscar on a shelf but a group of family snapshots. "I like having that here—different stages of growing up." What does it tell him? He grins and looks around. "That I'm lucky," he says, "to have all this."
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