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People Top 5
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- June 13, 1988
- Vol. 29
- No. 23
The Croc King of the Movies
He's An Odd Choice for a Heartthrob, but Paul Hogan Has a Theory About His Audience Appeal
Not only is Hogan enchanting our women—"I get thousands of letters, mostly proposing marriage," he admits—but our yuppies are drinking Australian beer, and our families are taking vacations halfway around the world because they think barbecued shrimp tastes better over there. Americans, long used to chuckling good-naturedly at foreigners who believe the American frontier still exists, are sure that a Hoganized Australia awaits them—a land of good-natured crocodile poachers who swagger in from the Outback to fill urban pubs.
"Well, there really still are people who live that life-style," says Hogan. "They're toothless and tattooed and not much fun. Anyone who lives in Queensland and has shot a crocodile claims to be the 'real' Crocodile Dundee. The one I met was an incredibly boring guy. I thought, 'Nobody would want to spend five minutes in a bar with you.' " (Another real-life croc named Rod Ansell—see story on page 108—is far from boring. "I never met him," says Hogan, "but he's the sixth would-be Dundee we know of.")
Almost two years ago Americans spent $175 million to see "Crocodile" Dundee (which cost $6 million and grossed $375 million worldwide). It was about a nice guy named Mick who visited New York, carried a big knife and, in Hogan's plot synopsis, "had minor confrontations with elevators and escalators." In the $14 million "Crocodile" Dundee II, Mick and his journalist companion, played by Linda Kozlowski, battle a South American drug lord in New York and the Australian Outback. Mick proves himself a gentleman warrior, leaving behind a trail of trussed-up, uninjured villains. "We leave it to others to cut people in half with chain saws and shotguns," says director John Cornell.
Now Croc II gets its chance at the box office. The film opened in a record 2,837 American theaters last month (Rambo III opened the same day in 2,562). Hogan says Croc II will have to do at least as well as the first one or "I'd be considered a failure." From the looks of the $26.5 million opening weekend gross, he shouldn't worry.
He squints. This means he's uncomfortable. He reportedly made $40 million from Croc I and should make even more from the sequel, but he does not want to be thought of as greedy. "Well, yeah, it doesn't matter if I don't get another cent. The film deserves to entertain the same number of people as the first, even if they get in free. I didn't make the same movie all over again, 'Crocodile' Dundee in Beverly Hills. I went to the trouble to make sure it was bigger and better, and I'd appreciate people saying, 'Yeah, he tried hard.' "
Before Croc I, Hogan was practically unknown in America, except in the cities where his shrimp-on-the-barbie commercials for the Australian Tourist Commission played. To promote Croc I he went on a tour of 20 cities in 31 days, and within months he was the John Travolta of the '80s, a minor TV personality transformed into an international star. Worldwide, the movie became one of the Top 10 of all time, the most successful foreign film ever brought to America.
Hogan did not go around reintroducing himself before the premiere of Croc II, in part because the everyday events of his life are by now common knowledge. The son of a soldier, now deceased (he fondly calls his mother, Mary, 78, "an antique"), he left school at 15 and worked as a swimming pool attendant, racetrack gambler, bricklayer, Water Board employee, union organizer and bridge rigger before a legendary demonstration of wit on a 1972 talent show brought him a TV career. With his life on record, Hogan understood that a publicity tour for Croc II would have been an invitation to uncomfortable questions. He considers any query more probing than "One beer or two?" an invasion of privacy. His co-star in both films, Linda Kozlowski, 29, explains: "Australian men don't believe in delving deep, talking to shrinks, questioning. You ask, 'Is everything okay?' They answer, 'Well, five people I know just hung themselves, but let's forge ahead.' "
Mr. Hogan, would you care to confirm rumors of your affair with Miss Kozlowski?
"You mean are the sizzling scenes you see on the celluloid continued off the set?" (Good on him, as he might say. People who dislike interviews as much as Hogan are seldom this adroit.)
"Now that I'm borrowing Joan Collins' house [she's away], does that mean the press has me having an affair with her?"
Please, Mr. Hogan, we were speaking of you and Miss Kozlowski.
"Unfortunately, we're not hot and heavy."
So you and your wife are happy?
"We're so much a family."
But didn't you two divorce and then remarry?
"That was years earlier. Noelene and I were married at 18 and had three sons by the time I was 22. After 20-odd years of marriage, we became pieces of furniture to each other. It wasn't a traditional show business breakup with lots of publicity that I was running around with girls. We drifted apart. I was a workaholic, working at making my TV comedies, and I'd say things like, 'No, I don't care whether or not the fridge is working, I don't care what the kids are doing at school.' We played at divorce and then came to our senses and remarried [10 months later, in 1981]. We almost got away with it, too, almost kept it out of the papers."
He pauses and the substantial crevasses in his forehead deepen; this self-analysis is too much like a Woody Allen movie. He never has believed in the American way of handling personal problems, probing for what he distastefully refers to as "the real you."
"Oooh," he says, "I don't like to think about it."
About the 1986 cerebral hemorrhage, Mr. Hogan. That seems to indicate a man near physical collapse.
"A bad mistake. I was doing Nautilus. I was bored and decided to see how many plates I could lift, I think it was 250 pounds, and I was holding tight, holding my breath, when lightning hit me. People thought I was drunk. It was a burst blood vessel, but it was self-healing and shouldn't recur."
One more thing: The 140 IQ.
"That's conservative. Apparently I scored off the Richter scale [he holds a hand up to eye level] in some areas—other kids weren't within 40 points. In other areas I scored 140 [he holds his hand much lower]. I was about 13.1 had what they called an unbalanced brain."
This does not make him sound like one of the boys—more like something that lurched home from school, chased by classmates with torches.
"I don't want to sound like a freak," he says.
Surely not that, sir, but will the next Croc sequel be titled "Crocodile" Dundee, Ph.D.?
"There won't be another. My original title for 'Crocodile' Dundee II was 'Crocodile' Dundee: The End."
While Hogan still looks fit enough to kill all manner of endangered species, at the age of 48 he is getting a bit on in years to play a lethal adventurer, even if Roger Moore's James Bond did legitimize the concept of the immobile action hero. With no more Croc films planned, and his next movie set in America, it is surely time that he rid himself of his image as the carefree Australian woodsman. His life has not been uncomplicated, his achievements have not been simple, and except for his unflappable politeness, he has little in common with Mick Dundee. In fact, hours sometimes pass in which Hogan doesn't utter a cheery, "G'day."
"I think people expect Paul to be always up, always funny, always be 'Crocodile' Dundee and do cute things," Kozlowski says. "He's much more complex. He says he doesn't get depressed, but everybody gets depressed. Of course, he doesn't have all that much to be depressed about."
Not now, certainly, but in the early years, when he lived in a state-supported house, drove a $200 car and worked as a handyman, he was more than just moody. "In short spurts there was a violent temper, a very nasty side there," he says. "I put it down to job frustration. One of the most embarrassing things I did was throw a petrol-driven mower over a fence because it wouldn't start—but this thing about me always looking for brawls on Saturday nights is nonsense. I'm continually hearing stories of things I never did in places I've never heard of, told by best friends I never knew."
He took his temper into the ring as a young man, fighting nearly 30 times as an amateur and four times as a professional welterweight. (He's 5'9" and at 150 lbs. just three lbs. over fighting trim.) "I beat all the mugs, but as soon as I met people who could fight, I got beat up." Charles Dutton, 37, a former boxer who plays street-smart stationery salesman Leroy Brown in Croc II, says of Hogan, "I think he has a little mean streak even today, a certain look that you can only see in an ex-fighter or an ex-physical type, a sort of burning competitiveness."
Hogan says his temper vanished "as soon as I got into this [entertainment] business," yet another lesson in Australian folk therapy. On The Paul Hogan Show he exhibited flashes of Will Rogers' perceptiveness, Jack Benny's timing and Benny Hill's sensibility, creating such memorable characters as Luigi the Unbelievable ("A very bad Italian magician"), Nigel Lovelace ("A polite kid with super strength who rode a high-speed skateboard and wore a Nazi helmet") and Detective-Sergeant Donger McCoy ("A corrupt, nasty, big-bellied police sergeant").
Today he lives in a northern Sydney suburb in the same six-bedroom house he occupied before he made all his millions. The trees have grown taller, the better to shield him from tourists, but otherwise his life is little changed. Most weekends he, Noelene, 47, and the two children still living at home (Loren, 18, and Scott, 15) are joined by the three older sons (Brett, 28, who co-wrote Croc II with his dad; Clay, 25, a rock guitarist; and Todd, 24, a professional rugby player) and Brett's 3-year-old daughter. Hogan swims with his granddaughter, plays touch football with his children.
He is not a man who thrives on strong beer, tough meat and bad plumbing, and he does not look upon a wet night in the Outback as a good time. Kozlowski recalls that when she was on location with Hogan and his mates, "If we had two days off, I'd want to hike or climb. They'd say, 'No, let's sit in our trailers and watch videos.' " Among the many pleasures of civilized life that Hogan values are chocolate-covered cookies, and tucked away at his Paramount Studios office is a bright yellow Tupperware container filled with them.
He sits on the couch, crosses his legs and has cookies with tea.
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