Life is seldom simple for superluminaries who can command $1.5 million per picture. You have your cat-and-mouse games with the press. Your run-ins with the law. Your clashes with directors who don't understand the meaning of the words "artistic integrity." Richard Gere, 35, has enacted all of those dramas this year.
March saw him taking on the title role in the $20 million biblical epic King David, which will be released next spring. In July a Manhattan parking attendant accused Gere of punching him out, and the actor went to court in September. Fall was freighted with ominous rumors about The Cotton Club, the $50-plus million Francis Coppola musical that seemed about to collapse under its own avoirdupois. Gere had slogged through his starring role as a musician through much of 1983, and later labored in a recording studio to lay down his own cornet parts.
But 1984 also brought good news. A court dismissed the charges against Gere for allegedly pummeling the garage man. The Cotton Club proved less egregious than cynics had predicted. And he retained his sex-symbol status without baring all onscreen. He also retained his longtime girlfriend, Brazilian artist Sylvia Martins.
While Richard himself is mum, some of those in his orbit have offered up their impressions of the enduringly alluring artiste. Herewith, theories about How He Got That Way, plus historical perspective from Gere himself.
Doris Gere, Richard's mother: "We don't see him as a sex symbol. If young girls want to believe that, let 'em. That's showbiz."
Robert Strother, Gere's junior high school geometry teacher and a family friend: "Dick is not an open person. He's very within himself. He won't walk across the living room to say hello."
Susan Gere, Richard's older sister: "If you looked at his baby pictures, you would see that he was brooding at the age of 2."
Actress Diane Lane, his Cotton Club co-star, on shooting a fight scene: "I didn't realize it was coming. He really hit me. I freaked out when he hit me. I assumed Francis had directed him to do that to get a reaction. I was really quaking after that and had to have oxygen to calm down. We did about five takes, but after the first one I started hitting back. I was furious with Richard. I wanted to cry. I didn't even say goodnight to him when I left the set."
Taylor Hackford, director of An Officer and a Gentleman: "As a movie star, he's in the public domain, but that grates on him and he freezes up. Maybe that mysterious quality adds to his mystique."
Bill Roberts, who directed Gere at the Provincetown Playhouse: "He can be very sparkly or break up like a giggly teenager when he's comfortable. But if photographers are around, he'll put his finger up his nose. It's just a defense."
Critic Rex Reed on Gere's public demeanor: "He always looks so bored. Well, I'm bored with him. He sits there waiting for photographers to come up so he can jump up and leave. It's such an act."
"I will not become a piece of meat just so some jerk will pay $5 to look at an image on a screen.... As long as I have the opportunity to work, what do I care if nobody knows who Richard Gere is?"
New York Daily News, 1979
Vincent Brann, who directed Gere at U Mass.: "When he came to audition for Hamlet, it was clear that he was interested in Hamlet, and that's all he was interested in. And it was clear almost at once that there was no competition. After the audition, Richard wouldn't go home. He waited around for the cast list to go up. When it did, he didn't show any outward excitement at having won the starring role."
Doris Abramson, U Mass. theater professor: "He was very talented, and I thought he was very beautiful. What he stood out for was his body...the girls fainted at [it]. But he was very aloof and very, very serious. [In my class on playwrights] he sat by a window and he looked out, dreaming. I knew he was dreaming of acting, not playwrights."
Dr. William Fisher, NASA astronaut and a teammate on his suburban Syracuse, N.Y. high school gymnastics team: "He was not a joker. On a scale of 1 to 10 in sense of humor, he was maybe a 3. I never thought he was handsome. He was just another ugly guy to me."
Commercial artist Diane Fredericks, a girlfriend in the '60s: "We went to the movies a lot. It was always old films and monster movies. When he got into theater, he rebelled a little bit, and I liked that in him."
Vincent Brann: "The other kids in the company...were in awe of him. He was a loner. He'd sit way back in the darkness when I was discussing the day's work with the cast."
A 1969 Greenfield (Mass.) Recorder review of Richard in his college production of Hamlet: "Richard Tiffany Gere did what he could to put life and conviction into the role, but he raised very little sympathy."
Doris Gere: "After he left for college, he changed from Dick to Richard. He did it when he considered himself grown-up. We call him Richard now."
Diane Fredericks: "Sometimes he'd sign his letters 'Richard Tiffany.' I think he was thinking of using the name professionally. He told me he wanted to be called Richard, not Dick."
Robert Strother: "Dick was a '60s rebel. He went to the long hair, the leather jacket, the dark glasses. This area is very conservative, so what Dick did was rebellious. He dropped out of college to go into acting. I don't doubt that he's done some bizarre things."
"I need mothering."
Women's Wear Daily, 1979
Actress Penelope Milford, a girlfriend in the 1970s: "The character closest to him is the one in Breathless. It's an unpretentious character, honest."
Diane Lane on their Cotton Club love scenes: "I had only known him about a week. I was sitting on top of him nude, and he was under me nude. We were trying to be flippant, but...there was no way I was going to be comfortable. He covered me up after the shots. He made sure that nobody was let on the set that day. He was very protective."
Diane Fredericks: "People tend to think of him as a sex object. I never thought of him that way. He was too intelligent for that."
Paul Schrader, director of American Gigolo and a Greenwich Village neighbor: "Richard felt more at ease with the frontal nudity scene than did Lauren Hutton. He would have been more explicit. But the demureness, as such, probably came more from me than from him." Doris Abramson: "I used to say I taught him everything he knows, until I saw the motel scenes in American Gigolo." Valerie Kaprisky, Richard's Breathless co-star: "We were not acting the love scenes."
''[Filmmaking can be glamorous] except when you have to get up at 5 o'clock in the morning and do a love scene and you're so exhausted you don't want to. You think, 'Oh, leave me alone.' "
Richard Sylbert, Cotton Club production designer: "He has a lot of charm in reality that comes out on the screen occasionally."
Penelope Milford: "When we met, we were not known in the business. It was a transition time for both of us. The thing that makes him attractive to me is that he makes it obvious that he needs you to love him. It's something that comes across onscreen."
Robert Strother: "I see him almost every year. We all get involved in singing Handel's Messiah in the church choir on Christmas Eve. I can't remember anyone asking him for an autograph—not in church anyway."
Doris Gere: "He doesn't have Hollywood-type friends. He gets involved with real people, not with the glitter."
Diane Lane: "I feel I don't know him at all, and I imagine he would like that."
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