12/22/1986 at 01:00 AM EST
Stone the crows, mate, don't doubt it for a second: When it came to the movies, the Croc was this year's dark horse. Before it opened in September, Crocodile Dundee, a $5.6 million Australian film, raised expectations about as high as an alligator's belly. Its star and co-writer was Paul Hogan, a slight, thin-haired 46-year-old known here only through his shrimp-on-the-barbie commercials for the Australian Tourist Commission. The movie itself, a comic fantasy in which Outback adventurer Mick Dundee braves the wilds of New York, made helium seem heavy. Yet Crocodile Dundee has reaped big coin since, and is probably setting new box-office records as each week goes by (the U.S.' biggest grossing foreign film; the most successful film ever released in the fall). Nor has the Croc's appetite been sated. The movie is poised to invade Britain, South Africa and New Zealand, with Japan and Europe to follow. What Hogan has hatched, quite simply, is the Croc that will swallow the world.
All this has made the Aussie positively giddy with delight. Or as he puts it, as he riffles through a stack of Hollywood scripts that have been sent to his Sydney office, "pretty good." Yep, that's about as carried away as Hogan gets. His style—keep it relaxed, play it for laughs, stretch but never show that you're stretching—has carried him through all phases of life. A former laborer, swimming pool attendant, union organizer, boxer, gambler and pub lout, he broke into TV by pretending to be a blindfolded, knife-throwing tap dancer. The Paul Hogan Show, a half-hour of dryly loony sketches, made him one of Australia's most popular comedians during its 1977-82 run. Married for 28 years, the father of five, Hogan has now become a wry, laconic sex symbol—a Sam Shepard with humor.
His only worry today, he says, is avoiding "the tall-poppy syndrome, which is very common. As soon as one poppy grows a bit taller than the others, you cut it down." It hasn't happened in Australia. A recent poll gauging credibility gave Hogan a record-high rating of 7.9 (on a scale of 10), while Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke received only a 4.77. At least Hawke isn't jealous. "Hogan is a bloke who personifies our great traditions of irreverence, self-reliance and 'having a go,' " says the PM, who, whatever his problems with his own constituents, echoes the feelings of Crocophiles everywhere.