Take it or leave it.

Sunday, March 13, 2016


In the film Trading Places (1983), an upper-crust investor and a crafty con artist find their positions reversed as part of a bet by two callous millionaires. In the course of the ensuing misadventures each learns the particular perks and drawbacks of their respective professions. Cue the laughter. But the premise is quite serious and raises the question: if you could trade places with anyone, walk a mile in their shoes, or maybe a lifetime, who would that person be? I always thought heartthrob actors would make a good trade. They seemed to have it all: looks, money, a pretty girlfriend, fame, and imagine attending all those fancy premiers and gala festivities. But the reality is not so glamorous, I find, especially as I get older and watch them age. I grew up idolizing a handful of heartthrobs, who incidentally were all born in the first half of the 1960s, making them about 10 years older than me. I first watched Tom Cruise strut his stuff alongside fantasy girl Rebecca De Mornay in the film Risky Business, but it was when I saw Top Gun that my admiration reached full bore. He was so cool. Winning smile. Studly tan. Great hair. Levis that fit just right. A decent set of pecs.

Earlier that year I had seen Rob Lowe in Youngblood. I understood immediately what all my female peers saw in this pretty boy, with his chiseled jaw, elegant features, baby blue eyes, and once again, great tan, awesome hair, and bulbous pecs. I developed a man-crush on Johnny Depp when as a teenager I tuned in to watch the undercover detective at high school he played on 21 Jump Street. He shared many traits with Cruise and Lowe. Great skin, flowing locks, sensitive eyes, and his private life was just as appealing. Depp was always pictured arm-in-arm with a perky princess, a la Winona Ryder or Kate Moss. Though he was featured alongside Rob Lowe in Youngblood, Keanu Reeves' star didn't rise until a few years later when he played clueless rocker with a heart of gold in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. But seeing him in Point Break opposite Patrick Swayze (another heartthrob, but before my time; born in '52, he died of an aggressive cancer not too long ago) cemented my admiration. Because I was a surfer too. Boogie boarder, fine. And Reeves drove a motorcycle like Cruise and Depp, proving he too could live life on the wild side. But maybe Depp just straddled a Harley in movies. He did thrash hotel rooms and jammed with a band, so more points there. 

Okay the pattern is emerging. Can you guess? Cruise. Lowe. Deep. Reeves. They all have monosyllable last names like me. Maybe the source of my attraction wasn't their hairless chests or boyish broodiness, it was that I could see myself in them. And with access to a razor and a bottle of hair gel, I thought I could be like them, if on a much smaller scale. Rather than appear before millions in a blockbuster near you, I could manage to be big man on campus, if for a very short time. But that role got old, and I moved on to other pursuits, though my predilection for these heart throbs has persisted, and I've seen most all their movies. 

As I've followed their careers, I've felt the sting of life's hard knocks as they've received them. Cruise has been married and divorced three times, and somehow along the way he developed a fixation for Scientology. He comes off like a fanatic, and he wears his sadness around his eyes, which become ever more squinty. Depp broke up a happy home to run off with a girl half his age. I know he's nursing some amount of secret heartbreak at the thought of not getting to spend more time with his babies. That is if he has half a heart it is likely breaking. Heartthrob indeed. Even Reeves, though a committed bachelor, has been no stranger to personal tragedy. His girlfriend of yore lost the child she was carrying late into her pregnancy, and not too long thereafter traveling to or from a party at rocker Marilyn Manson's she drove herself off a cliff. Reeves has also been involved in numerous motorcycle accidents, proving that walking or riding on the wild side can mean a brush with death or at the very least a few gnarly scars.

Only Rob Lowe has somehow managed to have it all. Critical and commercial success in serious and comedic roles in a career that has spanned several decades and shined on both big screen and small, and almost without pause. That is, except for that little episode of having sex with a minor and catching it on tape, which he was involved in I think in the early 90s. It somehow didn't end his marriage, and he seems to have a great relationship with his sons, if you can believe the tabloids. And why wouldn't you. If they have something ugly to say, they do, so if they speak in superlatives, that is likely true. And Rob had sex with Demi Moore before all this, and when she was still sizzling. Though she ain't too shabby still.

I once thought of a perfect movie. It would be the sequel to The Outsiders, where the cast (which included Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, and other heartbreakers to be) reunites 30 years later, possibly with their fictitious sons, and on the set all their personal foibles and sorrows come to light. I'd call it Heart Throb. An alternative title would be Mid-life Crisis. If nothing else my movie would have realism on its side. 

Because tragedy is part of life, and not just a byproduct of celebrity. I'd face my share of hardships both mental and physical whether basking in the limelight or toiling away in anonymity. But I'm a more private person. Such celebrity would never suit me. I wouldn't be famous even if I could be, and lacking all marketable talents, casting agents aren't exactly pounding down my door. So I am happy to just think on it.

The truth is, each of us is perfectly suited to the role we happen to play. You could argue that a tropical paradise is your version of heaven, while a life in the desert would be murderous to your sensibilities. Okay, your opinion. But remove a desert rose from the sands of the Sahara, and place it somewhere in the south of France (or resort of your choice), and our desert rose would quickly fade away and turn to dust. Because the rose is perfectly matched to the environment in which it grows, just like we are. Which is why I'm content admiring these heartthrobs from afar rather than trying to be like them anymore. Except I do have great hair, and pecs. And some scars too.

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