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Richard Gere Boosts the American Museum of the Moving Image


When the time came for Richard Gere to say something nice about the American Museum of the Moving Image, he had a word for it. In fact, several good words for that cinematic historical beehive on the grounds of the old Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens.

"When I was making 'The Cotton Club' [there], eighteen, nineteen years ago," the actor said, "there was no American Museum of the Museum Image. Rochelle Slovim created it out of nothin' and turned it into somethin'. A museum of whimsy, science, craft, emotions. It's sweet, generous -- and interactive!"

That last one was the word that best summarized the whole evening, Tuesday last week, of AMMI's salute to Richard Gere by way of a black-tie gala at the Waldorf. Officer and gentleman Gere thus joins a roster that began with Sidney Lumet in 1985 and includes Elia Kazan, Sidney Poitier, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Stephen Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Dustin Hoffman, Tom Hanks, and Julia Roberts -- Gere's "Pretty Woman" co-star -- among others.

Interactive? You could say that again. There was, for starters, a table down in front large enough to hold Richard Gere's entire family come down from Syracuse, New York -- his mother, his father, his sisters and his cousins and his aunts. They and he all had something to say from time to time.

At the end, when, from the stage, he spoke of "these people who witnessed my life, beginning as a very shy, difficult, irascible, all of that stuff . . . " his sister Susan broke in, loud and clear, with: " . . . and more!"

The actor thanked his mother for making him his Santa suit in second grade, thanked his father "for being the guy I find myself becoming." From the table, Gere senior, an insurance salesman, announced: "I still have my hair." "Mine is now the same color as yours," said the white-maned son.

It was, after words of welcome from AMMI chairman Herbert S. Scholosser and AMMI director Slovin, a skyrocket named Sharon Stone who, in very sheer flesh tones, launched toward the 700 dinner guests her own opening lines -- that is to say, flubbed them, midst laughter, some of it hers -- over and over again a good three times.

"That's why I've waited to do Broadway," the pneumatic Ms. Stone cheerfully proclaimed.

"She almost has a dress on," photographer Aubrey Ruben murmured in my ear.

Why was this gala AMMI evening different from all other gala AMMI evenings? Because, as a huge swooping, swirling camera boom and many technicians made manifest, it was being shot and edited like a movie -- with starts, stops, breaks, retakes -- for broadcast by the USA Network on Saturday, May 8.

A film clip of Gere, as charcoal hairy as Johnny Damon of the current Boston Red Sox, trying to pick up Diane Keaton in "Looking for Mr. Goodbar," Gere's 1977 breakthrough movie, was followed by an intense Stone-Gere marital-strife scene from "Intersection" (1994).

"No matter how chilly and strange," Sharon Stone said of that moviemaking experience, "you made me a better actress . . . But let it be also said that you have also established yourself as one of the greatest and most accomplished kissers in the whole history of cinema."

There followed a montage of mouth-to-mouth resuscitations between Richard Gere and this one and that one in 20 or 30 motion pictures, a sort of one-man's climactic "Cinema Paradiso." After which Ms. Stone was called upon to reprise her scripted opening lines of 10 minutes earller. "Now COME on!" she said when she blew them again.

Finally she got it right: " 'We are pleased to look at you and your fine body of work for an entire evening . . . This, ladies and gentlemen, is one GORGEOUS museum piece . . . ' " She drew a breath. "I like the first one," she said of her line readings.

She was not alone in her difficulties. Even such experienced stage actors as Laura Linney and Liam Neeson had problems with their lines and could not fully be heard, while Winona Ryder, giggling, more or less disappeared into the wallpaper.

What brought life, laughter, and energy into the proceedings was the joint appearance of Garry Marshall, director of Gere's "Pretty Woman" (1990), and Hector Elizondo, who played the taut, understanding hotel manager in that worldwide hit.

"Did you get to eat?" Marshall asked the big roomful of posh patrons. "The center of that chocolate thing was pretty good."

He and Elizondo kicked around the description of Richard Gere as "a moody, rebellious, sulky guy."

"So what," said Marshall, "he's from Syracuse."

"I'm from Harlem," said Hector Elizondo.

"I'm from the Bronx," said Garry Marshall. "The moody people come from Syracuse."

Elizondo remembered when he was in another Richard Gere movie. "I was a cop chasing him when he was a hooker in 'American Gigolo.' "

"He's a good kisser," said Marshall. "He has chemistry. He can have chemistry with a telephone pole. He has beautiful silver hair."

Marshall, a director of countless large-screen and small-screen hits who describes his directing as "louder, softer, fast, slow, why get into all that other stuff," introduced the next film clip as "one of the best scenes I ever stood out of the way of."

It is indeed a delicious scene, Julia Roberts in a bubble bath in "Pretty Woman" with Gere, on the edge of the tub, offering her a few thousand dollars "to be at my beck and call for several days." She lets out a whoop of "Holy shit," ducks under the water, comes back up with a sunlit embubbled smile and "Well, I want to be your beck and call girl."

A brusque and bracing contrast was now supplied by Louis Gossett, Jr., the hard-as-nails T/Sgt. who'd put cadet Gere through his paces in "An Officer and a Gentleman" (1982).

"If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't have got an Oscar. Richard, thank you," said Gossett. "So here we are, 22 years later . . . Richard's approach to acting is three-dimensional," Gossett told the audience. "He jumps into a character with four feet. But the way to work with Richard is to push him."

Things got interactive again when squeals and screams were heard throughout the prestigious Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria as young actor Gere jiggled and bounced his way through his wardrobe undressing scene in "American Gigolo" (1980).

"This is a male star who could only come from Syracuse," said Liam Neeson. "Stripped," he thoughtfully added.

Up jumped Gere from his seat at the family table.

"Who thinks that scene was good enough?" he shouted to the room at large. And the room at large answered back with an fusillade of applause and cheering. Like the man said, interactive. Moody, rebellious, sulky Richard Gere stood in the middle of the uproar, stuffing a napkin into his mouth to keep from, one supposes, collapsing in giggles like a child.

There was more, there was more; there was Denzel Washington, midst the further cheers for song-and-dance man Gere's film-clip striptease in "Chicago" -- Denzel Washington saying: "Not yet, Richard, not yet. Sit down." And then remarking how the man of the hour had been "a major movie star for two decades while always holding onto his soul" -- with the man of the hour shouting up from where he was seated: "THREE decades!"

And then, finally -- well, almost finally -- there was Richard Gere, on stage, thanking his mother, his father, his wife Carey Lowell, his small son, his sisters and his cousins and his aunts. And oh yes, Garry Marshall, "the epiphanal person in my life." And two more people, whom Gere had made sure would be invited to this shindig, and whom he now, each by each, made stand up and take a bow.

They were Doris Abramson, his teacher back in his two years at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst ("She made me feel I had something to offer"), and Wynn Handman, "my first real teacher in the real world -- in scenes from 'Henry V' in class he got me to trust the language, trust the writer [a certain Wm. Shakespeare]. 'Dive in -- he'll carry you.' I didn't know this, but Wynn was Denzel's teacher too."

That was it. "One thing I've learned in life," said Richard Gere to close out the proceedings. "Never trust anyone who exclusively thinks he has God on his side." Two beats. "Especially when it's the president of the United States."

One movie star, one actor, interactive. [Tallmer]

Courtesy Gay City News, New York.

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