Alicia Silverstone: Ballad of a Teenage Queen

The girl from the Aerosmith video grows up

September 7, 1995
Alicia Silverstone on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Alicia Silverstone on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Peggy Sirota

Alicia Silverstone is a kittenish 18-year-old movie star whom lots of men want to sleep with. "That part's not me," Silverstone says. "What people think about me, of doing with me – it can be gross." Along with many other celebrities, has-beens, will-be's and wanna-be's, Silverstone lives in the Hollywood Hills, in California, where she pads around the house in gym socks, doing nothing more exciting than her laundry. Meanwhile she tries to balance the inaudible pangs of adolescence (Let's get crazy) with the audible pangs of agents (You can't get crazy, you have a photo shoot) and saves her good looks and enthusiasm for a party that has never been thrown. Can you believe it? Alicia Silverstone, the prettiest girl in town, the next big thing, the star of nine movies in the past two years (including The Crush, in which she played a young woman who kisses and then tries to kill an older man, a movie that fixed her in the minds of many as a lustful, murderous, wildcat teen), an actress who with her appearance in Aerosmith's recent videos helped revive the band, the star of three upcoming films (The Babysitter, True Crime and Le Nouveau Monde) and the summer smash Clueless, and she's stranded on a hill – a knocked-out, dreamy-eyed little Rapunzel waiting for some spectacle grand enough to allow her to let her hair down. "If this is the life of a star-let," she says, sighing, "it's a yawn."

Silverstone grew up at the track. When she was in grade school, a book came out: Monty's Betting Tips. Monty is her father, and he was always taking her along on research outings, afternoons at the races where he led her, horse by horse, through the betting form, teaching her how to spot the sure thing. "Dad always did know horses," Silverstone says. There must be some connection between Monty's success with ponies and Monty's success with his daughter – something about conditions, breeding, handling and how they all amount to winning – but Silverstone has no idea what that connection is: "He was interested in encouraging me. That's all I know."

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Monty Silverstone has a stable, conservative, full-time career (financial consulting, real estate), but he also had a more speculative venture: Alicia. By the time she could walk, he was running her as you would a fine horse. While she was in third grade, he took pictures of her, one of which she still keeps tucked behind a couch in her living room. "I look at it sometimes," Alicia Silverstone says, crossing the room and pulling up a black-and-white poster-size photo: a 6-year-old bikini-clad Alicia on all fours on a white shag rug. "I look just the same as I do today," she says, gazing at a photo that brings to mind underground rings and police sting operations. "We went to a modeling agency with these photos, and they started sending me out on shoots. That's how I was introduced to the working world – as the flower girl in all these phony weddings."

Silverstone drops the photo behind the sofa and looks across the room. Here and there, paintings lean against walk "Laura Dern painted this one," she says, touching it with her foot. "I call it Laura With a Purple Hat." Crossing the room, she adds, "And Jeff Goldblum painted these." The pieces bear a striking resemblance to the down paintings of John Wayne Gacy. "You can tell Jeff did them." She tilts her head. "There's so much of him in there."

This is Silverstone's first home away from home. She grew up in suburban San Francisco, and the walls of her house are crammed with the kind of collages peculiar to freshman dorms: Silverstone and her big brother, David, as naked toddlers; Silverstone on Halloween (over the years, her costumes included ballerina, pumpkin, Playboy bunny, Debbie Gibson); the Silverstones on vacation looking determined to have fun; Silverstone and Sammy Nodowitz on a bright spring day. "When I was 10, Sammy and I were married in a mock ceremony at Sunday school," Silverstone says. Nodowitz wore a yarmulke and tails. A document was signed before the ceremony, so Silverstone fears that she and Sammy are legally married – that she is Mrs. Nodowitz! That one day there will be a knock, and it will be Sammy asking, "What's for dinner?" "He's the wild card," she says, falling onto the couch. "I'm always wondering, 'What's Sammy think of all this?'"

Silverstone is wearing jeans, a T-shirt, moccasins. Her jeans are unbuttoned. She's a pretty girl, but she's the kind of pretty girl who feels she must apologize for being pretty by calling herself short, fat, dumpy, homely, ugly, awkward, whatever. The kind of girl, that is, who tries to paint herself as a regular girl and in the process alienates a lot of girls who next to her really do seem sort of regular. "If Alicia Silverstone is homely," they must wonder, "then what does that make me?" "I'm just some whacked-out, freaky little tomboy," she says. "There's half a million girls who could blow me away."

Silverstone has straight blond hair that falls around her shoulders, wide eyes and a mouth that people describe in ways that she finds inappropriate. They liken it to a slice of tangerine or call it wedge shaped or say she has bee-stung lips. Well, if your lips were stung by a bee, do you have any idea how much that would hurt? "Like hell," she says. Silverstone's lips have not been stung by a bee. Nor does she have the vague, abstract, off-putting beauty of a supermodel like Linda Evangelista or Stephanie Seymour. Silverstone is a girl you could conceivably date, a girl you did date, even, raised to the highest power. She has the brand-new look of a still-wet painting – touch her and she'll smudge.

As Silverstone talks, she bends to kiss her dog on the lips. "Are you the best-looking thing in the whole world?" she asks. "The most adorable? Yes, you are!" While she was filming True Crime, a dog limped onto the set, fresh from a car wreck. Silverstone took him in, patched him up and named him Samson. There's a reason for the name, but it's not that interesting. Samson has a dark face, tan eyebrows, a long dog nose and mournful dog eyes. "You just want to run, don't you?" she asks, flipping back his ear. "You're crazy happy!"

Samson is a big dog; Silverstone is a big-dog girl. There's a difference between girls who like big dogs and girls who like small dogs. While a girl who names her dog Snowball and says things like "Look, Snowball fits in my purse" is fragile, a girl who lets a Rottweiler (Samson is part Rottweiler) drag her all around town is a girl who seems ready for anything. "When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was work, have fun, talk, be noticed and talk, but even then I had too much personality to be good as a child model," she says, petting Samson. "When you're a kid model, they just want you to stand still and shut up. But it was a great way to make money, and even at 81 was a business lady and knew I needed money for the future."

As the assignments rolled in, and her picture appeared in ad campaigns, the young Silverstone was leading this other, very humdrum life. Her mother was a flight attendant with Pan Am, so every now and then the family flew off to London, where Silverstone's parents are from. Otherwise she was just another kid passing time in the playgrounds and back yards of suburbia, facing down the usual preteen dilemmas: Why don't boys like me? Who should I invite to my bat mitzvah? Why is everyone so mean? Why do boys like me? Why did I marry Sammy Nodowitz? What's the most spectacular way to almost break my neck? "Alicia was nothing like the roles she's played," says Brian Beauchart, who met her while in the second grade. "She certainly wasn't clueless and had no psychological problems. She was a cheerleader, had a boyfriend and was just as normal as they come."

By the time she entered high school, though, Silverstone had begun to look enough like the girl in the Aerosmith video to realize things might be changing. "when I was a freshman, I was big into being a freshman," she says, folding her legs beneath her. "The first week of high school, these cool senior guys called me over. I was a little moron and had no idea what this was about. They invited me to this big senior party. I brought two friends, and we didn't drink, smoke, nothing. We were anti-everything. We lectured people. We were the only freshmen there, and when we came to school the next day, the rumor was, 'Alicia got drunk and had sex with some of the guys.'"

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