Summer 1985. Dubbing Stage C in Hollywood. A black-and-white work print is on the screen. The movie is Blue City, the third film to feature Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy. “Listen, Annie,” Judd’s character is saying, “how we doin’ on that favor I asked?” “Piss off,” Ally’s character replies. The scene is being studied by Michelle Manning, who has short brown hair, wears running shoes and loose-fitting slacks. She was assistant to the producer on The Outsiders and coproducer of The Breakfast Club, films in which the leading parts were played by actors in their late teens or early twenties. Blue City is Manning’s directorial debut. She is twenty-five.
Her age and occupation place her in a curious position, enabling her to befriend young actors as an equal and also give them work.
“These actors function on three levels,” she says. “As professionals, they’re totally devoted, totally relentless, totally driven. In the public social scene, like at the Hard Rock Cafe, they have to deal with people coming up to them, asking for autographs, pulling on their clothes. And in the privacy of their homes, they’re completely relaxed, and they’re just kids.
“But they all want so much to grow as actors. They all so much want their careers to grow. And it scares them all, the idea that tomorrow this could all end. I mean, it could all just be over. They want so much to be doing the same thing when they’re forty, and who’s to say? Will the trend then be to make movies with forty-year-olds?”
The average age of Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore and Rob Lowe is twenty-two. They are among those actors who have benefited most from the fact that the majority of moviegoers are fourteen to twenty-five years old and that Hollywood producers are catering to that age group.
But these five actors are not only successful, they are also testimony to the age-old truth that success is not quite what it’s cracked up to be. They have what everybody seems to want: rewarding work, money, praise, fame. Once you have these things, you live with the dread of losing them. Then again, not losing them can be even worse.
Rob Lowe is driving. He drives the way he walks: quick, cool and assured. His pale-blue eyes, which make the young girls weak, are obscured by sunglasses with pink-and-black frames, one of the ten pairs he currently owns. He is dressed in a white T-shirt, black short shorts, the white high-top sneakers he always wears unless he is wearing cowboy boots. He and his dog, Wolfie, are headed for the beach. Born in the U.S.A. is on the tape deck. Rob speaks of Springsteen with the same fervid passion with which the young girls speak of him.
It’s a beautiful summer day, the kind that helps Rob forget the pressures that make him feel there is a weight bearing down on him, but today, the sun cannot soothe him. Last night, in a restaurant, he had a protracted fight with Melissa Gilbert, his girlfriend. They met when he was struggling to be an actor and she was starring in a television series. That was three years ago, and things have changed. Rob stops his Mustang at a pay phone and goes to send Melissa flowers. He sighs and shakes his head. “It’s scary when love gets undignified,” he says.
At twenty-one, Rob Lowe is unusually at ease with his internal contradictions. On the one hand, he is a California boy who uses words like radical, happening and gnarly and attends screenings and Hollywood parties with such panache that his friends call him Shecky Showbiz and the Warren Beatty of the Eighties. On the other hand, he is an articulate young man who delights in making fun of “the business” and loves quoting his own and other people’s bad reviews, laughing as he recalls that The Washington Post once said he had “the charisma of a doorknob.”
At the beach, Wolfie darts along the sand and is beset by three male dogs with amorous intentions. Rob runs to her, coaxes her away from them and talks to her in a teasing tone. “I guess that to other dogs, Wolfie, you probably have a great body and great eyes,” he says. “I guess in the dog world, Wolfie, you’re a really sexy lady.”
He looks around at the nubile girls whose bikini bottoms resemble G-strings. “California girls,” he says, “are a different breed, because so many great-looking people came to California hoping to make it in the movies, and couldn’t make it in the movies, but what they could make was beautiful kids.”
For the rest of the afternoon, Rob sits on the sand, talking to his best friend from high school, Jeff Abrams. They haven’t seen each other for six months, because Rob has been making movies or publicizing them. At this beach, many people have known Rob for years, but their sidelong glances, and outright stares, say they no longer feel he is one of them.