Yesterday, comedic legend Steve Guttenberg turned 59. But what makes an actor a legend? Volume of work? Quality of projects? Staying power? His star on the Hollywood walk of fame? Let’s examine, through some of his best work.
Steve Guttenberg Academy
In the 1980s, police movies were about as popular as procedural shows are today. There was a variety for everyone, and Police Academy filled in the “goofy cop ensemble” slot that Brookyln Nine Nine holds on television now.
The city is short on police officers. But the new mayor has a plan: go easy on academy requirements and enrollment will soar! Guttenberg’s Carey Mahoney gets into trouble with the captain who offers him a place on the force instead of jail. The Academy accepts Mahoney, along with other new academy members, without passing many of the “old” requirements. The new “recruits” are put through extraordinarily difficult training to try and make them quit. Eventually, a riot breaks out downtown, and the academy students are tested in the real world.
Police Academy spanned the next decade, with six more films in the series. The franchise spawned both an animated and live action television series. If you’re going to marathon Guttenberg’s work, you may as well start with the 1984 original Academy, as it’s easily his most recognizable. The Police Academy franchise is still one of the highest grossing film series to date. Rumors of a possible eigth addition began spreading in 2003, and continue today.
It’s Time to Fish Or Cut Bait
My personal favorite Guttenberg project is another ’80s comedy. Three Men and a Baby and its sequel Three Men and A Little Lady are comfort food for my soul. Loosely adapted from the French Trois Hommes et un Couffin (Three Men and a Cradle), these movies would never get produced today. They lean on blatent sexism and outdated gender roles. Women are only good for their ability to relate to babies and pleasure men. And many of the “little lady’s” struggles relate to her tomboy nature, a major drawback of having three dads.
Regardless of the dated premise, the film is somehow incredibly endearing. I blame the cast, as did many critics. Guttenberg stars alongside Tom Sellick and Ted Dansen; all three are delightful as bumbling bachelors baffled by diapers and baby formula.
In the sequel, their “baby”, Mary, is starting school. Her mother, played by the enchanting Nancy Travis, is now engaged to a fellow Brit, and they plan to return to England dragging Mary along for the ride. At this point, however, all three men are enamored with the little girl they helped raise, and so they come up with a plan to stop the wedding and keep Mary and her mom in NYC.
Still need convincing? Try the fact that Leonard Nimoy (yes, THAT Leonard Nimoy) directed the first, which was broke records for Disney studios when it grossed over $100 million domestically. Rumors of a third film surfaced in 2013 with the possible title Three Men and A Bride.
Hometown Pride and Vanity Fair
Another Steve Guttenberg film that holds a special place in my heart is Diner. The movie was filmed on location as part of director Barry Levinson’s “Baltimore Films” collection. In 2012, Vanity Fair credited it with creating a “tectonic shift” in the industry, calling it one of the best films of the last three decades. Guttenberg, along with Tim Daly, Mickey Rourke, Daniel Stern, Kevin Bacon, and Paul Reiser, star as a group of friends catching up after a wedding that brings them all “back home”.
Once again, the film’s cast is what gives it legendary status. There is essentially no plot to the film. However, it has remained a “must see” for over 30 years now. In 1983 it was adapted for a TV pilot that never aired, and in 2013, a stage musical with a Broadway run planned, but postponed.
Steve Guttenberg was one of Hollywood’s most prolific actors in the ’80s and ’90s. By the end of the decade, Guttenberg tied with Gene Hackman as the Screen Actors Guild member with the most credits to his name! Going through all his movies here would likely bring us to his 60th birthday. But Guttenberg’s projects, both big and small, are worth watching (and rewatching). Many comedic actors eventually stray from the genre and find themselves in dramatic roles almost exclusively. However, Guttenberg always seems to return to his forte.
“I just want to do good stories. That’s the trap. When people say, Oh, I don’t want to do this again’ — well, if they’re good at it, why not do it? I don’t care about switching from comedy to drama — I just like to be able to jump from work to work. I just like to be doing good work — that’s all I want to do. I just want to work.