The harried life of a celebrity look-alike

ONE OF THE PERKS of a job like this is having access to celebrities, beautiful people who cause heads to turn and tongues to wag when they enter a room.

I’m talking, of course, about Leonard Maltin.

As some of you might have noticed from the picture affixed to this column, I bear a marginal resemblance to Maltin, the “Entertainment Tonight” critic, “Hot Ticket” co-host and movie guide book impresario. Or at least, a lot of people seem to think so, based on the irritating number of times I’ve been mistaken for him.

This happened again recently at Endeavor’s pre-Emmy party — a not-exactly-modest affair at partner Adam Venit’s estate, which left me wondering what portions of his spread Hoss and Little Joe were overseeing.

Waitresses have asked if I was Maltin. A film publicist stopped me at a black-tie gala to say, “Your book is such a wonderful resource to me.” Since the only book I’d written was a companion guide to “The X-Files,” I assumed she was a colossal geek, before Maltin walked by.

My personal favorite occurred on an airplane, sitting across the aisle from James Rebhorn, a talented character actor people might recognize from movies like “Scent of a Woman” but be hard-pressed to place. When a middle-aged woman stopped and did a little “Ahem,” I figured it was aimed at him, until she said, “Mr. Maltin? I just wanted to say I’m such a big fan of yours.”

In my darker moments, I have thoughts about doing or saying inappropriate things in these situations, letting people think that Maltin is either a creep or a pervert.

SO HAVING BEEN OUTED, as it were, by having my mug displayed weekly, I decided to confront my TV doppelganger — learning once and for all what it’s really like to be Leonard, Part I.

To my dismay, Maltin doesn’t consider himself a sex symbol and said that groupies don’t mob him. “I’m not a rock star,” he said. “People don’t want to tear off my clothes.”

Maltin does get stopped frequently, he said, suggesting that being on TV makes you appear more approachable than other media and that people invariably love to talk about movies. “I seem to convey that I mean what I say,” he noted.

As for the challenges of providing something that passes for analysis on television, Maltin doesn’t see labeling movies “Hot” or “Not” as any more objectionable than the “Thumbs up” or “Thumbs down” designation Roger Ebert has popularized, so long as there’s room to discuss films in context. “There’s never been a whole lot of thoughtful criticism about anything on TV,” he said, exhibiting a gift for understatement in addition to his boyish good looks.

Maltin confessed that he sees scant similarity between us, though he’s been confused with director John Landis on more than one occasion. “People think every guy with a beard and glasses looks alike,” he said.

SPEAKING TO MALTIN, it felt better to know that someone articulate and average-looking could carve out a career in TV, at a time when the demographically driven emphasis on youth and beauty permeates everything — where David E. Kelley’s new drama “The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H.” is ridiculed because the leads didn’t stumble out of GQ. (It’s the only cast, I’m convinced, where I would be known as “the young hot one.”)

Granted, TV is a visual medium, but this obsession threatens to create a reality-based remake of “Logan’s Run.” Just consider that the late Buddy Ebsen was 64 when tapped to star in “Barnaby Jones” — the same age as James Caan, who is little more than a garnish to the hard-body buffet served up by NBC’s “Las Vegas.” And what’s “Cold Case,” really, other than “Murder, She Wrote” stripped of several decades and replanted in the same timeslot.

Given all that, I’d rather have Maltin on the other side of the nonexistent mirror — the Lucy to my Harpo Marx — than “ET” co-host Bob Goen, at least until I master the Jedi trick that involves clearing your mind.

The Maltin experience nevertheless made me wonder about conducting further talent interviews, provided that I needn’t involve PMK/HBH (the pushy PR firm, not the human-growth hormone) in the process. I’ll probably start with other celebrities who rival his charisma, like Halle Berry and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Hey, I said the current system is shallow. I never implied that I wasn’t a part of the problem.

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