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Should Aging Film Stars Be Setting In The West?

In Hollywood, stardom is based on boxoffice clout. And the ability to open pictures big means being able to lure mostly young people to the theater. A few not-so-young stars are putting their appeal to the test, hoping – along with their marketing people – that lightning really can strike twice.

But it’s all a question of how fans want to see leading men. The aging process tends to tarnish their luster. “Romantic and action picture leads have to be physically attractive enough to turn on women of all ages,” says screenwriter Michael Mahern.

Although Robert Redford, 53, historically has opened his pictures at about $5 million, the four-year gap between “Legal Eagles” and “Havana” did not allow audiences to see him age gradually: He suddenly looks much older.

For one thing, Redford chose not to make himself look younger. And, since he traditionally works within a narrow range of screen personas, making his “Havana” character a charming gambler pursuing revolutionary Lena Olin seemed wrong to many critics. “Audiences prefer Redford as the elusive male,” says Columbia exec Marvin Antonowsky. “He’s still a sex symbol, but they see him in a different way.”

Paul Newman, in “The Color Of Money,” recognized the attraction of having a potent younger co-star in Tom Cruise. But even with Charlie Sheen, the 60-year-old Clint Eastwood bombed with “The Rookie.”

Newman and Sean Connery, both in their 60s, seem to be taking on more diverse character roles, with varying degrees of success. Newman was criticized in some quarters for his ornery characters in “Blaze” and “Mr. And Mrs. Bridge.”

And although Connery has been praised for his boozing publisher/lover/spy in the “The Russia House,” the picture has not set boxoffice records.

Some seasoned movie stars have turned to television, only to be rediscovered by older audiences. James Garner and George Peppard have both scored successes with segues between film and tv. Most recently, Burt Reynolds has found a new home on the CBS sitcom “Evening Shade.”

Perhaps these fellows should look to the past. Legions of mature actors aged gracefully in Westerns, from John Wayne, Henry Fonda and James Stewart to Randolph Scott, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster and William Holden.

Although many marketing people insist that Westerns like “Lonesome Dove” will only find their older audience through tv, the fact remains that Eastwood’s “Pale Rider” made money and “Dances With Wolves” is today’s front-runner for an Oscar.

Maybe we’ll finally see John Milius and Walter Hill’s “Geronimo,” or Hill’s remake of “The Magnificent Seven.” There are plenty who’d go to see Paul (Butch) Newman and Robert (Sundance) Redford together in a Western again.

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