"We got Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim. And get this. When she throws off her crutches, she does a triple hand spring, back into one of these..." - Bill Murray as Network Exec, Frank Cross, in Scrooged!
When controversy embroiled American gymnast Paul Hamm last week, I could only think of one thing:
There goes his movie career.
It's not that I'm too much of a Hollywood Guy... It's just that there's a long history of Olympic athletes who try their luck at being movie stars. With the worldwide fame the Olympics brings, it's natural to think of trading it in for a make-up trailer and a few walks down the red carpet.
That's where my head goes to anyway.
Lest we forget, following his amazing triumph at the 1984 games, gold medal gymnast Kurt Thomas got a starring part in a 1985 film called Gymkata. Kurt played a James Bond type spy with a difference -- he was also an Olympic gymnast. There is a scene from the film that still burns in my memory: Kurt is being chased by bad guys and comes across a makeshift pommel horse in the middle of the street. He jumps on, spinning his legs and whacking bad guys in the face to knock them out. (Now that's what I calls screenwritin'.) Kurt's movie career ended when the spy/gymnast franchise failed to demand a Gymkata 2. But it's not like this was a crazy idea or one that hasn't been tried successfully before. And building movies around one's athletic skill does work.
Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller was the first athlete/movie star and became more famous as Tarzan than he ever was as an Olympian. The handsome, muscle man actually was something of a pre-verbal heartthrob, a prototype Arnold Schwarzenegger. And the beauty part was that Mr. Weissmuller didn't have to act much -- but he got to swim a lot and wear his non-official Olympic swimsuit (with knife). All Tarzan needed to do was stand there, and wrestle a few crocodiles – which, I hear, will be an Olympic sport at the Bejing games.
The 1976 Decathlon winner, Bruce Jenner, gets the silver for the second most celluloid copped by an ex-Olympian. And yes, while he made the expected rounds of Bob Hope/Johnny Carson type shows in the wake of his amazing victory, and had a guest appearance on CHiPS in 1977, he joined the immortals by appearing in the 1980 Alan Carr extravaganza Can't Stop The Music. The film starred The Village People and was the campy, rags-to-bitches tale of how the famous disco group came to be, with Jenner playing "Ron White" the People's lawyer. We know this because Jenner gets to speak the line: "I'm the lawyer for the hottest act in show business, The Village People!" (Can't you see the dialogue coach working overtime on that?) Seventeen Wheaties box appearances later, Jenner hasn't had a higher highlight, though an appearance in the 1992 direct-to-video Original Intent proved Jenner was still in the SAG directory and ready for his close-up, Coach!
So you see it's worth a try.
And let's face it, you might as well.
Nowadays, Olympic hopefuls even pre-plan their post-Olympics careers with the steely resolve of Kerri Strug (the pint-sized 1996 gymnast who had her stuff lined up before the chalk cloud dispersed at the Atlanta games.) Kerri was on Saturday Night Live the next week, but that voice, that high pitched squeaky voice!! The only job for her was as a dial tone. Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan did Saturday Night Live, too, though not very well. And the famous Romanian gymnast Nadia Comeneci even played a lead in a movie and is, along with Mary Lou Retton, who was a big hit in Scrooged and Naked Gun 3, was probably the savviest about making fun of herself.
And that really seems to be the trick.
The winner of the bronze, of course, is an Olympian best known for displaying ideals more suited to Hollywood -- Tonya Harding, the Courtney Love of the ice skating set. There is no D-Girl worth her salt in this town who wouldn't think of cracking the knees of a competitor with a lead pipe, so maybe that's why Tonya fits in so well here? After her boob job, Tonya appeared in two efforts: an action movie that went to video called Breakaway in 1996 and Prize Fighter in 2003, both of which capitalized on her greatest strength as a competitive ice skater -- hitting people. But perhaps her best performance was her "my shoe was untied" crying jag to the judges of the 1992 games that allowed her to start her routine again. If the Olympics ever awards a medal for acting, Tonya would have won hands down for that routine.
So maybe there's still hope for Paul Hamm. After all, if we still believe that Marisa Tomei won the Oscar for My Cousin Vinny, then we will certainly buy that Paul Hamm deserves his gold. Don't despair, Paul. We'll have our people call your people. But please, work on the voice.