Here’s an experiment you can try right here in New York. Approach Andrew McCarthy on the street–catch him at the stage door of Side Man , the Broadway play he joined last month, or even find him chewing a preshow steak at Frankie & Johnny’s, or maybe bump into him near the Bedford Street town house he bought 11 years ago. Then, if he lets you, shake his hand vigorously. Tell him he looks great, that you love the floppy-on-top, short-on-the-sides hairstyle he’s wearing now, and that Pretty in Pink and St. Elmo’s Fire and Less Than Zero really meant something to you when you were, say, 14 and plug-ugly with zits.
Tell him that a long time ago when he was young, and you were younger, you admired the way he screwed up his face in consternation and the manner in which he always ran his fingers through his hair. It seemed emblematic of some generational angst, a moody, grumbling counterpoint to the insufferable optimism of Ronald Reagan and, for that matter, Emilio Estevez. Tell him that you identified with him.
“You seem to be wanting something that’s validating something in your own thing because you had an experience with it,” Mr. McCarthy replied when The Observer said some of those very things to him over lunch on Aug. 15 at Joe Allen, the Restaurant Row theater hangout. He was wearing an interesting combination of gray twill dungarees (no belt) and a beige-colored linen shirt. Those full cheeks are gone; he’s skinny now.
His voice was raised in frustration, and he pointed his finger across the table. Meantime, he was loading bales of salad into his mouth more like a feral panda than the well-bred preppy he played in the 80′s.
He chewed and continued. He was talking about the Brat Pack, the group of young actors with whom he was lumped in the 80′s. “So you want it to have been something. And it wasn’t something! It didn’t exist! You all had the experience that you wanted to be part of–this kind of group, with success, and it just wasn’t. That’s not what it was in my experience. But people don’t believe that. They just hear frustration when in fact what I’m saying is that’s something that you put on us . That’s the magic of the movies. You put that on us. It didn’t have anything to do with me!”
Mr. McCarthy seemed to be evincing a familiar emotion. Yes, it was the same rage that rose up in Blane, the status-blind “richie” in Pretty in Pink , during the prom scene finale where he finally challenges bad richie James Spader’s character for disrespecting Molly Ringwald. The Observer chose not to point it out to him.
Was his life sort of like being trailed by the maudlin equivalent of get-a-life Star Trek fans?
“Sort of, but Star Trek actually has some very profound messages going on,” he said. ” Star Trek is different.”
Once upon a time, people dreamed of hanging out with Judd Nelson, shopping at Aca Joe with Rob Lowe, passing notes to Ally Sheedy. But when Andrew McCarthy dropped out of New York University to take a part in the 1983 film Class –which entailed having an on-screen affair with Jacqueline Bisset–nothing changed in his life, except that, he says, “chicks wanted to fuck me who didn’t before.”
These days, at 37 years old, with 33 films since Pretty in Pink, the New Jersey native speaks of the “stigmatizing effect” of these movies–some of which reportedly earned him close to a million bucks. He makes Pretty in Pink sound like genital herpes. (“I have to work a little harder because of the stigma.… You never shed it.”) Worst of all, he claims he was never even in the Brat Pack. He claims he’s never even met the Brat Pack’s geek mascot, Anthony Michael Hall!
“[The Brat Pack] didn’t exist. It … did … not … exist!” he said. By this time, his salmon steak had arrived, and he was talking loudly again. “We never hung out–well, they may have hung out. I don’t know their phone numbers! I’ve never talked to a single one of them since we wrapped [ St. Elmo's Fire ]! It’s all just some lazy fucking journalist lumping it all together.”
The journalist to whom he’s referring is David Blum, who wrote the June 1985 New York magazine cover story “Hollywood’s Brat Pack”–which coined the term. Mr. Blum, who now writes for television and magazines, said that by not including himself in the Brat Pack, Mr. McCarthy is being something of a revisionist historian. “Draw your own conclusions,” he said. “Anybody who was remotely connected to St. Elmo’s Fire has to carry that with them for the rest of their lives.”
Back in 1985, Mr. Blum was assigned a story about how actor, writer and director Emilio Estevez was trying to turn himself into the 80′s answer to Orson Welles. Shortly before the release of St. Elmo’s Fire , Mr. Blum went out in Los Angeles with Mr. Estevez and his friends, among them Judd Nelson and Rob Lowe. He then changed the focus of the article to include all of the acting young lions in Hollywood, with the notable exception of Mr. McCarthy, who had been considered something of a loner on the set and who was not there that night.
New York magazine hit the stands and immediately created a stir in Hollywood. The stars were angry, and their publicists all got on the phone and chewed out then- New York editor Ed Kosner. “I always thought [Mr. McCarthy's] anger had something to do with the original cover photo for the piece,” said Mr. Blum. “We used a publicity still from St. Elmo’s Fire … . Andrew McCarthy was also in that picture, but because I didn’t talk to him or really deal with him much in the story, we actually cropped him out.”
All these years later, Mr. McCarthy still remembers that New York magazine story. In fact, he uses the photograph as evidence that he was never, ever a member of the Brat Pack. “That was my elbow!” he said of the only part of his anatomy that made the cover. But it was something written within the article that stung the most. While Mr. Estevez was dubbed “the unofficial president,” Tom Cruise “the hottest of them all,” and Sean Penn the heir to Robert De Niro’s acting throne, Mr. McCarthy received only this passing mention, and worse, it was a jab from one of his own: “[O]f Andrew McCarthy, one of the New York-based actors in St. Elmo’s Fire , a co-star says, ‘He plays all his roles with too much of the same intensity. I don’t think he’ll make it.’”
For a moment, Mr. McCarthy’s chalkboard green eyes betrayed more hurt than anger. “Whenever you have a contemporary trash you in some nasty way, it usually means they’re envious,” he said.
Like the Matt Dillon movie, that was then, this is now. A few of those mentioned in the Brat Pack story–notably, Mr. Cruise, Mr. Penn, Matthew Broderick and Nicolas Cage–somehow emerged from the Brat Pack association untouched by the curse. Others associated with the teen ensemble films, like Demi Moore and Robert Downey Jr. (prison notwithstanding), managed to eke out a decent living far past 1985.
And truth be told, so did Mr. McCarthy. There were the dogs like 1995′s Dream Man ; the forgottens like 1997′s Stag , about a bunch of guys who accidentally kill a stripper at a stag party. There were a couple of pretty good ones, too, like 1994′s Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle . Good or bad, he was always working. “I have a wonderful career,” he said, perched over his salad. “I’m in a Broadway play, a Tony-winning play. You know, it’s not going badly.”
He got tapped to play Clifford in Warren Leight’s Tony Award-winning play, Side Man , a part previously played by both Party of Five ‘s Scott Wolfe and Christian Slater (two guys who most certainly would have been members of the Brat Pack if only they’d gotten started a little earlier), after playing A Long Day’s Journey Into Night and Horton Foote’s The Death of Papa at the Hartford Stage last season. Ironically, Mr. McCarthy, who seems to be forever running away from anything smelling of juvenilia, reverts to playing a 9-year-old for much of his time on stage in the memory play. He plays Clifford with a mix of vulnerability and bitterness.
And people still recognize him, of course. Apparently, 1989′s hide-the-body flick Weekend at Bernie’s made a dent. He said that an inordinate number of truck drivers stick their heads out their windows and yell, “Hey, where’s Bernie?”
Others are not so kind. Mr. McCarthy is occasionally confronted by sidewalk critics. “They’ll say, ‘Why did you do that movie? That sucked!’” he said, shaking his head at the memory. “So why are you coming up and bothering me then? Go fuck off!”
The Rich Shall Inherit Mortimer’s
Thanks to the efforts of a certain community as galvanized as a velvet Red Cross in a deluge, Mortimer’s, the society watering hole scorched a year ago by the death of proprietor Glenn Bernbaum, will be reborn, renewed and improved, on Labor Day or very soon thereafter.
As attorney Richard Golub explained recently, he was retained, in accordance with Bernbaum’s will, to “close Mortimer’s down.” But this spring, the death of Mortimer’s and the dearth of agreeable restaurants in the 10021 ZIP code were being compared to a month of Sundays “in the Gobi desert,” to quote House & Garden editor at large Carolina Irving. To resurrect it, parched investors were found from the restaurant’s inner circle: Nan Kempner, Mario Buatta, Anne Eisenhower, Gale Hayman, financier James Arcara and 15 or so other regulars made pledges.
They didn’t raise enough to outbid Jean de Noyer, the owner of La Goulue, for the Mortimer’s building at 1057 Lexington Avenue, but it was enough to take over the lease of the Kiosk, a restaurant owned by Nell Campbell and Eamon Roche two blocks south, a location Bernbaum would have considered “downtown.” The rebirth of the restaurant was organized by Robert Caravaggi, longtime maître d’ of Mortimer’s, Stephen Attoe, the restaurant’s chef for nearly 20 years, and Peter Geraghty, Bernbaum’s personal assistant in charge of its finances for the past five years. Mr. Caravaggi said they raised about $500,000 toward the new space, not a great fortune to float a restaurant in this neighborhood, but a start nonetheless.
“I think I understand why he didn’t leave any provisions for keeping Mortimer’s going,” said Mr. Attoe of his former boss. “Glenn couldn’t deal with his emotions, so he made his death as impersonal as he could.”
More likely, Bernbaum didn’t need anyone pointing out the sins of the father once he was gone. Inside his new E-shaped dining room on April 19, Mr. Caravaggi revealed what would be different about the new Mortimer’s. “None of this looking people over the way Glenn did. That worked for him, for a while. We only worked for him; it wasn’t our policy,” he said, clearing his throat.
Indeed, like all great divas, Mortimer’s is benefiting from some ace surgery and repositioning. For instance, it’s no longer called Mortimer’s. It’s new name and trademark is Swifty’s, for Bernbaum’s pug, who predeceased his owner. Decorators Anne Eisenhower and Mario Buatta are performing the last of several gentle procedures (apricot walls). And Mr. Buatta is putting the finishing touches on a logo.
“We’re taking the best of Mortimer’s … the food, the ambiance, the social mix and improving upon the worst. We’re a little more youthful,” said Mr. Caravaggi. “We want this to be an inclusive restaurant and we don’t want to exclude anybody.”
The restaurant will accept reservations; Mortimer’s didn’t for parties under six unless you were a friend of Bernbaum’s. He sat you only if, and when, he wanted to. Amusing at first, while the demand for tables lasted, that policy backfired when people gave up trying. Often in the last years, one would look in at night and see, say, Brooke Astor at Table 1A in the window, a few of the tables behind her filled with genteel sorts, and the restaurant otherwise empty in candlelight.
Mr. Attoe described the new menu as “smaller, more condensed … offering more specials in season. “Risottos, pastas, game … But we’ll have Mortimer’s favorites. The chopped salads, chicken salad, twinburgers, crabcakes and soufflés to order.” There’ll be lunch and dinner, seven days a week. Catering is also available.
“To tell you the truth,” said Nan Kempner, “I didn’t like the way Glenn left his staff. These boys are terrific. They worked for him practically from the beginning. I was delighted to invest. It’ll be fun and delicious and intimate and filled with pals with the same great food. Yum …”
Part of the allure of Mortimer’s was its (relatively) low prices. “The rich love a bargain in food, but they don’t care how much a drink costs,” Bernbaum used to say. “Our prices will be in line with Mortimer’s–moderate to medium,” said Mr. Caravaggi. “Our wine list will be excellent and well priced.”
Mr. Caravaggi wants to clear the tables near the bar after about 10:30 P.M. each night, to draw people in for a nightcap or late supper. There are French doors on Lexington Avenue to open in the summer. A launch party for Swifty’s will be held “about a month after we open, after we’ve worked the kinks out,” Mr. Caravaggi said.
Something else: The restaurant is small. If the back room is more commodious than the front room, and the kitchen is downstairs, where’s the best table at Swifty’s?
“Wherever you are,” purred Mr. Caravaggi.
The Transom Also Hears
… The long hard road of Keith Richards’ face ended in a wry smile. “It’s the first time we’ve met and basically we agree on everything,” said the Rolling Stone as he cocked his mug at the woman sitting next to him. Mr. Richards was referring to actress Lauren Bacall, his tablemate at the post-premiere party for Albert Brooks’ new movie, The Muse . The Bacall-Richards pairing was the talk of the evening, but actually it was typical of the eclectic crowd gathered in the private upstairs room of Le Cirque 2000.
Like Mr. Richards and Ms. Bacall, everybody seemed to be in a sociable frame of mind. Police Commissioner Howard Safir kept jumping out of his chair to eagerly press flesh with the celebrity crowd, especially Harvey Keitel and Mr. Richards. Meanwhile, Mr. Keitel, who earlier had been concerned about who was at his table, seemed to hit it off with the newly single Andie MacDowell, who co-stars in The Muse . Also in the room were Happiness director Todd Solondz, Howard Stern sidekick Robin Quivers, Heather Locklear, Richie Sambora and Sopranos star and E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt.
Even Mr. Brooks seemed determined to see everyone happy. After his first question-and-answer with The Transom, Mr. Brooks concluded, “They’re not great quotes, but I just got here.” Later in the evening, he gave it another go. Asked about the cameo appearances that directors Martin Scorsese and James Cameron make in his film (a highly caffeinated Mr. Scorsese tells Mr. Brooks’ character that he wants to remake Raging Bull with “a really, really thin guy–thin but angry”), Mr. Brooks replied: “It even surprised me a little bit because Scorsese does not like to fly.… He was asking me all these non-movie questions like, well, how windy is it out there [in Los Angeles]? He was asking me aeronautical questions. Is LAX safe?” Mr. Brooks’ voice took on a weary, yet reassuring tone. “Yes, Marty, Yes.
“And [James] Cameron called me back. I didn’t know her.” The Transom laughed, thinking Mr. Brooks was being funny, but he quickly corrected his gender mistake. “Him,” he said. Apparently, Mr. Brooks had been distracted. “I just saw Robin Quivers. I have to say hello to her,” he said, walking away.
As for Mr. Richards, his being in total agreement with Ms. Bacall might have been a smart bit of self-preservation. When The Transom admitted that we were not aware that she was opening in Noël Coward’s Waiting in the Wings in December, Ms. Bacall replied, “I can see you’re right up-to-date,” and immediately gave us the distinct impression that the conversation was over.
Frank DiGiacomo is on vacation.
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