“I am a seducer, I’m a salesman,” he said. “I’m trying to get people to buy my message. I do have a message. I’m as corny as Ka
nsas in August. I’m as high as a kite on the Fourth of July. That’s from South Pacific, but yeah, I do have a message …” He looked at the busy street below and into the private park across the street. “The meek will inherit the earth,” he said, in a softer voice. “So be nice to the meek. The old man spitting on the corner. The janitor cleaning up. The man behind the counter at the convenience store. Those are our people—that guy driving that truck—they make the world go. And, you know, the powerful and the wealthy, there’s a place for everybody, but don’t put the regular guy down. And that comes from me. I’m an ordinary guy living an extraordinary life, but I’m an ordinary guy. I’m not a fancy fellow.”
His father was an Army Ranger, then an NYPD cop, before becoming an electrical engineer and moving his family to Massapequa. At age 12, young Steve—one friend called him “Gootin Rootin Tootin”—knew he wanted to be an actor.
“I think some people do understand that message, that I’m an ordinary guy trying to paint pictures of ordinary people, in an extraordinary life,” he said. And then there are the people he calls the “hippoisie. These are the people who think I’m not apathetic enough for them. That the tone in my voice goes up too often. That I smile too much. That I’m too happy. So, to them, I say, ‘Fuck you.’”
It irks him that his nice-guy persona has hurt his career. “A prick has got substance,” he said, shaking his head. “I like being nice. But as an actor, a lot of times people mistake niceness, kindness, for a weakness of your character.
“Lately I’ve heard a lot of people ask, ‘Is Steve Guttenberg really that nice?’” he said. “And I think, how shitty. When you’re a prick, people believe it right away. No questions asked. If you’re really nice, people are like, ‘Is he really that nice, what’s up his sleeve?’ Oh, fuck you.”
The Goot does have his vices.
“I indulge in wine, and I love vodka, I do,” he said. “And I love scotch, you know. And I love weed. And I love women. And I do have, you know, those … Addiction is such an overused word. Addiction is just someone famous walking around the street. It’s so whacked out, but I think that there are certainly times that I use money to make me feel better.” A couple years ago, he got in a big fight with his mom, and he bought her a $25,000 diamond necklace.
“If I feel lousy, I’ll do what the next president of the United States did: smoke a joint,” he said. “It’s documented in his book. I’ll go into a bar and down two beers. I’ll go out with women, because it’ll make me feel better. Women that I shouldn’t be around, but maybe they’ll make me feel better.”
He estimated that he’s dated some 600 women, but still hasn’t found Mrs. Right. He hopes to; he wants a family.
“I’ll lie to make myself feel better,” he said. “If I feel shitty, and someone says, ‘What are you working on,’ I’ll get really pissed off and go, ‘Yeah I’m doing a thriller with, you know, George Clooney.’ I make myself feel better by that—that’s an addiction to whatever that is, to make myself feel better, to take the pain away.”
He added, “When I was a kid and my parents would argue, I would go in my room and watch TV or I’d go to the movies or read a fairy tale, make myself feel better.”
Just being in New York has made him feel better. Earlier that day, the man at the bodega gave him a free paper.
He’s being honored at the Fire Island Golden Wagon Film Festival on July 19. They’re doing a retrospective of his work and giving him the Tony Randall Lifetime Achievement Award. “It’s not a gay festival,” he said. “I guess you know Fire Island’s pretty gay. Hey! I gotta tell you something—a good gay rumor about me might not be a bad thing to start. You know, a lot of heavyweight actors are gay. And they do very well.”