In those days the public wanted us to live like kings and queens. So we did--and why not? We were in love with life. We were making more money than we ever dreamed existed and there was no reason to believe it would ever stop. --Actress Gloria Swanson
In Hollywood, private film parties have been a tradition since the earliest days of the business, but seldom have people gathered to watch anything as fuzzy as the images of the "Rob Lowe tapes" currently in wide circulation on the bar and party circuit.
The "Lowe tapes" are the two sex videos--one of two men and one woman, the other of two women and one man--that allegedly were made by Lowe during an encounter with a 16-year-old girl and a young woman in Atlanta during last summer's Democratic National Convention.
One of the tapes is evidence in a civil suit recently filed in Georgia's Fulton County by the mother of the 16-year-old, and Lowe's attorneys have since countered with an answer charging the woman with extortion. Fulton County authorities say they are still investigating the events and that they may file criminal charges.
Meanwhile, copies of the tapes have slipped out of Atlanta and are in wide circulation around the country. More so since porn magazine editor Al Goldstein aired a portion of one tape on his "Midnight Blue" program that airs on Manhattan's Channel J cable station.
The question, as the tapes and inevitable jokes make the rounds, is what effect the issue will have on the actor's career.
"What kind of a career does he really have (to harm)?" said an executive of a Hollywood publicity firm. "He is not a major star. . . . I would think the fact that he is getting this attention will probably just make him better known to people. If it had been a gay film, it would have been a (career) killer."
"Rob Lowe is the victim of a lot of cheap shots," said veteran Hollywood press agent Lee Solters. "My own gut feeling is that I wouldn't want to be in (Lowe's publicist's) shoes."
One of the charter members of Hollywood's Brat Pack, Lowe has worked steadily in recent years ("Oxford Blues," ". . . About Last Night," "St. Elmo's Fire," "Hotel New Hampshire"), for fees that industry insiders put at $1 million to $1.5 million per picture. But he has not been in the kind of runaway hit that elevated him to mega-star status, and critics continue to focus their reviews on his looks rather than his acting.
In a review in the New Yorker of Lowe's last movie "Masquerade," critic Pauline Kael said, "Rob Lowe hasn't learned to use anything: his acting is mush."
Lowe received his best notices (and a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor) for his role as a mentally retarded youth in the 1987 "Square Dance." Despite the presence of acclaimed actors Jason Robards and Jane Alexander, the New York Times' Vincent Canby said "the most arresting performance is Mr. Lowe's."
Still, when people think of Lowe, who has been romantically linked with Fawn Hall, Melissa Gilbert and Princess Stephanie, among others, it is his attractiveness more than his acting ability that invites envy. And that, says his attorney Dale Kinsella, is what made him vulnerable to the current charges.
"He is an extraordinarily good-looking kid," said Kinsella. "He's personable, warm and nice. You can just see how this person could attract every good and bad aspect of society. . . . Rob's 25 and has no need to become a recluse and shouldn't."
Kinsella was outraged, as were many others, at the airing of the tape on "Midnight Blue" and Goldstein's blatant promotion of $29.95 copies of the video.
"I think Rob's privacy has been invaded enough by this scheme that has been perpetrated on him," Kinsella said. "It's amazing that third, fourth or fifth parties have entered into this to exploit him."
According to the public records, the taped events occurred last August when Lowe, a Michael Dukakis supporter there for the convention, brought the girl and the woman to his hotel room and recorded their sexual activities on a videotape that included footage Lowe had taken at the convention and at a baseball game.
It is unclear what happened to the tape that night, but soon after, the mother's attorney contacted Kinsella demanding fluctuating sums that ranged from $300,000 to half of Lowe's net worth, Lowe's attorney said in the interview. An affidavit from a friend of the 16-year-old's said the girl bragged about the film and said "that she was going to use the film to blackmail Rob Lowe for $2 million."
Kinsella said he refused to make any settlement. Attorneys for Wilson did not return repeated calls from The Times.
"I think Rob has been the subject of a bungled, yet nonetheless deplorable, attempt to extort money," Kinsella said. "Here's a young actor who has a very promising career ahead of him and is a bright, reasonable, articulate young man who really found himself at the wrong place at the wrong time with some definitely wrong people. I suppose it could happen to almost anybody."