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FREDDY : Dream Stalker of the Horror Flicks Turns Into a Laid-Back Lagunan Who Likes to Surf

March 09, 1990|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As Freddy Krueger, the fiendish dream stalker in the "A Nightmare on Elm Street" movies, he brandishes a glove with razor-sharp finger knives and dispatches his young victims with demonic glee: "This is it, Jennifer," he croons to an aspiring young actress before smashing her head into a television set, "your big break in TV."

But Robert Englund, the actor behind the Freddy makeup--a gruesome mass of scar tissue--didn't have cinematic murder and mayhem on his mind this pleasant Sunday afternoon in Laguna Beach as he and his wife, set decorator Nancy Booth, walked their dog down Agate Street to the beach.

"That's where I surf," Englund said, standing at the edge of a cliff and pointing down to a rock jutting out of the water. "And see that big boulder over there? That's called Three Prong. That's where the really hot guys surf."

At 41, Englund may not be one of the "hot" local surfers, but there's no question that he's the undisputed king of contemporary horror movies.

A "vision of loathsomeness" is how one critic described Englund's Freddy, whose 1984 debut in the low-budget "A Nightmare on Elm Street" generated an unexpected box office bonanza and four sequels--a popular culture phenomenon that accounts for all the masked-and-gloved little Freddys on our doorsteps the last several Halloweens.

Out of makeup, Englund is not recognized by everyone who sees him in Laguna, but the local surfers and the "thrasher skateboard kids"--as he calls them--know who he is.

"They paddle up to me in the water and stuff and say, 'Hey, Englund! Hey, dude, saw you on "Arsenio Hall" last night, man.' So I get a lot of that," the actor said, sipping a mug of coffee at his kitchen table earlier in the day.

If you're expecting demented glances and maniacal cackles during a visit with Robert Englund at home, you're in for a disappointment.

The man who portrays America's most unlikely pop-culture icon is a one-time Shakespearean actor who paid his Hollywood dues in the '70s and early '80s playing supporting roles in movies and "bad guy No. 2" in a string of TV shows. He's a talkative yet laid-back Los Angeles native, whose fondest childhood memories are of family vacations in Laguna.

As Booth says of her husband of 16 months: "He's the polar opposite of Freddy, of course. He's just charming and sweet and intelligent."

Booth, a UC Irvine art history graduate, met Englund in 1987 on a horror film he was directing, "976-Evil." Englund, who was married briefly in his early 20s, said he couldn't believe Booth, the film's attractive 26-year-old set decorator, was not married and "I used every excuse I could to hang around the art department."

The couple still own a home in the Hollywood Hills, but when they began looking for a "getaway place" a year ago, they naturally gravitated to Laguna.

"I had spent just about every summer in the 1950s down here and then an awful lot of time in the last 10 years coming down to surf and just staying in bed and breakfasts because I love it so much," Englund said .

Their 1929, three-bedroom bungalow on a corner lot above South Coast Highway retains the casual flavor of a bygone Southern California, with hardwood floors, porcelain door knobs, a brick fireplace with beach-rock inlay and a back yard overgrown with bougainvilleas. Englund's yellow Hobie surfboard, which had been used earlier in the morning, was propped up against a bench on the wooden deck.

It's the kind of homey, unpretentious place where, he said, you can put your feet up.

"It was real funny because Nancy said she wanted a koi pond and a lemon tree, which was more of a joke than anything. But as you can see, we have a goldfish pond and a little teeny lemon tree," he said, glancing out a large, wood-pained window and grinning: "This cut on my forehead is from last week's attempt at pruning the lemon tree."

Englund retains vivid memories of his childhood summers in Laguna, recalling the old boardwalk on Main Beach, being sent out to get hot dogs and Delaware Punch for lunch, and learning to body surf.

"My mom was like a beatnik in those days," he recalled. "She'd go off to South Laguna to a place called Frankenstein's. It was like out of some weird movie with bongos and Bob Denver goatees."

Englund seems to have inherited his mother's nonconformist bent, with his hair pulled into a tiny pony tail, a stubby beard left over from his role as a music industry hit man in the upcoming summer movie "Ford Fairlane," and his typical at-home costume of huaraches, shorts and a blue-denim shirt with the sleeves rolled up.

Retaining what he calls a " '60s sensibility," Englund speaks passionately about the need to curtail growth. Last November, he joined 7,000 marchers on Laguna Canyon Road to protest plans for the development of more than 3,000 houses and a golf course in pristine Laguna Canyon.

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