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Getting Mellow: The Evolution of Pauly Shore : Acting: The death of his ex-girlfriend, a porn film actress, may be the turning point in the comedian's life. He wants to shed his party-boy persona.

August 09, 1994|JAMES GRANT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Pauly Shore looks upset as he curls into a fetal position on an expansive sofa at the Bel Age Hotel. In fact, the 26-year-old former MTV personality and teen pop icon could not be more unlike the hyper-hysterical-surfer-space-cadet that, over the past few years, has made him the idol of aspiring slackers and bete noire of any sane person over 25. Something is very wrong with Pauly. Several minutes into the interview to discuss his film "In the Army Now," which opens Friday. Shore uncurls himself, sits up and asks:

"You know what just went down, don't you?" His visitor looks perplexed. "My ex-girlfriend, the porn star, just killed herself."

In mid-July, 23-year-old Shannon Wilsey, who was known as porn superstar Savannah, shot herself in the head just hours after crashing her white Corvette and injuring her face. Shore sinks back into the couch and discusses his ex-lover.

"She was the nicest, most beautiful girl I ever met," he says softly. "It was a very dramatic thing for me."

Asked why she killed herself, he says: "She became Savannah. She became her character, who was into drugs, and needed reassurance all the time. She forgot who Shannon was."

The couple broke up in late 1992 after 11 months, and then Wilsey's life took a downward slide. "I knew she wanted out (of the porn business)," he says. "She said to me: 'What do I do? I don't know anything else.' " Now he looks upset. "Her looks were semi-starting to fade--that was tough for her. She wanted a little family, but she felt that her past was going to haunt her so much."

Shore says he was with her when she died in St. Joseph's Hospital in Burbank. He pauses, staring blankly, then mutters: "That's the main thing in this business: Don't become your character. Grow up and learn. Life is your biggest teacher."

If Shore is visibly shaken by Wilsey's death, it nonetheless could be a turning point for him. After five years of perfecting his obnoxious man-child shtick as a stand-up comic, as the host of MTV's "Totally Pauly" show and as the star of last year's unexpected fish-out-of-water film hit "Son-in-Law," Shore is taking great pains to distance himself from his old persona.

"Pauly's appeal is evolving," says "In the Army Now" director Daniel Petrie Jr. "He is growing up, whether he likes it or not, and his audience is growing up with him."

*

Today, Shore seems ruefully aware of his space-cadet legacy, which was spawned during his two-year stint as the host of "Totally Pauly." He has said that starring in a movie was a chance to show the film industry that he was not on drugs and that he could be responsible. Pauly still insists that despite his party-boy persona, he has always eschewed hard drugs of any kind.

The comedian credits his pedigree as the son of veteran comedian Sammy Shore and Comedy Store owner Mitzi Shore as providing the rarified background for learning Hollywood survival early on. "Growing up around the Comedy Store and seeing so many comedians transfer from stand-up to the movies, I knew how important it was to be on time and to respect your elders," he says. "I saw too many other comedians (expletive) up. I always said to myself that when I got a break, I wasn't going to screw up."

Indeed, few industry insiders ever thought that the first two movies on his three-picture deal with Disney would be hits. But 1992's low-budget "Encino Man" grossed more than $40 million domestically; "Son-in-Law," more than $36 million. "In the Army Now" isn't likely to sweep next year's Academy Awards, but it may succeed in showing another dimension in the Pauly persona--and not just because he got his trademark long locks buzzed on camera.

Preview audiences have gasped as the Army barber shoves Shore into a chair and gives him a buzzcut, which he sports for the rest of the film. "I didn't know it was going to be such a big ordeal," he says. "After they scalped me, I had hundreds of people going: 'Oh, my God! What'd ya do that for?"'

"The two immediate identifying factors for Pauly are his hair and his clothes," says director Petrie. "And for 'Army,' the first thing we did was shave his head and throw him in a uniform. So he's working naked, if you will."

Without any irony, Shore cites Tom Hanks as an actor whose career path he would like to follow. "He started out doing 'Bosom Buddies' and 'Bachelor Party' and brainless stuff like that. But the brainless stuff is fun stuff--I don't regret where I've put myself."

A couple of years ago, Shore called his many critics "bitter and jealous" of his success. Now, a considerably mellower Shore fosters no such ill will. "I've read things from the critics who don't like what I do and that's fine," he says. And when asked what he thinks is the source of the criticism, he replies: "I think it's about the womanizing thing. I don't know what to say about that. I'm a man. If it was a girl, she'd be talking about a guy. There's no way I can win. I try to be nice to everyone."

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