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COVER STORY : Every Day's Christmas for Tim : Or is it? 'Home Improvement,' a new book and the role of Santa in an upcoming Disney movie, life should be golden for Tim Allen. But as he'll tell you, it's not quite that simple.

October 09, 1994|Daniel Cerone | Daniel Cerone is a Times staff writer. and

These days, when Tim Allen cries out for "more power," he's likely to be talking about the megabytes of RAM in the hard drive of his Macintosh Powerbook. He doesn't have much time to spend with the circular saws, power drills and leaf blowers that were the heart of his stand-up comedy act--and that served as the inspiration for ABC's "Home Improvement," the most popular TV show in America for the past year.

Allen still regards his tools as toys, and as the bonding agent of all men, but they are of a largely different variety today. Instead of wearing a tool belt with a hammer dangling from it, Allen putters around the "Home Improvement" stage on the Walt Disney Studios lot with a cellular phone strapped to his belt. Lying on the floor of his dressing room is his Powerbook and an oversized Wizard pocket organizer.

"I love these things," says Allen, one of seven brothers who grew up in Colorado and Michigan.

All the gadgets are there to help Allen, 41, manage his image as the nation's biggest TV star, one who is carefully, thoughtfully building his career the way a carpenter constructs a house.

When Allen was released from prison in 1982, after a 28-month stint for selling cocaine to an undercover police officer, he found his salvation in humor on the comedy-club circuit, which eventually led to his own sitcom. Today, in between taping weekly episodes of "Home Improvement," he's busily promoting a book, "Don't Stand Too Close to a Naked Man," and finishing post-production on his first motion picture, "The Santa Clause," due out Nov. 11.

The modestly budgeted holiday movie was produced by Hollywood Pictures, a division of Walt Disney Studios. After seeing the footage, however, Walt Disney Pictures swooped in, pumped more than

$1 million into added music and special effects, and will now release it under the more prestigious Walt Disney banner.

"Home Improvement," meanwhile, showed one and all last month that it is still the sitcom of the '90s, maintaining its No. 1 Nielsen standing despite having moved to a new night to face new competition--NBC's Emmy Award-winning "Frasier," starring Kelsey Grammer.

Allen's own power is such that he could joke during the Emmy telecast Sept. 11 about having former Walt Disney Studios Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg fired--for not entering Allen's name in time for the Emmy competition.

Allen took a break on the set of "Home Improvement" last week to sit on the floor of his dressing room and discuss his book, his movie, his future and the intoxicating effects of his career on himself, his wife, Laura, and their 3 1/2-year-old daughter, Kady.

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Question: So are you more powerful than Jeffrey Katzenberg?

Answer: Right now I am. He doesn't work here. (Laughs.) No, I don't think so, no.

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Q: Describe your book.

A: Hyperion, the publishers, wanted something, and I wanted something else. That's why it took me too long to do this. I read a lot of philosophy, and I always thought I could write a philosophy book. I haven't been able to take any of my philosophy further than speculation because I can't prove the theories I have. But I wanted to add some of that in there, and they wanted all jokes.

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Q: How did you resolve the situation?

A: I pretty much decided to write what I wanted to write. I said: "I'll write two chapters. If you don't like it, don't do it."

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Q: So is the book philosophy or comedy?

A: I took some personal risks, revealing certain things so that I might have more credence by saying, "Because of this, I understand this." It's similar to what I do in my stage show. (In the book) I was able to give some opinions about behavior--and I'm not an expert--and a little bit of philosophy. Cheap philosophy.

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Q: Can you give me an example of something new that you revealed in the book, something you haven't revealed onstage?

A: Well, I never revealed anything about prison before, about taking responsibility for your actions. That's not all that damn funny. I never, ever talked about my father's death on stage, about milestones in one's life that change you dramatically. I never talked about my real last name.

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Q: Which is?

A: Dick. The whole first part of the book, the first two chapters, are about penis. I go overboard on it, and some people take offense to it. But the reason is, hopefully, to put you in the mind-set of where I was. Up until I was 16 years old, I'd say, "Hi, I'm Tim Dick." And they'd go: "Ha ha. Penis!" So I was constantly being related to a penis--all the time.

Q: You call yourself a masculinist, and you propose a sort of national men's movement . . .

A: No, a personal men's movement. I really kind of shy away from any kind of mass movements. There's a bunch of unhealthy men out there, and it would take a very few steps to make them healthy: Stop listening to so much bull----, do the things that come natural to you, and enjoy them.

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Q: What comes natural to men?

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