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Now you see her ... everywhere

She's been out of the public eye for six years, but the Demi Moore publicity machine is working full throttle again.

June 28, 2003|Lynn Smith | Times Staff Writer

According to red-carpet protocol, featured players should arrive before the movie's stars. But at the premiere for "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle," it was already show time, and the youthful stars -- Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu -- were inside Hollywood's Grauman's Chinese Theatre when Demi Moore, who plays a supporting role as the dark angel, finally arrived.

Moore, 40, swept in -- too late to grant interviews, late enough to cause a stir. With young photogenic boyfriend, well-known ex-husband and their children in tow, she smiled to the cameras, tossed a sleek sheet of dark hair and rushed on, granting a glimpse of the real face and body that were as flawless as the images on magazine covers in nearly every supermarket checkout lane across the country.

On the carpet, in the magazines and on numerous television shows, Moore has been performing in a parallel production: the one staged by the Hollywood publicity machine that shifts into high gear around the opening of a big commercial movie. Once the hottest and highest-paid actress in Hollywood, Moore is a proven commodity for the team of agents, publicists and managers who have a stake in her success and the success of the film. And she "did her part by getting her body in shape and giving people a narrative," says Marty Kaplan, an associate dean at USC's Annenberg School for Communication. "The publicity machine loves stories."

This one has two parts, according to Kaplan: Moore is 40 and looks fabulous, and Moore is a mother with a friendly ex-husband and, if appearances are to be believed, a 25-year-old lover. For those who remember her in her glory days, it's nothing short of an inspiration, he says.

"Sheer survival can't be underestimated as an attractive thing," Kaplan says. "We admire people who don't give up."

And in a popular culture that chews up celebrities for breakfast, Moore has demonstrated a remarkable staying power since she blew into Hollywood as one of the Brat Pack, became a media-maligned movie star with her own servants and jets, and then throttled back to raise her children in Idaho.

Part of her survival in the spotlight can be traced to her personal life (the troubled childhood, the divorce from Bruce Willis, the titillating tabloid reports of liaisons with younger men, including, now, 25-year-old Ashton Kutcher from television's "Punk'd" and "That '70s Show"). Part is due to some daring choices: a pioneering willingness to take it all off (the iconic pregnant profile in Vanity Fair), the regrettable film "Striptease."

Striking a nerve

Whether through instinct, cunning or luck, she struck a cultural nerve with roles that often played to the times and stayed in the public's consciousness. From the sexy Jackie Templeton on "General Hospital" (1982-83) to the sweetly troubled pseudo-sophisticate of "St. Elmo's Fire" (1985), she morphed into the weepy lover of "Ghost" (1990), the wife swapped for money in "Indecent Proposal" (1993) and the strong-willed, ambitious women of "Disclosure" (1994) and "A Few Good Men" (1992).

"She was, for a time, a tremendous operator," says David Thomson, author of "The New Biographical Dictionary of Film." "She's always been ready to make herself a sort of icon and commodity."

The 1992 Vanity Fair cover was a "complete transaction," Kaplan says. "It was, in some ways, the ultimate publicity stunt." As columnist Catherine Seipp wrote in the online magazine Salon, "Almost every Demi Moore vehicle is less a movie than a signal for another media feeding frenzy."

In 1996, Moore publicized her part as a pole-dancing single mom in "Striptease" by stripping down to a bikini on television. She showed up at a press junket for "Striptease" with her head shaved for her next role as the tough and reviled "G.I. Jane" (1997). She publicized that movie by doing one-arm push-ups. With her beauty and rough, lived-in voice, her attention-getting breasts and muscles, Moore seemed to offer something for everyone. Stuart Fischoff, professor of media psychology at Cal State Los Angeles, says, "Guys can find something to get turned on; girls can find something to identify with or be inspired."

According to Seipp, she was "a Joan Crawford for the '90s: the girl of humble background who through sheer force of will transformed herself into a movie star while retaining her shopgirl soul."

Still, many female audiences felt their tolerance tested by the extremes she portrayed in "Striptease" and "G.I. Jane" and squirmed in their seats. Her next vehicle, "Passion of Mind," fell flat. "She knew she'd take hits for ["G.I. Jane" and "Striptease"], and she did," says her agent, Kevin Huvane. But when she shifted her focus to raising children, he says, it was by choice -- to regroup after divorce and her mother's death -- and not due to the specter of a fading career.

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