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Just up from Hollywood Boulevard, there's a little photographer's shop on Las Palmas.  At the time, there was also a great Mexican restaurant, Las Palmas Mexican Restaurant, since turned into a club.  I was in town visiting a comedian…the man who would become my husband, in the town that would become my home. 

We were picking up his headshots and right across the road, a film crew was shooting up into the fourth floor window of a beat-up building, the kind you'd never notice, worked as it was, into the concrete and asphalt and shrub, seeming almost a part of nature in the cityscape that is Hollywood. 

Some film or commercial or news is always being shot in Hollywood but I had never seen it before and we hung around, watching.  My soon-to-be husband spotted Gary Marshall and got more excited than I was, calling him over and congratulating him on his life so far. 

The cameras kept rolling.  It was a balcony scene and they shot it a couple of times.  The man drives up in the limo and climbs the fire escape stairs to the fourth floor where she's waiting all Cinderella and happy. 

“Is that Richard Gere?” I ask.

One of the crew walked by and handed me a call sheet for the next day as a souvenir.  3000 was the working title of the film that would come to be known as Pretty Woman.

By this time a crowd of about 75 had gathered on this little street.  Some had even gone to buy 8 x 10's from celebrity photo shops down the boulevard, in hopes of an autograph.

When it was all over, the actors came down from their perch and headed off across the street into the parking lot and the sunset and I just watched, somewhat stunned and somewhat in awe of the very ordinary process and the surreal reality of Richard Gere being within my sights. 

“Go over to him,” my husband-to-be nudged. 

“No.”  I couldn't.  But I imagined to myself that we had made eye contact and I had come here for nothing but a box of 8x10 glossies.  It was enough.

Then, for some reason, halfway across the parking lot, Richard Gere turned to the line of us…all of us ridiculously hoping for something from him…and pointed to me. 

“Come quickly,” he called.

My husband-to-be pushed me, harder this time.  “Go!  He's talking to you!”

I looked around and everyone was watching me now.

He was smiling as I made the long walk across the empty parking lot holding my call sheet, along with the pen someone had pushed into my hand.

“What's your name?” he asked, as his helpers stood feigning patience.

I told him and he signed the call sheet to me.

I'll never know why he turned after walking so far and pointed to me, though I believe that we respond very specifically to things in each other. 

About nine years later, I was temping on the Paramount lot to pay the bills and ended up working for a producer that was a good friend of his.  He called regularly and I never told him this story…never told her either…but maybe he'll read it and maybe it'll be as fun for him to realize his impact as it was for me that day, almost twenty years ago.


the back story...

Richard Gere has played many roles during his three decades long career - male prostitute, Navy brat, Wall Street tycoon, and, more recently, literary hoaxer Clifford Irving - but whereas many actors disappear when lacking a fictional identity to assume, Gere's life off-screen may be more dramatic. A dedicated humanitarian, he has been an outspoken activist for AIDS research and the ecological movement, and fearless critic of the Bush administration. He is also a committed Buddhist.

"I don't want to be a personality," he said. He is, however, a star who uses his fame wisely, not as tabloid fodder, but as a spokesman for issues of global concern.

The second of five children, Richard Gere was born August 31, 1949 in Philadelphia to Homer and Doris Gere. His interest in the arts developed early, but it was music, not acting, that first attracted his creative impulses. At North Syracuse Central High School, he played several instruments and even composed music for school plays. He studied philosophy on a gymnastics scholarship at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, but dropped out after two years to pursue an acting career.

"When I started acting," he would recall years later, "it was really the way for me to be able to communicate."

Gere's musical background proved helpful in landing his earliest acting roles. In 1973, long before the world had heard of John Travolta, Gere was cast in a leading role in a London production of the ‘50s rock and roll musical Grease.

"I did a lot of musicals," he recalled. "It was the time of rock operas. I had hair down to my tits and could play a lot of instruments. At that time it was easy to get work if you could do things like sing and play instruments."

It was in Richard Brooks' controversial 1977 film of Judith Rossner's Looking for Mr. Goodbar starring Diane Keaton that Gere first attracted notice from filmgoers who were taken with both his acting skills and, even more so, his sex appeal.

"The secret of my success is my hairspray," he joked, adding "I honestly do not think about celebrity or image or sexual expectations on me. But what I am told is that there is a quality that I have onscreen where it's a little bit of everything."

He had John Travolta to thank for his first starring role in a major motion picture. Travolta, then still best known as Sweathog Vinnie Barbarino on TV's Welcome Back, Kotter, was unavailable for 1978's Days of Heaven, and director Terence Malick cast Gere in the role of Bill, who, with his wife, travels south to work on a farm to escape the poverty of city life. The film, hailed by Variety as "a dramatically moving and technically breathtaking American art film," was more praised than seen, but Gere was now being courted by filmmakers.

1978's Bloodbrothers earned an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay, but Variety dismissed it as a "pedestrian tale." The story of an Italian-American family headed by a construction worker father, the film's main focus was on Gere as the son torn between the working class life of his family, and his desire to work with children.

That same year, Gere was exploring spiritual matters, meeting Tibetans in Nepal, and his interest in Tibet and Buddhism would only grow stronger through the years.

In 1979, he accepted one of his most daring roles in the Broadway production of Bent.  The play, set at Dachau, explored one of the less publicized atrocities of World War II: the Nazi's persecution of homosexuals. Most actors, even the most outspokenly liberal, shun gay roles, fearing that audiences may believe they are gay themselves. Not Gere. "What difference does it make what anyone thinks if I live truthfully and honestly and with as open a heart as I can?"

Gere received the Theatre World Award for his performance in Bent. His name appeared on movie theater marquees that year in a film also set against the backdrop of World War II. John Schlesinger's Yanks was a touching, subdued drama that spotlighted the difficulties of war time romance.

More successful, at least at the box-office, was 1980's American Gigolo, the second role he inherited from John Travolta. Propelled by Blondie's driving theme song, "Call Me," Paul Schrader's film examined the superficially glamorous but ultimately lonely life of a high priced male prostitute servicing the aging women of Beverly Hills. When one of his clients is murdered, Kay believes he's being framed, and attempts to find the real killer in the sexual underground of Los Angeles.

Despite the exploitative nature of the subject matter, American Gigolo required more from Gere than his handsome face and sexy body. He beautifully conveys the title character's sadness, his need for love but fear of emotional intimacy. It was this quality that impressed Roger Ebert who praised the film as "a stylish and surprisingly poignant handling of this material."

It was yet another Travolta reject that became Gere's biggest hit to date. An Officer and a Gentleman was released near the end of a summer season dominated by the likes of E.T., Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, and Poltergeist. The old-fashioned love story, directed by Taylor Hackford, had a strong appeal to filmgoers who had overdosed on special-effects.

Gere played Zack Mayo, a troubled loner who enlists in the Navy because "I got nowhere else to go." While on leave, he meets Paula (Debra Winger) who is just waiting to be swept off her feet by a man who meets the criteria of the film's title. The screenplay by Douglas Day Stewart left little doubt that Gere would meet that standard by the time the credits rolled, but the film's predictability only worked in its favor.  

"An Officer and a Gentleman deserves a 21-gun salute, maybe 42," Variety gushed, acknowledging that the film belonged to Lou Gossett, Jr, whose performance as the tough-as-nails drill instructor would win the Oscar as best supporting actor, but there was plenty of praise to go around. "Mr. Gere has never been this affecting before," Janet Maslin wrote in The New York Times. "There's an urgency to his performance, some of it visibly induced by the hard physical work of the basic training sequences that cuts right through his manner of detachment."

Gere earned a Golden Globe nomination as best dramatic actor for the film which would gross more than $100,000,000 at the U.S. box-office. More significantly, the image of Gere in full Naval attire sweeping Winger up in his arms has become one of the most powerful romantic images in film history.

A remake of Jean Luc Godard's Breathless followed in 1983, as did a co-starring role with Michael Caine in Beyond the Limit, but neither film had much impact even though, as critics noted, the latter required Gere to take off his shirt. His physical charms still tended to overshadow his dramatic talent.

Gere was next seen as Dixie Dwyer, a musician in 1920's New York, in Francis Coppola's The Cotton Club. In the view of Roger Ebert, it was "a wonderful movie," but the ambitious story of Irish and Jewish gangsters battling the Italian Mafia for control of the rackets, was overshadowed by the behind-the-scenes battles between Coppola and producer Robert Evans. By the time The Cotton Club reached theaters in December 1984, no amount of critical praise could overcome the bad press the film had received while still in production.

But The Cotton Club was a classic of its kind, mixing music, romance, and violence in a story that also put the spotlight on the black entertainers whose stage was the Harlem nightclub of the title. Superbly cast with everyone from Bob Hoskins and Fred Gwynne in juicy supporting roles, and Gregory Hines and his brother Maurice almost stealing the show with some brilliant tap dancing, The Cotton Club gave Gere another opportunity to show that he was more than a pretty face, though critics did seem to find a way to make note of his physical attributes.

Gere was "especially good," wrote Roger Ebert, "maybe because the camera has a way of seeing him off-balance, so that he doesn't dominate the center of each shot like a handsome icon. Coppola stirs him into the action." 

"There is nothing real about film," Gere said. "Nothing. Even the light particles that project the film can't be proven to exist. Nothing is there."

There certainly wasn't much "there" in the 1985 Biblical epic King David. Gere once admitted to The Today Show's Gene Shalit that Hercules star Steve Reeves was one of his favorite actors as a child, and though King David may not have been his homage to the muscleman hero of those made in Italy epics, it might as well have been. The film earned Gere a Razzie nomination as worst actor.

His two films in 1986 - Power and No Mercy - were more substantial, but they, too, were lightweight compared to Gere's off-screen activities that year. He embarked on a fact finding mission in war torn Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador, visiting refugee camps in the company of a doctor. He also began to study with the Dalai Lama.

"It completely changed my life the first time I was in the presence of His Holiness," he said. "No question about it."  

Gere's film roles were so infrequent at this time that many observers thought he was prepared to turn his back on acting all together. But he assured his fans that "I haven't given up self-aspiration. I still love making movies."

The films he turned down in this period included Wall Street which won an Oscar for Michael Douglas, and Die Hard which transformed Bruce Willis from TV star to big-screen action hero.

When he returned to the multiplex in 1990, it was in two very different roles.

In Mike Figgis' Internal Affairs, Gere was a rogue cop being investigated by Internal Affairs officer Andy Garcia. In Pretty Woman, he was a wealthy businessman in a modern day twist on Pygmalion.

In The Washington Post, Desson Howe wrote that Pretty Woman had an "unconsciously corrupt, anything-but-uplifting message about success," while Roger Ebert expressed surprise that a movie starring "Hollywood's most successful male sex symbol" was such an "innocent movie...the sweetest and most openhearted love fable since The Princess Bride."

Audiences sided with Ebert, and Pretty Woman was a colossal hit, Gere's biggest commercial success to date, and the People's Choice Award winner for best movie. Although Julia Roberts would win both an Oscar nomination and superstardom in the title role, Gere "plays new notes here," Ebert said. "His swagger is gone, and he's more tentative, proper, even shy." Gere, who composed and performed the piano solo in the film, would receive his second Golden Globe nomination for his performance. 

The following year he would be named one of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People, and marry another beautiful person, supermodel Cindy Crawford. Together they would be named People's sexiest couple for 1993. The year 1991 also saw the birth of The Gere Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to international humanitarian issues with emphasis on Tibet.

The ‘90s would be one of his most productive periods with Gere alternating between forgettable duds like 1995's First Knight in which he played Lancelot opposite Sean Connery's King Arthur, with Julia Ormond as Guinevere, to successes like the next year's Primal Fear which introduced Edward Norton to film audiences. His commitment to the fight against AIDS meant he was the first major star to sign on for a role in HBO's production of And the Band Played On, and his involvement helped attract such other notables as Steve Martin and Alan Alda to the ambitious adaptation of Randy Shilts' best-seller about the beginnings of the AIDS crisis. 

1997's The Jackel cast him as an imprisoned IRA terrorist sprung by FBI agent Sidney Poitier to assist in the hunt for an assassin played by Bruce Willis. A remake of 1973's Day of the Jackel, its high-powered cast may have made it more commercial than the original, but it was not an improvement. Roger Ebert thought the "glum, curiously flat thriller" was impressive only for its "absurdity. There was scarcely a second I could take seriously."

Much better was 1999's Runaway Bride which reunited him with his Pretty Woman co-star Julia Roberts and director Garry Marshall for a romantic comedy that the San Francisco Chronicle said "works so well because the two (stars) obviously relish what they're doing together." The year he turned 50 was also the year that People named him the Sexiest Man Alive.

In 2002, he would marry actress Carey Lowell, a former "Bond girl" (in 1989's Licence to Kill) and join Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones in the cast of Chicago. Gere credits his agent with convincing him to do the film.

 "I was a little resistant because I wasn't that taken with the stage production," he said.

As Billy Flynn, the prohibition era lawyer who boasts that Jesus Christ would have escaped crucifixion if only he had been around to defend him, Gere won a Golden Globe as best actor in a musical. It was, therefore, something of a surprise when his peers in the Academy didn't recognize him with an Oscar nomination.

On the night that Chicago was named best picture, the United States was invading Iraq. Gere, not one to keep quiet about his beliefs, was one of President George W. Bush's most outspoken critics.

"Why is it that when we have 10 million people in this country who say ‘No,' we still have a president who says ‘Yes.' In a democracy, something's wrong here."

Such comments may not endear him to the White House, but they've had no discernable impact on his career. He earned raves as literary con man Clifford Irving in The Hoax, and is one of many actors (and actresses) who will be seen as music legend Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes' "impressionistic" film bio, I'm Not There. "It was really fun to shoot," he said.

"At the end of your career," he said, "you've got to find, what was it that really leapt out?"

Richard Gere's career is a long way from its end, but what leaps out now is his talent, versatility, and his wiliness to risk success and popular acclaim for his beliefs. He refuses to be a mere "personality," and as a result, is one of the most unique public figures of our time.

And, yes, one of the sexiest.

--by Brian W. Fairbanks

Visit the Richard Gere Website.

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