Like many fans my age, my fascination with Elliot Gould began because of his film and TV roles throughout the 1990s. Gould took various cameo appearances and guest roles as father figures—including notable gigs on American History X and Friends—but the role that anchored him in my mind was his cameo in Noah Baumbach’s 1995 phallocentric ode to the post-college identity crisis, Kicking and Screaming (not to be confused with the Will Ferrell travesty of the same name).
In the film, the central character, Grover (Josh Hamilton), is mired in an uncertainty only afforded to the hyper-educated graduates of liberal arts colleges, like Baumbach’s thinly veiled version of Vassar. He has no idea what to do with his creative writing degree, and his girlfriend, the illustrious Olivia D’Abo of The Wonder Years fame, leaves him for an MFA program in Prague. His main ally is Max Belmont, the aimless and bitter son of a rich family, played with surgical perfection by vastly underrated Chris Eigeman.
“Eight hours ago I was Max Belmont, English major, college senior, now I’m Max Belmont who does nothing.”
At first, Gould appears as a voice on an archaic answering machine, dryly requesting that his son call back about a Knicks game. Except, it isn’t a question so much as lobotomized statement bearing little consequence. “Call me to discuss.”
Gould’s only onscreen appearance entails walking through the quiet campus with Grover, complaining about the pratfalls entangled with post-divorce sex and the difficulty of staying erect in the time it takes to unwrap a condom.
“Dad, I’m just not ready to accept you as a human being yet,” Grover stammers, clearly traumatized by the subject matter.
While I’m admittedly woefully under-exposed to his iconic ‘70s film work, save for California Split and M.A.S.H., I made it a point to attend the recent retrospective of the Brooklyn-born Gould’s work at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
I arrived late and much to my chagrin, I missed the scheduled Q & A for BAM’s early showing of The Long Goodbye. But as I loitered in the lobby, waiting for the 9:30 screening, the click of cell-phone cameras from a small awkward gathering caught my eye. There he was. I had struck Gould.
He was graciously signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans who were young enough to be his grandchildren—including my friend Chris, who was sporting a ‘70s-style moustache and even referred to the succulent star as “dad.”
Most 68-year-old men don’t wear their crisp white shirts open a few buttons, exposing a thick patch of chest hair. Most can’t pull it off. But Gould looked like a composed elder statesman, and I mean that in the kindest of ways. Maybe Alec Baldwin should take note and let his hair go white. Either way, Gould was looking much better preserved than most, proving that James Brolin and John O’Hurley don’t have the market cornered on silver-fox territory.
I stepped up and introduced myself. Gould smiled and shoved his hand in an unexpected place. He started rooting through my open handbag and asked me what I was reading.
He didn’t comment on the copy of Jon Stewart’s Naked Pictures of Famous People, since it pretty much broadcasts an unapologetic fetish for salt-and-peppered men of the Hebrew persuasion; he instead inquired about the baseball cards he found littering the bottom of my bag. They were a promotion from a game the Mets played against the Padres a few nights prior. He plucked a Pedro Martinez card from my bag and studied it.
“I’m more of a Phillies fan,” I mentioned, which seemed like kind of a risky thing to say to one of Brooklyn’s favorite sons on his own turf. Even riskier given the fact that the Mets completely shit the bed late last season and—at the time this piece was written—hold only a half-game lead after trailing the Phils for most of the season.
“The Phillies are in L.A. right now,” he replied, in the same dry tone he used in Kicking and Screaming. Clearly he’s got some money riding on the N.L. East. Looks like Max Belmont was right: Affectations do become habits.
I asked him to sign my date book, which he did, complete with the date. Well, Mr. Gould, Grover may not have been ready to accept you as a human being, but I sure am—not only because you look damn fine in a white button-down but also because you didn’t steal my wallet.