When Steve Guttenberg was 16, he went to see an agent about starting his acting career.
That agent told him: “You are the last guy I would pick to be a movie star.”
Guttenberg decided to become an actor anyway.
The summer before he was supposed to start the University of Albany, he moved from Long Island to Los Angeles to try his luck. Once there, he tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz, he snuck onto the Paramount Studios lot, set up his own office, and started making phone calls to agents and producers.
Soon, he began landing auditions, which led to breakthrough roles in films such as The Boys from Brazil, Diner and Police Academy.
Guttenberg’s unorthodox acting career is chronicled in his new memoir, The Guttenberg Bible.
On starting his career by sneaking into studios
“I started staking out Paramount Studios and 20th [Century Fox] and Universal. And in those days, there was no computer, there were no cell phones. There was just a guard with a telephone. So I just started walking by the time-punch machine and I punched a blank card, like everyone else was punching their cards and I started sneaking onto the lot and I found myself an office in the old Lucille Ball makeup building. I went to the prop department and said ‘I need tables, chairs, a desk, for Happy Days.’ He asked me a couple of questions and I said ‘Look, Garry Marshall needs them right now. If you want to call Garry Marshal’s office, great.’ And he said, ‘You know, I don’t want to call Garry Marshall’s office. I just want to give you this furniture.’ So I brought it up to my office and I had my phone and I started making my own phone calls.”
On working with major actors for the first time in The Boys From Brazil
“I remembered a dinner I had with [Laurence] Olivier, Greg Peck, [James] Mason and Frank Schaffner, the director. They were all talking about the script and I had one thing to say — ‘Excuse me, Mr. Schaffner, but there’s this one part here where Larry [Olivier] has this sort of monologue and I don’t think the point really will come across.’ … And Schaffner looked at me and said, ‘Young man, the greatest living actor in the world — excuse me boys — is saying those words. The point will come across.’ And I just shut my yap for the entire dinner. And you know, I always find the more successful the actor, the nicer they are, the sweeter they are, the more understanding they are. These three guys — these monsters — were just fantastic to me.”
On the success of the Police Academy series
“The film was this huge success. [But] I remember sitting with my manager watching the screening. He turned to me and said, ‘This is the biggest piece of junk I’ve ever seen.’ And then Police Academy came out and I remember the producer called me that next morning and said, ‘I’m a millionaire, I’m a millionaire!’ I didn’t know what a box office was, I didn’t know what grosses were, but I sure did learn pretty quickly that that’s a very, very important part of Hollywood — making money and making money for a lot of other people. I was very lucky to be in that movie and others that have made money and bought a lot of beach houses for a lot of producers.”