Steve Guttenberg is well aware that it helps to know important people. And if you don't know them, pretend that you do. Convincing a Paramount guard that he was studio chairman Michael Eisner's son gained him entry onto the lot in 1976 when he arrived in Hollywood from Massapequa. Soon after, he landed an agent, a role opposite Colonel Sanders in a KFC commercial, some small film roles and eventually his breakout role as a football-obsessed bridegroom in the 1982 buddy flick "Diner."
The actor, 53, relives those moments in his new memoir, "The Guttenberg Bible." He'll sign copies Wednesday night at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, following a 30th-anniversary screening of "Diner" and a Q & A. Guttenberg shared some stories about his career during a recent phone conversation.
How did you come up with the idea of pretending to be Michael Eisner's son?
Necessity is the mother of invention. I needed to do it to make sure I was able to achieve what I wanted to achieve. And I was lucky that a lot of those shenanigans worked. . . . I didn't know exactly how I was going to get there, but I really wanted to be a film actor and just jump in the water. And if I kept jumping, I'd be able to somewhow get to the middle of the lake.
One agent said you had no talent, didn't look like an actor and your name was ridiculous. Yet you never got discouraged.
I found myself in a place where you have to stand up for what you believe in, even if you're in the complete minority. And this is a good example of it. I'm the only one who thought I'd make something of myself in the film industry.
It's been 30 years since you made "Diner." Why has the movie held up so well?
It was built well. It was conceived by a brilliant screenwriter, it was directed by the same person who had a vision of what that time capsule would look like, and he was able to take that vision and make it work for him.
It had a really hard time getting released, didn't it?
It sure did. It wasn't going to be released by MGM and they finally decided because of Pauline Kael, who reviewed it and loved it.
What do you miss the most about living on Long Island?
I've lived in New York City for five years, so I'm out on Long Island all the time visiting my parents, my sister, my friends. Growing up, I hung out at Tobay Beach, Tackapausha Park, Sunrise Mall. All the South Shore stuff.
You worked with so many great people. Who made the biggest impression on you?
I was on one of my first jobs, which was "Rollercoaster." I was going to get fired and Richard Widmark saved me. I kept blowing my lines minute after minute after minute and it was just not working. He spoke to the director and he said, "If you fire him, I'm going to take a walk, because you're going to scar him for life. You gotta give him a break." He was just fantastic.