April 06, 2017

Disappearing acts

At the beginning of Singing in the Rain, Debbie Reynolds gets "discovered" by Gene Kelly. By the end of the movie, we're assured they're going to be a star-biz romance thing on and off the screen. The perfect Hollywood happily-ever-after story.

In Japan, the opposite thing happens on a fairly regular basis.

I'm not talking about the A Star is Born paradigm, where half of the couple crashes and burns as the other rises to fame and fortune. Rather, I'm referring to Japanese actresses (usually but not always actresses) who retire at the height of their box office appeal.

The latest entry in this category is Maki Horikita. She's cute as a button and has built an impressive resume, with two-dozen television series under her belt and that many film credits.

She did an excellent job in Ume-chan Sensei and the Always: Sunset on Third Street trilogy. Her most recent starring role was as a psychic detective in Whispers from a Crime Scene (2016). And at all of 28, married and with her first child, she's bowing out. Not simply taking a breather but formally retiring (for now, at least).

"I have become a mother and am now living a happy life with my loving family," the 28-year-old said in a message on her website. "I will do my utmost to preserve this warm and irreplaceable happiness."

This is not a new trend.

In 1967, Mie Hama appeared aside Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice. She had been in almost 70 movies before getting her big international break. At five-foot five, she was taller than many of her co-stars, but was a good match for the six-foot two Connery.

But that was her last big box office role (and not because of the leading man; she says that, off screen, Connery was the consummate gentleman). As the New York Times recently recounted,

A few years later, she walked out of her contract with the Japanese studio Toho to marry and raise a family, telling dumbfounded executives that she wanted "a normal life." She remained a celebrity in Japan but completely revamped her public image, becoming a television and radio host, an advocate for preserving old farms and farming techniques, a connoisseur of folk art and the author of 14 books--on child-rearing, manners and self-discovery--that have proven enormously popular among women.

Like Mie Hama, in a few years or ten, I expect that Maki Horikita will remake her career in a similarly lower key and productive manner. Which strikes me as a completely rational thing to do, though a great many simply can't cognitively process the concept.

Now, quitting show biz to climb up the social ladder--like Grace Kelly and Ronald Reagan--is seen as a smart career move, a Hollywood happily-ever-after with a second act. But abandoning the public eye has come to be portrayed as borderline crazy.

Greta Garbo is better remembered for telling the world, "I want to be alone," than for any of the movies she made prior to retiring at the age of 35, after acting in twenty-eight films.

(The famous quote attributed to her is actually a line from Grand Hotel, but she had earlier stated in a Photoplay interview, "I have wanted to be alone. I detest crowds, don't like many people.")

The latest case in point concerns fitness guru Richard Simmons, who apparently decided he was tired of being famous (and fit). This decision is seen as so perverse that it took three hours of reportage to conclude that, naw, he just wants to be left alone. As Ann Althouse concludes,

I think Richard Simmons put immense energy and emotion into playing the character he inhabited in public. He decided the show was over for whatever personal reasons he had, and he's gone private. That's his point: He's private now, and his reasons are private. Accept it!

The prize for "accepting it" certainly goes to Victor Mature (1913-1999).

(Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.)
Mature was a top Hollywood talent for two decades, only taking time off during WWII to do a stint in the Coast Guard (after being turned down by the Navy). But then he abruptly retired in 1961, declaring, "I'm not an actor and I've got sixty-four films to prove it!"

He appeared in a handful of movies during the four decades that followed, often in roles that parodied his own reputation, such as playing "The Big Victor" in a compilation movie about the Monkees.

I was never that crazy about acting. I had a compulsion to earn money, not to act. So I worked as an actor until I could afford to retire. I wanted to quit while I could still enjoy life. I like to loaf. Everyone told me I would go crazy or die if I quit working. Yeah? Well what a lovely way to die.

Ah, finally a Hollywood star whose example I can one day hope to emulate.

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