The Man with No Brains

Remember when Steve Martin was funny? Apparently, neither does he.

Steve Martin plays the father of 12 kids who don't resemble each other.
Steve Martin plays the father of 12 kids who don't resemble each other.
Steve Martin is a humor writer for The New Yorker -- perhaps you've read some of his pieces, among them, "Changes in the Memory After Fifty" (in which he writes, "Men should be wary if the doctor, while examining their prostate, suddenly says, 'I'm sorry, but do I know you?'") and "The Hundred Greatest Books That I've Read" (No. 36. Using Hypnotism to Eliminate the Word "Like" From Your Vocabulary). He is also, of late, a playwright and novelist of some renown. His latest book, The Pleasure of My Company, is currently the 112th best-selling novel among shoppers; it is ranked just below Barry Sanders' autobiography and a children's book titled Walter, the Farting Dog. For a while, in the 1970s through the late 1990s, he was also a comic actor known for making audiences laugh, till he tired of his reputation as "beloved funnyman" and retired from moviemaking altogether to pursue a career as a man of letters, who instead makes people cry, yawn, or ask for their money back.

It can be confusing, but the "Steve Martin" currently receiving top billing in such films as Looney Tunes: Back in Action and the remake of the 1950 movie Cheaper by the Dozen is not the same gentleman who appears in The Jerk, Roxanne, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Bowfinger, and a few other films filed under the "comedy" section at Blockbuster. That Steve Martin was most recently seen in a coastal town in France, sitting at a sidewalk café and tapping on a Smith-Corona missing several vowels and a ribbon. In the front-of-the-book "Whatever Happened to . . . ?" section of the current issue of Us Weekly, there's a grainy picture of him lying on the beach without his famous white wig, and he appears to have gained some 140 pounds.

Last week, in advance of negative reaction to Cheaper by the Dozen, film critics received a press release from the cryptically named "St. Eve MediA RelaTIoNs Agency," which attempted to straighten out the issue of the two "Steve Martins." In part, the release said that "Mr. Steve Martin would like it known that neither he nor anyone acting on his behalf has any knowledge of or interest in the current release Cheaper by the Dozen. Mr. Martin has not appeared in a film in several years, and the gentleman currently using his name and/or likeness is in violation of several court orders prohibiting him from profiting from his similarities to Mr. Martin. This has been going on for years: cf. Grand Canyon, A Simple Twist of Fate, Mixed Nuts, Sgt. Bilko, Father of the Bride Part II, The Out-of-Towners, and Bringing Down the House, all subjects of ongoing litigation in federal court in California." The release is signed "Martin Stevenson."

In 1998, several conspiracy theorists started, a website devoted to the theory that Steve Martin, like smash-up comic Gallagher before him, hired a look-alike to appear in bad movies attached to enormous paychecks. The site notes that in certain films and under certain lights, the shadows are pointing in several different directions. It also mentions that Steve Martin might have been killed, or rendered incontinent, in 1978, when an old prop arrow fell off a trophy shelf and actually went through his head, leading to his appearing in Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Most tellingly, the site contains several inner-office memos from 20th Century Fox executives about Cheaper by the Dozen, which, as it turns out, was originally intended to be a 1987 made-for-television movie starring Robert Hays in the role of Tom Baker, whom the memorandum refers to as "the bland, innocuous father of 12 children, none of whom look alike or act as though they have even met." Shelley Long was scheduled to play the role of Kate Baker, till Fox executives discovered Bonnie Hunt was cheaper, even by the dozen.

But in the spring of 2002, director Shawn Levy (Just Married) was behind the counter at a West Hollywood Fatburger when he served the other "Steve Martin" a burger, fries, and three Diet Cokes. In a memo to producer Robert Simonds, the powerhouse behind such films as Corky Romano and The Adventures of Joe Dirt, Levy insisted, "You could hardly notice the difference, except for the stultifying part." Suddenly, a made-for-TV toss-off became a multimillion-dollar Christmas feature -- and no one in the cast ever knew they were working with a fraud . . . several, actually. Tom Welling, who plays TV's latest Superman, and Hilary Duff, beloved of 13-year-old girls and their fathers for her long-standing stint as Lizzie McGuire, did suspect something when Ashton Kutcher was cast as a dumb actor. Documents reveal that on several occasions, the brainy and resourceful Piper Perabo reassured them they were not, in fact, being Punk'd.