Steve Guttenberg on Starting His Career and Lessons He Learned Early in His Career

The 1980s might be long over, but Steve Guttenberg — who starred in a number of successful films in the 1980s — is still working.  He’s also talking, specifically about his memoir, The Guttenberg Bible, and in a chat about the book with NPR he spoke about how he got started acting in movies and some important lessons he learned early on in his career.

Guttenberg claims he started his career by literally sneaking onto the studio backlots.  He explains, “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.”

The sneaking worked, because Guttenberg was soon cast in his first major role in the 1978 film The Boys from Brazil alongside iconic actors Sir Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, and James Mason. It was while working on the film that Guttenberg learned an important lesson about keeping his mouth shut.  He reveals, “I remembered a dinner I had with Olivier, Greg Peck, 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.”

Yet regardless if he worked with three of the greatest actors of all time in one film, Guttenberg might be best remembered for starring in the first four Police Academy movies.  After the massive success of the first film, Guttenberg quickly learned how important hit films would be to his career.  Of the first movies, he says, “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.”

The Guttenberg Bible is now available at Amazon.com and other retailers.

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