WHEN ELLIOTT GOULD SAT DOWN FOR LUNCH WITH ALFRED HITCHCOCK shortly before the great director’s death, he told him that “the American is that which has evolved from everyone else as in the infant through the rest of the world.” The Master of Suspense responded: “I accept.” Not everyone would be able to decipher Gould’s cryptic doctrine on what defines an American, but Hitchcock seemed to have no problem. Or maybe he was pretending.
Speaking to Elliott Gould is akin to taking an esoteric swim down a slipstream of consciousness. Amidst extended reminiscences on his film career and musings on the importance of family, the gabby star will drop bizarre maxims like, “The infant is the genius of the species” and “Being is abstract, being is living.” When asked about his role as Jack Geller (father to Ross and Monica) on Friends, he ventures off on a seemingly unrelated tangent about ecology. Despite the sometimes-alienating nature of his thoughts, Gould’s rambling, free-associative reflections are sprinkled with true insight into his own career and the world around him. Most of the time, Gould appears hyper-aware of his surroundings and he is able to find real pleasure in the minutiae of life. He tells me about the crows perched outside his apartment and how much they amuse him, or about an Albert Einstein quote that strikes him as beautiful and true. Speaking to him from a friend’s apartment in Montreal, I ask about a recent trip that Gould took to the city to film an adaptation of the Mordecai Richler novel “St. Urbain’s Horsemen.” And it wasn’t the city’s French-speaking population or its famous architecture that struck him — it was their fruit. “I had some amazing Spartan apples in Montreal,” Gould enthuses. “There’s nothing like a really good apple. A good apple can be miraculous.”
Elliott Gould is 69 years old and the owner of the strangest of Hollywood careers. The Brooklyn boy began tap dancing at an early age at Manhattan’s Professional Children’s School and found himself on Broadway before the age of 20. At age 31, he was the fifth-biggest box office draw of 1970, sandwiched between John Wayne and a post-Graduate Dustin Hoffman. On Sept. 9 of that year, Gould joined heads of state, scientists, and revolutionaries as a Time Magazine cover boy. A cartooned pop-art version of himself was accompanied by a banner that read “Star for an Uptight Age.” At the time of the cover story, Gould had only acted in six movies, including an Oscar-nominated turn in the free-love romp, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice and his breakout role as Capt. “Trapper John” McIntyre in the Korean War satire, M*A*S*H – his first of several collaborations with legendary director Robert Altman. “I thought the (Time) story was a little embarrassing… I wasn’t ready for it,” says Gould, who was reluctant to embrace his sudden superstar status. “I didn’t have a clue. I was at a significant place that I’m just now starting to understand.”
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