They’re wild for this crazy guy

Times Staff Writer

Steve Martin has come a long way from his days working in the Magic Shop on Main Street, USA at Disneyland or performing as a comedian in the Birdcage Theater at Knott’s Berry Farm. Today, he’s considered by many to be a comedic renaissance man.

A popular film star for a quarter of a century, the 59-year-old Martin is also an acclaimed playwright, novelist and musician. And the wild-and-crazy guy who came to fame as a stand-up comic wearing an arrow through his head has won an Emmy, critics awards for his performances in “Roxanne” and “All of Me” and the Writers Guild Award for “Roxanne.”

On Friday evening, Martin became the 19th recipient of the American Cinematheque Award at a raucous gala dinner at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Previous recipients include Robin Williams, Denzel Washington and Nicole Kidman. The evening is also a benefit for the Cinematheque’s operating costs for its year-round public film and video programs.


Event co-chair Rick Nicita told the crowd that the evening would not only be a tribute but a “retrospective and a roast.” The emphasis was decidedly more roast than retrospective, with the crowd -- as well as Martin -- continually laughing during the two-hour event.

Whereas these tribute evenings can bog down with lengthy clips from the honoree’s films, sequences from Martin’s movies were edited together for brevity and optimum humor.

Besides showing classic moments from his hits “The Jerk,” “All of Me,” “Roxanne,” “Cheaper by the Dozen,” “Parenthood,” “Bringing Down the House” and “The Spanish Prisoner,” the audience got a preview of his films “Shopgirl,” which he adapted from his novella, and the new version of “The Pink Panther,” in which Martin takes on the role made famous by Peter Sellers.

Those in attendance included some of Martin’s costars over the years -- Claire Danes, Dana Delany, Bonnie Hunt, Eugene Levy, Rita Wilson, Martin Short, Robin Williams -- as well as director Carl Reiner. Several took the opportunity to turn the spotlight on Martin.

Williams called Martin the first “rock star comedian” and told one of Martin’s more offbeat jokes: “How many surrealists does it take to screw in a light bulb?” The answer: “A fish.”

Short, who appeared with Martin in “Three Amigos!,” told Martin: “You’re more than a friend, you’re a business associate.”

Kevin Nealon, who made his film debut as drunk No. 2 in “Roxanne,” asked the audience: “Why do so many people love to hate Steve Martin?.... For me, it’s sexual tension.”

In a taped message, his “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” director Frank Oz told Martin that receiving the award is a good thing for him “because you really don’t know how good you are.”


Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, the director and producer of the Martin blockbuster “Parenthood,” presented the award to Martin, who received a thunderous standing ovation from the appreciative crowd. Martin accepted the award with tongue firmly in cheek, telling the audience that he initially debated the honor, then decided it was better to “accept the award than buy a table.... I accept this on behalf of all the millionaire comedians.”

An hourlong version of the evening will be telecast Jan. 23 on cable’s AMC.