This week's question: What was your most embarrassing early celebrity crush? (We've filled it out with some YouTube tributes we found. Seriously, we did not make these.)
Right after Heathers came out, I spent a couple of years smitten with Winona Ryder. Unlike Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, or any of the other starlets intended to appeal to my generation, Ryder seemed like the kind of girl I actually hung out with at my high school: smart, funny, a little shy except around her friends, and a fan of J.D. Salinger and The Replacements. Unfortunately, Ryder was more a personality type than an actress, and as she continued to drain the life out of otherwise-good movies, I found it tougher to justify my attraction. (She finally lost me for good with Reality Bites, though she almost won me back later that same year with Little Women, arguably her last noteworthy performance.) Later, I heard from a friend out in Hollywood that Ryder in person was every bit as unstable as she'd been portrayed following her shoplifting scandal. So alas, poor Winona… I guess I didn't know you that well. I quickly returned to my first love: DynaGirl, erstwhile sidekick of Electra Woman.
I hope celebrity crushes don't reveal too much about one's "type," as it were. Too frequently, one spends one's hormonal years in thrall to an image that resembles one's eventual spouse not at all. A less secure woman would look at her husband's Winona Ryder obsession, tally up the ways she does not resemble Winona (let's start with "not waifish"), and start to wonder whether she really is the woman of her husband's dreams. The same could be said for my undying love for Lee Majors, a strong, silent type who first stole my heart in The Six Million Dollar Man. At one point, I faked a month-long illness that did not affect school attendance, but struck without fail on Sunday afternoon so that I could skip evening church services and watch Steve Austin. When I discovered that a local TV station showed The Big Valley on weekday mornings, I spent some daily alone time with Lee by banishing the kids I was babysitting that summer to their rooms. And I was everlastingly, marvelously warped when the première episode of ABC's short-lived Saturday Night Live featured both Majors and the Bay City Rollers; somehow my predilection for all things pop got blended with my crush, and I've never fully recovered. If anybody out there has a copy of the Scholastic Book Club paperback biography of Lee Majors that I toted around in my Oakland Raiders satchel in fifth grade, could you send it my way?
I'd like to pretend that my crushes on celebrities were limited to a very specific, hormonally charged time, but the truth is, my mind still idles over the unattainable touch of an ever-shifting coterie of famous women whom I know logically are totally fake. Sadly, it's done so probably since I was 5, when my dream was to grow up and marry Teri Garr. So in answering this question, I actually had difficulty coming up with one definitive cringe-worthy crush; as Nathan suggests below, they're all humiliating to some degree. I suppose I could play it safe and mention the Drew Barrymore Playboy pictorial that ushered me into manhood (nightly!), or go for a sentimental favorite like The Wonder Years' "Winnie Cooper" (that bitch!), or even aim for credibility by mentioning that I totally had the hots for Janeane Garofalo (and still kinda do). But truth be told, if you want to talk painfully, can't-believe-I'm-telling-you-this embarrassing, there's only one name that causes me to go all red in the face: Karen Duffy, former MTV VJ, Revlon spokes-model, occasional shitty actress, and owner of the key to my heart for most of my teen years. Why Karen Duffy? Who the fuck knows? I suppose that besides being blessed with the sort of femme fatale eyebrows and killer gams that make a man break into Raymond Chandler-speak, I always thought that "Duff" had a sly, self-effacing way about her, the hint of a sharp mind somewhere behind those big brown eyes. (Or, you know, that's what I told myself while surreptitiously renting Blank Check.) My obsession ran so deep that as late as my freshman year of college, I frequently waded into the wee hours of the HBO softcore wasteland to catch Memory Run, a painfully bad sci-fi flick with Duffy playing a man trapped in a woman's body—and with her only topless sex scene. (Yes, I know it's a body double. Shut up shut up shut up.) And as if all that weren't humiliating enough, there are probably still some dubs of my high-school band's demo tape floating around out there, tagged with a "hidden track" containing my sorta-ironic, sorta-totally-serious musical ode to the "Charlie Girl." If anyone has a copy… please burn that shit right now.
What's more embarrassing: Writing a fan letter to Candace Cameron, or writing a fan letter to Candace Cameron because you think it could lead to possibly dating her and eventually becoming friends with Kirk Cameron? Discuss.
At the tender age of 13, I rarely missed a chance to watch the video for "All Cried Out" by Lisa Lisa And The Cult Jam (With Full Force) because I thought lead singer Lisa Lisa (née Lisa Velez) was just beyond lovely. The song was terrible ("my body never knew such pleasure / my heart never knew such pai-ai-ain") but the singer, oh my. Looking at it now—which is hard—I see a woman oppressed by makeup, hairspray, and ruffles in a way common to the latter half of the '80s. There's probably an attractive woman under all that, but I'm not sure what I saw at the time. Maybe it was the cleavage-enhancing dress. Okay, it was almost certainly the cleavage-enhancing dress.
Though I vaguely remember a brief pre-kindergarten fascination with Danny Wood—a.k.a. Rattail McMonkeyface from the New Kids On The Block—I don't think any infatuation that preceded me being able to read rates as a "crush." It was more like a mandatory statement of NKOTB allegiance that allowed me to compare giant souvenir buttons and swap trading cards with my Children's World peers. My first real (i.e. pubescent) celebrity crush is embarrassingly predictable, if you consider that I was a suburban 13-year-old girl around the time both Romeo + Juliet and Titanic came out. Yes, I blame Leonardo DiCaprio for my predilection for skinny boys with floppy hair that continues to this day. I covered all the squealy teen-girl bases: glossy cut-out pictures in my locker, a heart-framed "LD" written on my backpack in White-Out, and a framed "autographed" photo that my mom forged as a Christmas present. Though high school weaned me off that sort of behavior pretty quickly, I continued to harbor a thing for Leo for a couple more years, going as far as seeing The Man In The Iron Mask in the theater. Thankfully, before The Beach came out, I discovered that real boys—even the pimply-faced twerps I went to high school with—were much more fun…
As a young man who discovered girls and pop culture in the '80s, it perhaps goes without saying that I had a huge thing for Alyssa Milano. Why else would anyone watch a dreadful sitcom like Who's The Boss? (not that I knew any better, but still). And it goes without saying that I kind of rejoiced later when her career devolved into B-movies that featured her naked or mostly naked. In my pre-adolescence, I had an entire wall covered with Alyssa Milano pics culled from teen-hysteria rags like Bop. Even worse: I had a phony "Missed Call" message—written by me on a "while you were out" pad from my mom's office—from Alyssa tacked on the wall saying something like, "Love you! Call you later!" It's mortifying, really. But when I caught the tail end of My Name Is Earl a couple of weeks back and saw Alyssa Milano, I was still psyched.
For me, the embarrassing thing is really that I don't do the celeb-crush thing. I never had posters of actors or bands up on my walls, I've never gone to see a film solely (or even largely) because of a cast member, or gone to a concert to see some dreamboat live. I'm pretty indifferent to the charms of most of the people who make the entertainment media all drooly. That said, now that I think about it, I did watch The Dukes Of Hazzard far more than its repetitive plots or cornpone humor necessarily warranted, and part of that might have been the winning smile, tousled golden hair, and frequent unwarranted shirtlessness of John Schneider. (In later seasons, that unwarranted shirtlessness was cut right into the opening credits, as if to say "Yes, this is the main reason I'm on this show. C'mon, you know none of you want to see Tom Wopat half-naked, right?")
Aren't all early celebrity crushes inherently embarrassing? Granted, there was nothing particularly cringe-inducing about my formative crushes on Jennifer Connelly and Susan Sarandon, but my boyhood infatuations tended to run closer to the sleazy, sordid sexuality of Page 6 girl turned pop tart Samantha Fox. Oh, how I longed to hang her cheesecake poster on my wall! But for me, early embarrassing celeb crushes centered primarily on the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, the gold standard of prepubescent spank mags. The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is such a staple of American culture that I considered it my patriotic duty to consume it as soon as it hit newsstands. As a boy, I used to look forward to the arrival of the swimsuit issue the way gentiles look forward to Christmas. Everyone had their favorite supermodel, their fantasy girlfriend: The models featured were like the Justice League of high-end spank material. There was the exotic Paulina Porizkova, and Stephanie Seymour, with her phosphorescent eyes, burning intensity and Axl-beguiling wildness, not to mention the uninhibited sexuality and all-around hotness of Elle "The Body" Macpherson. But my personal favorite was Kathy Ireland, a girl-next-door type with big eyes and an even bigger rack. There was a beguiling innocence about her. She somehow managed to convey an incongruous wholesomeness even while posing in tiny bikinis. Wait, did I mention the boobs? 'Cause man, she had quite the pair. Today, Ireland serves as CEO of a brand product marketing company, Kathy Ireland Worldwide, and she wrote Powerful Inspirations: Eight Lessons That Will Change Your Life, a Christian inspirational book. But for me, her enduring legacy will be helping generations of hormonally overdriven young men make it through the maelstrom of adolescence with their sanity relatively intact.