John Travolta and Clint Eastwood: Creeper Zone vs Cool

The Twitter world blew up last night with blasts about John Travolta descending into the dreaded creeper zone. In contrast, Clint Eastwood remains the icon of cool. Both aging celebrities remain in the public eye. Eastwood’s enduring coolness provides a stark contrast, however, when measured against Travolta’s efforts to remain relevant. Clint Eastwood,84, is an admired figure based on his continued, well-received directing efforts. On the other hand, John Travolta, 61, is fighting an uphill public relations battle unbuttressed by recent critically acclaimed  work. Without current, cutting edge cinematic material, Travolta will continue to fight a difficult battle for relevance.

Travolta was blasted on a couple fronts last night. Eonline took him to task for his apparent eyeliner, hair, makeup and “choker” necklace. His pre-Oscar antics also provided news fodder as reported in the Daily Beast after he snuck up to plant a kiss on Scarlett Johansson. Travolta also drew the ire of the television audience and Newsday by holding Idina Menzel by the chin and then a bit too long at the waist while presenting.

Travolta’s exuberance was contrasted with camera shots to Eastwood sitting calmly with his new girlfriend, Christina Sandera. Eastwood’s cool gravitas were enhanced by Bradley Cooper stating that he was pleased to be attending the Oscars with Eastwood. Travolta received no such endorsements from other popular figures. Similar to retail advertising, celebrity endorsements carry marketing heft. In the case of film directors, having popular actors provide unprompted plugs goes even further. Cooper appeared to be seeking Eastwood’s approval, most likely because Eastwood’s movies are popular with filmgoers and critics alike. Acting in an Eastwood movie remains a sought-after job, and Cooper, 40, has auditioned several times to work with Eastwood before landing the lead role in American Sniper. Co-starring in a Travolta flick is more akin to a B-list slot for actors looking for any kind of paying gig.

Perhaps the major difference between Travolta and Eastwood is that the American Sniper director began transitioning his career towards behind the camera work years ago. With Bronco Billy in 1980, Eastwood first received critical acclaim for his directing. Although he has continued to act until recently, Eastwood’s directing has become his staple, bread and butter business. Eastwood knows how to tell a good story without extraneous fluff getting in the way.

Both Travolta and Eastwood began their careers as the epitome of cool. Eastwood won his spurs as the tersely-spoken cowhand, Rowdy Yates, on Rawhide (1959-1965) and parlayed his laconic cowboy persona into a series of Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns as the equally laconic mysterious stranger beginning with 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars. Travolta stepped into the limelight as Tony Manero in 1977’s Saturday Night Fever, before getting left behind a few times on Welcome Back, Kotter (1975-1979) in the breakthrough role of  class cut-up Vinnie Barbarino.

Eastwood went from saddle tramp to killer cop as the sparsely dialogued Harry Callahan in 1971’s Dirty Harry, but continued to alternate between his mysterious stranger saddle tramp persona and the take-no-prisoners Callahan, before breaking into production and direction, beginning with Play Misty For Me in 1971.  His production credits date back to 1971’s The Beguiled (uncredited), and he has so far directed 37 films and produced 40, winning a total of four Oscars on seven nominations.  After 67 films, Eastwood has  never won an acting Oscar and has only been nominated for an acting award twice, for his role in 1992’s Unforgiven and again in 2005 for Million Dollar Baby. He didn’t come away empty handed, however, because both of those films won Best Picture Oscar nods for those years.

In contrast, Travolta became stuck in the mud with starring roles in the Look Who’s Talking movies. Even though Eastwood had his clunkers with the Every Which Way But Loose flicks, he was able to continue to adapt and remain relevant. Travolta achieved a career rebirth after being selected by Quentin Tarantino for a major role in Pulp Fiction in 1994 and carried that to further career success. Unfortunately for Travolta, he has not been able to find another Pulp Fiction to jump back to the top of the heap.

Both Hollywood men have had their public relations setbacks. Eastwood gave an odd and rambling speech at the Republican National Convention in 2012, and starring in an ll-advised reality series, Mrs. Eastwood and Company, which halted production when the now-divorced Eastwoods separated. Travolta has endured an ongoing series of tabloid revelations from the male masseuse lawsuits, not to mention the widely-panned sci-fi disaster, Battlefield Earth (2000).

Eastwood’s success as a producer and director shows that the American public has a short memory when it comes to celebrity gaffs. No one remembers the rambling speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention as long as critically acclaimed films continue to follow.

According to current tabloid and Twitter commentary, however, Travolta is not getting that much leeway.  Naysayers have been ridiculing the veteran actor’s attempts at trying to look younger than his 61 years while attempting to project a still youthful enthusiasm. If he had been an Oscar nominee yesterday, his actions might not have been viewed as creeper zone antics. Without another career rebirth or a transition to a role behind the camera, Travolta will most likely continue to be slammed. Eastwood’s age is “just a number” as it relates to coolness. For the younger Travolta, he will continue to be the “old creeper” whipping boy until he finds another critical success to remind the world of his enduring talents.

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