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Crank Call (9/11/1996) 

For those of you who may have been sleeping for the last several months, or who just got back from an extended trip to the Himalayas, I feel obliged to bring you up to date. The summer of 1996 will be remembered for two things: It was the summer that NASA scientists discovered life on Mars, and it was the summer that Demi Moore disappeared from view. It’s my belief that these events are connected, and that a gigantic conspiracy has been revealed.

Consider the facts. As recently as last June, you couldn’t flip on the television, enter a bookstore, walk through the supermarket or hang out your laundry without seeing Demi. Her rock-jawed countenance stared out from a thousand magazine covers. Her hair shimmered and her breasts spun around in endless trailers for her latest film, Striptease. She bit her lip and squirted tears on innumerable talk shows, delivering what were taken to be meaningful pronouncements on everything from marriage and motherhood to interior decorating and her dysfunctional childhood, never missing a beat in her packaged litany of “what’s really important” to “a working mom” like herself. We heard stories about Demi and her husband, Demi and her kids, Demi and her trainers, Demi and her “dreams.” We were swimming in a veritable Sea of Demi, and now — poof! — she’s gone, just like that, vanished from the planet as if she never existed.

Check it out for yourself if you don’t believe me. I spent an hour at the magazine rack the other day looking for signs of Moorean life, flipping through People, Cosmo, Vogue and InStyle, scanning the tabloids, perusing Premiere. On a hunch, I tried the New Yorker, since it was that magazine's celebrated “editrix,” Tina Brown, who first gave Demi the stamp of cultural legitimacy by slapping her naked and pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair, and single-handedly concocting the legend that Demi Moore is beautiful, talented and interesting.

But no: Even Ms. Brown has abandoned Demi, training her famous nose for trends onto more important matters — Chechnya, for example, and the innermost thoughts of Courtney Love. Exhausted, I fell to the floor of Chassman & Bem, lost in a tide of shiny paper and Calvin Klein advertisements and wondering how it was possible for a star of Demi’s magnitude to dim so quickly. Had I dreamed the whole thing? Was there a Demi Moore?

It wouldn’t matter, I suppose, if Demi weren’t the highest paid actress in Hollywood, according to industry sources, and if her “combined films” hadn’t grossed close to a billion dollars worldwide since 1991. A billion is a lot of clams, as anyone in Hollywood can tell you, and I found it hard to believe that the movie moguls would turn their backs so blithely on a goose who has laid them so many golden eggs.

The fact that Demi's last three films have all been colossal flops is neither here nor there. No celebrity in America depends on personal achievement for their fame – if you can sell the Buttafuocos, you can sell Demi Moore. Something larger than a turkey lies at the back of Demi’s disappearance. The order must have come from above I mean, way above.

It was my dear friend Cherie Tartt, the Burlington drag queen, who explained it all for me, as I writhed and gasped among the crumpled pages of Details and Allure. Alone among celebrities in Vermont, Miss Tartt brings a colorful insight into the joys and pitfalls of being a woman, and when she says, “Women don’t like Demi Moore,” you can believe that she means it. Gently, very gently, she steered my attention to the “Fall Preview” issue of Us magazine. (As a rule, we don’t read Us, but the popular culture has much to teach, as Miss Tartt says, and sometimes, darn it, you just need to know what Jennifer Aniston is thinking.)

Buried on page 43 of this ne plus ultra, this sine qua non of celebrity dreck was a tiny article about Demi that posed the question, “Is She Box-Office Poison?” and actually took Miss Tartt's judgement one step further by insisting that women hate Demi Moore. They hate her looks, they hate her movies, they hate her Republican husband, Bruce Willis, they hate the fact that she has three or four houses and worked-over boobs, and a staff of nannies to look after her children (whom they also hate, if only on account of their ridiculous names: Rumer, Scout and Tallulah Belle). It was men who created Demi, I suddenly realized, men who loved her, men who called her “a babe.” With a sinking feeling, not daring to believe what my intelligence told me, I looked anxiously at Miss Tartt.

“Men are from Mars,” she purred seductively. “Women are from Venus.” And with that, the truth was revealed. I had found the key to Demi.

Oh, sure, I still had some facts to check in order to prove my theory that Demi Moore is (or was) an alien, part of a vast galactic plot to eliminate taste, talent, style and any trace of authentic personality from American culture. You’ll be interested to know that a cursory search of the internet turned up more than 300,000 “hits” on Demi, and if that’s not fluoride in the water, I don’t know what is. My guess is that the Martians are keeping an eye on their public relations, now that we know they're there, and that they've whisked Demi back into space to avoid offending a whole half of the human race just when victory is in their grasp. Sound far-fetched? For those in doubt, I offer two irrefutable facts, both confirmed after high-level talks with Demi's publicists:

  1. Demi Moore was born in Roswell, New Mexico, the site of the most famous alien landing in American history.
  2. Her real name is “Demetria,” and she is not, as you might imagine, Greek. According to McCall’s, she was named “after a beauty product her mother had seen in a magazine.” That clinches it, in my opinion. Where else would a Martian look for a clue to the American brain?
This is the first in what has been conceived as a regular column on contemporary culture, a curmudgeon's comer, if you like, committed to attacking everything and everyone in the line of vision. Peter Kurth is a biographer whose heroine-subjects include Anastasia, Dorothy Thompson, Zelda Fitzgerald and Isadora Duncan. He lives in Burlington.

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