By Michael A. Lipton
May 29, 1995 12:00 PM

ASK HIM HOW THINGS ARE GOING these days, and onetime teen idol Joey—now Joe—McIntyre stops lacing up his Air Jordans, grins good-naturedly and displays a newspaper cartoon he has clipped. It shows a destitute man on a street corner holding a sign reading, “Will work for Fad.” “Poor guy,” one passerby in the cartoon says to another. “He used to be an agent for the New Kids on the Block.”

From 1984 to 1994, of course, McIntyre happened to be one of those Kids. But the cartoon doesn’t draw blood. “I don’t mind being the brunt of a joke,” he says, “so long as it’s a good one.” The Kids—purveyors of the most commercial kind of rock and blue-eyed soul—were never critics’ darlings. But a year after disbanding their phenomenally successful act, they are laughing all the way to the brokerage house—and all but one are keeping up their show business connections. Donnie Wahlberg and Danny Wood, both 25, have gone on to produce rap records, while Jordan Knight, 24, is about to record his first solo album. (His brother Jonathan, 25, no longer performs.) Meanwhile, McIntyre, 22—whose blazing blue eyes and boyish dreamboat looks melted hearts while helping to sell over $1 billion worth of records, T-shirts, sleeping bags and lunch boxes—is likely to turn up on movie posters this fall. That’s when he makes his big-screen debut, opposite Joel Grey, in The Fantasticks, a musical based on the Energizer Bunny of American theatrical productions, still going and going 14,500 performances after its Off-Broadway premiere on May 3, 1960.

McIntyre, who gets to croon its signature song, “Try to Remember,” won’t soon forget the day last November when he learned he’d won the role of Matt, one of the musical’s two misguided young lovers. “I basically screamed and ran around for a while,” he recalls in his trailer outside The Fantasticks’ L.A. set. “I’m grateful. But I’m not here because I’m Joey from the New Kids.”

Fantasticks director Michael Ritchie (Cool Runnings) agrees. “For Joe the music is easy,” he says. “But it turns out he’s a singer who can act. In the subtle, dramatic moments, he’s great.”

McIntyre is no tyro. The youngest of nine children of Tom McIntyre, 63, a Boston bricklayers’ union official, and his wife, Katherine, 63, a homemaker and seasoned community-theater actress, Joey was performing at age 6 in local productions of Oliver! and The Music Man. But it was charisma more than talent that mattered to Maurice Starr, founder of the New Kids, when a Boston agent brought Joey, then 12, to his attention. “The role I wanted for him,” says Starr, 41, now a producer of gospel music, “was the same one Michael Jackson played in the Jackson 5: the young, cute, talented guy who could deliver.”

McIntyre did, but the group didn’t click until 1988 with the success of their hit single “Please Don’t Go Girl.” The girls, in fact, went wild (thanks to major airplay by radio deejays), and by 1990 the Kids’ second album, Hangin’ Tough, had sold 8 million copies, and the Kids were off on the the second of their four world tours. “Those were fun years,” says Katherine McIntyre. “I remember seeing Joe in a limo and him saying, ‘Hey, Mom! Livin’ large!’ ”

But by May 1994 the act had “burned up and ground to a halt,” says McIntyre. “Our single [“Never Let You Go”] had stiffed. We were basically out there just for our die-hard fans.” On tour in St. Louis, the Kids, who had wrested control of their act from Starr in April 1992, huddled in the back of their bus one day. “And we said, ‘Do we really want to keep doing this?’ ” recalls McIntyre. “Or have we done enough?” A month later the Kids called it quits.

Nowadays McIntyre hangs with an older crowd: his brother Tommy, 26, and sisters Alice, 49, and Judy, 40, share his six-bedroom house in Boston, just three minutes from their parents’ home. He even has a local girlfriend, Boston-based model Nina Cammarota, 22. And how is their year-and-a-half-old romance progressing? “Let’s just say everything’s cool,” he says.

He’s a lot more talkative about the Hollywood scene. On a recent lunch break from The Fantasticks, McIntyre dropped by the Hollywood Canteen and saw director Ron Howard lunching with his Apollo 13 star Tom Hanks. “I was like, ‘Whoa!’ ” says McIntyre. “I love meeting famous people. I’m even happy just looking at them.”

And why not? Hollywood’s his new block, and he’s the new kid.

MICHAEL A. LIPTON

TODD GOLD in Los Angeles

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