By Marjorie Rosen
January 27, 1992 12:00 PM

SHE DOESN’T MIND THOSE LINES AROUND her eyes? Those bags?” griped cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond when Melanie Griffith, the bombshell with the baby-doll voice, first showed up on the set of The Bonfire of the Vanities in 1990. “Use Preparation H,” producer Fred Caruso retorted. “That’ll shrink ’em.”

Throughout production of Vanities, Griffith, then 33, was subjected to such cruel scrutiny. Finally, during a three-week break, she scheduled a little plastic-surgery boost. But rather than eliminate the purported bags, she bought herself a pair of breast implants. While Griffith won’t comment, journalist Julie Salamon, in The Devil’s Candy, her account of the movie’s production, claims that on Griffith’s return, the star sashayed over to director Brian De Palma and pressed her new acquisitions into his face. Then, with a nervous laugh, she asked, “How do they feel?”

Although most stars don’t flaunt their plastic surgery so openly, the truth is that in Hollywood going under the knife has become almost as routine as switching agents. Hoping to improve the physical tools of their trade, today’s actors are following the glamorous lead of such plastic-surgery pioneers as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Gary Cooper (see box, page 64). But previous generations couldn’t compete with the metamorphoses of Michael Jackson or the instant weight loss achieved, thanks to liposuction, by Joan Rivers, Kenny Rogers and others. So seemingly simple has such cosmetic surgery become that any change in a celebrity’s look inspires a did-she-or-didn’t-he guessing game (Barbara Walters? Michele Lee? Paula Abdul?).

Few stars other than Jackson have been the subject of as much cosmetic-surgery speculation as Cher. Sure, she has admitted, she has had some work done—though not, she insists, as much as many people believe. And not as happily either. Recently the performer complained in public, “I’ve had my breasts done. But my breast operations were a nightmare. They were really botched in every way. If anything, they were worse after than before.”

Sadly, Cher’s plaint has a nationwide echo. Breast augmentation is the most popular plastic-surgery procedure of all, with over 2 million women having received silicone implants since they’ve been on the market, and more than 89,000 in 1990 alone. Now, though, the disenchanted are coming out of the implant closet, disclosing silicone problems that range from hardening of the breast tissue to silicone leakage and autoimmune deficiency diseases like lupus. Accordingly, on Jan. 6, the Food and Drug Administration called for a moratorium on the manufacture of silicone implants (see box, page 63).

Still, for an increasing number of women—and men—cosmetic surgery is an acceptable antidote to the inequity of nature and the cumulative effects of roast beef and gravity. It’s the American Dream 1992: Plain emerges pretty; pretty becomes breathtaking. Beauty and youth know no barriers—but every improvement has a price. In 1990 patients paid an average of $1,200-$8,000 for facelifts, $1,200-$8,500 for tummy tucks, $300-$6,000 for rhinoplasty (nose jobs), $1,000-$5,500 for breast augmentations. As Dr. Norman Cole, president of the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons (ASPRS), points out, cosmetic surgery has become “one of life’s affordable luxuries.” Anyone who has ever splurged on a cruise or a trip to Europe can now save up for self-beautification instead.

But West Hollywood plastic surgeon Dr. Raj Kanodia warns, “There’s only so much you can do with a patient. You can’t take a 3 and make him or her into a 10. We’re just surgeons, not gods.” However, to some industry types, Los Angeles area plastic surgeons—master sculptors such as Dr. Harvey Zarem and Dr. Steven Hoefflin (who will be collaborating on a plastic-surgery book with his patient Joan Rivers)—seem pretty close.

It’s no accident that according to the ASPRS California is the snip-and-tuck capital of America, accounting for 19 percent of all U.S. cosmetic surgery. “Plastic surgery is mandatory for a lot of what makes for successful leading men and ladies,” claims Dr. George Semel, whose Beverly Hills office sees its share of Hollywood traffic. “There are very few who can get by without a little help. You need to be easy to make up, easy to light, easy to photograph. It’s as much a part of the scene as taking acting lessons.” In the experience of makeup artist Victoria Jackson, “This is a town based on how you look, and it’s cruel out there, very cruel. And it’s often sad, because I see so many women who are into ‘What operation can I do now?’ They’re compulsive.”

Whether they are motivated by career imperatives or mere vanity, altered celebrities serve as walking advertisements for the surgeon’s art. Consider the knife styles of some of our most beautiful and famous: Raquel Welch, Melissa Gilbert-Brinkman, Dean Martin, Jessica Hahn, 18-year-old Tina (Family Ties) Yothers, Sonny Bono, Laraine Newman and former First Lady Nancy Reagan are just a few of those who have reportedly had their noses reshaped. (Welch and Reagan deny those reports.) England’s Princess Diana wouldn’t mind joining the club. “I’d like to get my conk [nose] fixed,” she reportedly mused not long ago. Liz Taylor went in for a little chin tuck and augmentation, and Carol Burnett had her jaw reshaped. And while it has been reported that Donna Mills fills out her bosom by stuffing her bra with toilet paper, Jessica Hahn, Mary Tyler Moore. Morgan Fairchild, Mariel Hemingway, Jane Fonda and Brigitte Nielsen are among many who have appeared in the past few years with figures seemingly enhanced, suggesting help from the cosmetic surgeon. (Fonda, Fairchild and Nielsen refuse all comment; Moore emphatically denies having had the procedure.) As for Dolly Parton, when asked if she did or didn’t, the buxom dynamo skirts the issue. “If you have the nerve, the money, you need the help, and you feel good about the changes in yourself, why not?” she says.

Meanwhile, actress Caistina Ferrare, feminist leader Gloria Steinem and a pair of former First Ladies—Jacqueline Onassis and Rosalynn Carter—have joined the throngs of middle-aged women who have undergone eye-lifts. Nancy Reagan and another ex-First Lady, Betty Ford, have received face-lifts. So have Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown, gossip columnist Liz Smith and actress Angela Lansbury. The 66-year-old Lansbury has been outspoken in her endorsement, claiming that her 1976 and 1987 neck tightenings and her subsequent face-lift have helped her to “a more youthful attitude.” Even Katharine Hepburn, now 84 and a woman of uncommon independence and lack of conspicuous vanity, submitted to eyelid surgery because, as she pointed out, her eyes were looking like a possum’s and feeling worse.

Yet there are as many reasons for surgery as there are celebrities determined to fine-tune their features:

•Cher, 45, who had always perceived herself as the plain daughter of a blond beauty, first turned to cosmetic surgery in 1985 after seeing herself onscreen in Mask. “I can look better than this,” she vowed and then had her nose bobbed, teeth redone and breasts enlarged. “It makes me happy,” she later said with defiance. “You know, if I want to put my tits on my back, they’re mine.” Have her surgical explorations been inspired by self-love or self-loathing? The star candidly admitted, “I really don’t know.”

•In an attempt to be the man of his own dreams, Michael Jackson, 33, who as a child was taunted by his family about his big nose, has had extensive facial work—two nose jobs by his own account but four according to J. Randy Taraborrelli’s biography, Michael Jackson: The Magic in the Madness, and seven according to brother-in-law Jack Gordon. Michael’s sister La Toya, 35, has owned up to a nose job. And since sister Janet, 25, used to look like the old Michael and now looks like the new, you can decide for yourself if she followed her siblings’ plastic-surgery path.

•Actress Melanie Mayron, 39, had her nose fixed in 1978 after watching herself in an episode of CBS’s Medical Center. “It was the only job I’d done where I pulled my hair off my face and didn’t wear glasses,” she recalls. “I looked at my face and went, ‘Gee, my nose is a little too long.’ So I had it shortened.”

Mayron, who showcased her new look while playing Melissa on ABC’s thirtysomething, claims that the surgical snip provided inspiration for her subsequent striking transformation, which included a substantial weight loss.

•Shortly before starting 1988’s Beaches, Barbara Hershey, 43, received temporary lip-enlarging collagen injections, and some critics charged that her generous new-mouth stole the picture. “I was very much attacked,” Hershey noted recently, dubbing the episode Lipgate. Still, she kicked off a trend with this eye-catching short-term procedure. Now, despite occasional reports that collagen, like silicone, may contribute to such health problems as a weakened autoimmune response, women are rushing to cosmetic surgeons demanding what has become known as the lush Paris lip. (For a while, even Madonna showed off her trendiness by turning up on the party circuit with what appeared to be fuller lips. But she vehemently denies having had any plastic surgery whatsoever. A spokesperson says, “Madonna probably wore a lot of lipstick just to drive people crazy.”)

•Talk show host and comedian Joan Rivers, 58, who has for years been the butt of her own self-deprecating “ugly” jokes, apparently never forgot the boy in sixth grade who called her a fat tub of lard. “Not one man has ever told me I’m beautiful—in my entire life. Not one man,” she has lamented. Perhaps that’s why she opted for a nose job, more than one eye job (her first was when daughter Melissa, now 25, was a baby), a tummy tuck, thigh liposuction and, just this past October, a face-lift that she unveiled on her syndicated TV show. “If you can make yourself look and feel better, that’s wonderful,” she explains.

•Bounteous Loni (WKRP in Cincinnati) Anderson, 45, bucked the implant trend and in fact had an operation to reduce her breast size. “My bosom was too large and painful,” the curvy Mrs. Burt Reynolds has confessed. “I was really uncomfortable and, I thought, unattractive.”

•Another self-confessed plastic-surgery recipient is Sylvester Stallone, 45. Because he was taken from the womb with forceps, the nerves in the left side of Sly’s face were destroyed at birth, and as a result his mouth is crooked. In addition, when preparing for Rocky, Stallone lost a good deal of weight, which made that side of his face sag. So he had the left half surgically lifted. “People see this scar,” he says, pointing behind his left ear, “and think I’ve had a face-lift. What they don’t notice is that I don’t have a scar over here by my right ear. What do they think? That I could only afford to have half of it done?” One of the screen’s most highly paid stars, who will only be photographed from his right side, Sly has no problem with the idea of plastic surgery, however. “Sure. Why not do it?” he asserts. “You have body work done on your car.”

It’s not just movie and TV stars who are allowing surgeons to whittle away at their features and take up the slack in their skin. Such disparate folks as country-music warbler K.T. Oslin, 49, and presidential candidate David Duke have also come to understand the value of a nip here, a tuck there. Duke, 41, the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard who recently lost a heated race for the Louisiana governorship, admits to having his nose reshaped and his skin enhanced with a chemical peel.

“The guy is very calculating,” says Beth Rickey, a Republican Party leader in Louisiana. “He knows that when he’s so pretty, people won’t believe all the negative stuff about him. And the polls bear that out.”

Singer Kenny Rogers, 53, freely acknowledges both his chin and midriff liposuctions. “It was probably a middle-age crisis,” he admits. “You suddenly see those first gray hairs. Then you get reviews that begin by talking about your weight. When I first brought up the possibility of liposuction, my wife, Marianne, said, ‘I can’t believe you. I never thought you noticed such things.’ Well, I didn’t when I was 25, but things change.”

For Rogers, liposuction—in which a tube is inserted into the fatty area and the excess is vacuumed out—worked like a dream, reducing his waist by 11 inches and his weight by nearly 25 lbs. Rogers wore a bandage briefly, then a wide elastic belt. He says the pain was minimal and that three days later he left for a holiday in the Bahamas. The only complication? “I fell into a real depression. I figured it had to be the effects of the anesthetic,” he notes. (According to Dr. Semel, this response is highly uncharacteristic.) Since returning home and learning to live leaner, Rogers says, “I think I look pretty good for someone who doesn’t work out all the time.”

Rogers is the rare star who is self-confident enough to go public with his cosmetic transformation. “Celebrities are so secretive,” observes Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr. Jon Perlman. “They want us to believe that they’re particularly gifted and have natural beauty that is ageless, unlike the rest of the world.”

“Why would somebody want to talk about plastic surgery?” asked Goldie Hawn, who at 46 looks as if she has a corner on the fountain of youth. “I don’t think it’s anybody’s business.” Sally Field, 45, agrees. When the time comes, she, too, plans to keep it quiet. “I see myself pruning up, and I’m thinking, ‘Well, what can you do here?’ ” she says. “I don’t think I’ll be the kind of person who announces it, but I’m definitely gonna do it.”

More and more, though, an entire constellation of stars are frank about what surgical possibilities await them tomorrow—or next year. Michelle Pfeiffer, now 33, who claims her visage has not yet been surgically enhanced, stated after filming The Russia House with Sean Connery, now 61, “I’ve said my whole life, ‘I’ll never have a face-lift.’ But I understand the desire. I mean, when I’m 60, are they going to let me do a film with a 32-year-old man? So when an actress says, ‘I’m going to get my face done and bosom raised, and I’m going to get another 10 years out of this business,’ I say, ‘More power to you.’ ”

Even independent-minded Cybill Shepherd, 41, hedges. “I won’t say I’ll never have cosmetic surgery, but I hope not,” she has said. “There are certain actresses who want to keep looking eternally the same, so they start surgery early. They’ve got that strange look—not old, not young, just light and smile stretching.”

Alas, not everyone is lucky enough to grow old as gracefully as Jessica Tandy or Cary Grant. Recently singer Carly Simon, 46, proud as she is of her litheness, voiced the fear of many women that “in five years people won’t whistle at me on the street anymore.”

Maybe that will inspire her to one day follow in comedian Phyllis Diller’s footsteps. At 54, the reigning Queen of Plastic Surgery began a series of cosmetic procedures that cost her well over $50,000. Now 74, she proudly parades surgical results that include a breast reduction and tummy tuck, teeth straightening and bonding, two nose jobs, cheek implants, a brow-lift, an under-eye lift, two face-lifts, a chemical peel and injections of fat taken from her stomach to fill out the wrinkles around her mouth. “I used to be young and ugly,” Diller says. “Now I’m old and gorgeous.”