Right from the time he was a polliwog of 8, Jeff Bridges’ dad, Lloyd, baptized him into the business in his Sea Hunt TV series. Lloyd also got guest shots for his son Beau, eight years older than Jeff, but their mother refused to take it seriously. “It was just like going down to the gas station to help Dad pump gas,” she recalls. Mrs. Bridges was an unprecedentedly modest stage mother. Jeff is emerging as a potentially bigger frog than Lloyd, Beau and—who knows?—even a kid he followed at L.A.’s Emerson Junior High, Robert Redford. Already, at 25, Jeff has accrued 12 screen credits, two Oscar nominations (Best Supporting Actor for 1971’s The Last Picture Show and 1974’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot) and the lead in Hearts of the West, the newest and most winning Western spoof since Cat Ballou.
In the film Jeff plays an all-American hayseed, a greenhorn Zane Grey seeking to become the leading writer of the purple page. He fetches up acting in primitive B Hollywood Westerns, and finally this time Bridges gets the girl, played by Blythe Danner. Of Jeff, she says, “He seems to have a sort of magic that I haven’t seen since Gary Cooper.” Everyone, including even the venomous New York magazine critic John Simon, is charmed by Bridges’ Coop-like presence. “He has the quality,” writes Simon, “that has made American movie actors universally beloved: a boyishness so perdurable, so monumental, that it surpasses mere manhood.”
Perdurability is not a household word in the rustic pad Jeff built for himself four years ago on a Malibu mountainside. And he has been more into a young man’s fancies of the ’60s—”getting to women and feeling and stuff,” toying with drugs, composing music—than fancying his star image. But he concedes to having “flashed on acting” visiting his dad on the set of the TV series The Loner 10 years ago. “I watched him all dressed up, pretending he was a tough cowboy. I broke up. I laughed so hard I ruined the scene. He was doing the same thing I used to do in the backyard, pretending to be a cowboy.” All the while, Jeff’s ambivalence about his dad (“I was worried that I was getting parts just because of him”) has today evolved into total understanding. “As far as just a raw parental trip, he was incredible,” says Jeff, in the vernacular he also favors when describing his brother Beau and their childhood performances at shopping centers or Shriners’ clubs. “Beau was so much older than I that it was a kind of uncle trip. We were a very close family.”
Their family has since extended to Jeff’s women. His first came at 18 after he wrapped education with high school (“I had had enough”), did a quickie tour in the Coast Guard Reserve and acquired his initial apartment and lady, Ida Random by name. Later, while acting in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show, Jeff kept close company with Cybill Shepherd until he had to leave the set for a week of reserve duty and asked the director to take care of her. The rest is histrionics. Next came actress Candy Clark. “Candy and I lived together off and on for about three years,” he says. “And there was Valerie Perrine. We met in The Last American Hero, and kind of naturally just got involved, as one will with one’s leading lady.” As Jeff explains: “It was just for the movie. But when we see each other at parties now, we’re really friends.
“Sometime during a relationship,” Jeff reflects, “you find the girl isn’t the person you want to marry, and then the relationship goes into a different place. Every girl I have ever lived with for any period of time I really have good feelings for. I’m not much of a dater. Once you have someone you can get on with, you can have hassles and you can have highs. With dating, it’s superficial.” The incumbent lady sharing his Malibu hillbilly lair—with indoor sauna, outdoor Jacuzzi—is Susan Geston, 22. When he met her while shooting Rancho Deluxe, she was a maid at the Chico Hot Springs Hotel in Montana. Now she is an aspiring still photographer. As for his longevity with Sue, the master of serial monogamy explains: “We love each other a lot, and we’re sitting face to face working through negatives, but I don’t know how it will work out in the end.”
If he seems cloudy about it all, that’s because Jeff goes through head changes like actors rotate roles. In his teens, he joined DAWN (“Developing Adolescents Without Narcotics”), a therapy powwow formed at “Uni,” as showfolk call Los Angeles University High School. “I didn’t have a heavy drug problem,” he says. “I was smoking pot, and still do and enjoy it, but I wasn’t shooting speed like some of my friends.” Next came the rites of LSD. “The first time,” he recalls, “it was really shattering, and I’ve had bad experiences with it,” he admits. “I don’t do it as much now.”
His latest trip is not acid but Erhard Seminar Training. “I’m constantly on the search for higher consciousness,” he says. “The EST thing was a heavy flash. You can put sex in the same place. You have that orgasm and you get all blown away. What I want is peace, maybe. It all sounds so corny, so Zen, but that’s what it is.” That rather spacey obliviousness is likely to be the only obstacle between Bridges, the beach-blanket bozo, and Bridges, the superstar. Happily, though, his parents are liberated enough to appreciate Jeff’s sea hunt of the mind. “I think they dig my thing pretty much,” he says. “It’s exciting at this stage, but we’ll have to see where it goes.”