December 14, 1998 12:00 PM

Ads Not Infinitum

The yen stops here for celebrity pitchmen caught in Japan’s economic slump

Focus

The sun may be setting—or at least dimming—for Hollywood A-list celebrities who have upholstered their fortunes by selling everything from candy to skin whiteners in Japan. For years high-watt stars who wouldn’t dare do anything so tacky as hawk products on these shores have pushed cars (Antonio Banderas, Kevin Costner), watches (Brad Pitt), bath salts (Dennis Hopper) and even fishing tackle (Michael J. Fox) in Japanese advertisements. Without fear of embarrassment—many contracts explicitly barred the ads from appearing in the U.S.—Sylvester Stallone, for example, could go from Rambo to Hambo as he munched sausages at a garden party in a commercial for Nippon Ham. (The World Wide Web, however, has made such isolation a thing of the past; at least one site posts more than a dozen ads.)

The actors’ motivation was simple: Japanese advertisers would sometimes pay more than $1 million for as little as one day’s work. Additionally, Japanese audiences don’t see endorsing products as selling out. “The relationship between the Japanese public and advertising in Japan is viewed differently than in the United States,” says Rick Hersh, head of worldwide endorsements for the William Morris Agency. “In a lot of cases [an endorsement] can go to enhance box office appeal. That wouldn’t happen in the United States.”

But the swoon in Japan’s economy has cut many stars’ paydays. Most celebrities now earn between $500,000 and $600,000 per ad, although superstars like Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and golfer Tiger Woods can double those numbers. “There are significantly fewer foreign celebrities involved in ongoing commercial projects now than last year,” says Koichi Sonoda of the Dentsu Inc. advertising firm. “The industry is not immune.” Nobody on either side of the Pacific is ready to part with the ad world tenet that celebrities sell products, but Japan’s recession may cause some companies to take a second look at their approach. Says Christopher Beaumont, who heads up Asian strategy for McCann-Erickson Inc. advertising: “Demi Moore‘s G.I. Jane image helped endorse performance-enhancing nutritional drinks, but what does Stallone have to do with ham?”

They’re Taking Their Act on the Road

Ellen DeGeneres says Hollywood won’t have her—and companion Anne Heche—around to kick anymore. After unloading in the Los Angeles Times on Nov. 29 about how her sitcom Ellen wasn’t appreciated, her talent wasn’t appreciated, and people couldn’t get beyond the fact that she’s gay, the comic upped the ante two days later—announcing plans for a simpler life in either suburban Ojai, Calif., or San Francisco with partner Heche. “We’ve quit our agents, let go of our publicist, we’re selling our house and leaving town,” De-Generes told the paper. That came as news to their publicist Simon Halls, who insists that his clients “just want to catch their breath” and are not quitting the business. Still, he admits, “they’ve both expressed to me that they’re bewildered. They both want to simplify their lives.” A spokesperson for the CAA management agency says both DeGeneres and Heche (whose new movie, Psycho, opened Dec. 4) have indeed dropped their agents. Although DeGeneres has three movies awaiting release, she said she felt she couldn’t get work after her show was axed. “The last year on Ellen was really difficult,” recalls producer Tim Doyle. “She took that stuff to heart.” Now, apparently, she’s taking it out of town.

PRIVATE TIME

Who: Tim Allen

Activity: Restoring hot rods

Why: “It’s a lot, a lot of work. I’ve got about six project cars I’m doing right now. One is for Home Improvement, and we just finished up a ’46 Ford convertible that’s taken us three years.”

Repossessed After All These Years

Dark and terrifying, The Exorcist became a phenomenon when it opened during Christmas week 1973, making an instant celebrity of its 14-year-old star, Linda Blair. As the horror classic celebrates its 25th anniversary, Scoop chatted with Blair, now 39, about the film’s impact on her life and career.

Was it scary filming The Exorcist?

It wasn’t frightening at all. I was unaware of what the subject matter was about, having not grown up with religion that discussed the devil. I thought it was about a really bad monster, a Frankenstein. I didn’t like being that monster, but that’s all I thought it was.

What most sticks out about that time?

There was a lot of political goings-on that I was too young to understand. It was a religious battle. There were attacks on me being so young, having played such a role. I just did my job, so I didn’t understand why you get attacked for doing what you had to do.

Did you realize how scary scenes like the head-turning were going to be?

No. I can remember asking, “How does she throw up?” and [director] Billy Friedkin said, “Oh, there’ll be equipment. It’s not anything that you’ll have to do.” I was like, “Oh, okay.” The heavy demonic stuff I either never acknowledged or never understood.

Were you scared when you first saw the film?

No. I am the only person, besides the people on the film set, who had the safety net of knowing that “I am the person that people are afraid of,” so I have an inside point of view. I see me. I can’t look at the film and remove myself.

How did The Exorcist affect your career?

I kept thinking I was going on to vet school and that life would continue as it was. I had a whole future planned. Upon the release of the film, I had to grow into a whole new adult world. It wasn’t anything I was prepared for.

How did you feel when the press asked you questions about your beliefs and the Devil?

They expected a 15-year-old to understand so much. I would do the best I could, but if they didn’t like my answers, they would write whatever they wanted. They decided to write that I was mentally unstable, and I would ask my mother, “But why are they lying?” They needed something to be wrong with me. I think it’s terrible to do that to a 15-year-old girl.

Do you believe in the Devil?

If you look at the world, you can see the goodness of God and you can see the evils of the other side. Good will always win over evil.

ON THE BLOCK

SCHIFFER’S SPANISH SUNSPOT

Supermodel Claudia Schiffer, who spent her childhood summers on the Spanish island of Majorca, hasn’t had much time to enjoy the new 5,400-square-foot, 6-bedroom, 7-bath villa she had built on the southern tip of the island this year. The paparazzi-proof villa (dubbed Fortress Schiffer by the local press photographers) sits on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean and is surrounded by five acres of pine-tree woodlands. Each of the bedrooms opens onto its own private veranda or balcony, while a separate but attached 1,700-square-foot building contains servants’ quarters and a garage. The 28-year-old model’s parents, Heinz and Gudrun, already live on the island.

Dances with Kevin

After a hard day filming, man’s gotta relax. Kevin Costner, in New York City to shoot a baseball flick, For Love of the Game, has been relaxing intensely. During the past several weeks the Oscar-winning actor was spotted dining at trendy Moomba and Lot 61; sipping at Whiskey Park bar (with Yankee pitching ace David Wells) and the Four Seasons hotel; partying with the likes of Sean “Puffy” Combs, Elle Macpherson and model-musician Donovan Leitch; and reuniting with his Bodyguard costar Whitney Houston at a Cipriani Hotel concert. Costner also entertained his parents during a weeklong visit, dropped by the Statue of Liberty and, accompanied by his kids, took in a Jets football game in the nearby New Jersey Meadowlands. Whew.

ON THE TOWN

CARING SHARON

Sharon Stone has worked to change her scandalous screen image, but she can still make people squirm. Stone, who hosted the Seasons of Hope gala for the American Foundation for AIDS Research in Manhattan on Nov. 30, asked parents to provide condoms for their teens—and their teens’ friends. “It’s a tough way to go, but it’s the only way to keep our young people alive,” she said—to tepid applause. Later, the $1,000-per-plate guests saw Barry Manilow, Sean “Puffy” Combs and Whitney Houston sing for their supper—and a good cause.

Where’s the Evil Twin?

Welcome to the latest episode of that great British-American soap, As the Stone Rolls. Some London press say that series’ stars Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall are divorcing; his press agent has said they’re back together; and his alleged mistress of the moment—Brazilian bombshell Luciana Gimenez Morad, 27 or 29—turns out to have a current boyfriend who still loves her and an ex-boyfriend who feels betrayed. Want more? Maybe Morad’s pregnant. Maybe Mick, 55, is the dad. And maybe, just maybe, Jagger will leave both women behind for the charms of (relatively) old flame Carla Bruni, 31. Stay tuned, as always, for more of ATSR.

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