Sept. 14 2006 11:04 AM

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       But then you could even say that denial was one of his activisms. He knows he is talked about, and he doesn't like the talking. In 1994, he and Cindy Crawford went to the unusual lengths of taking out a full-page ad in the London Times to deny that their three-year-old marriage was in trouble. They felt it necessary to say--and pay to say--that "we are heterosexual and monogamous and take our commitment to each other very seriously."

       They were fed up with idle speculation about themselves, they said, while "we both look forward to having a family." When they separated a matter of months later, that ad looked like a gratuitous way of adding $30,000 to Rupert Murdoch's coffers. From time to time Gere has also (though not through newspaper ads) denied rumors that he has an affinity with cute furry rodents. We naturally accept this denial, though it might be just as well if he didn't add animal rights to his list of Causes.

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       And yet, and yet: If American Gigolo showed that he could, in a phrase a recent British film has popularized, go the full monty, or get his kit off, as the Brits also say, Internal Affairs showed that he could genuinely get inside a role. His performance as the corrupt cop stays in the memory still. He has plainly not been lucky in his Hollywood era, which lacks the unself-consciousness of the golden age. Fifty years ago he could have found a niche between Clark Gable (without quite the dash) and Bogie (without quite the earthy Stimmung). But today, in a movie industry where he has three times taken over pictures developed for John Travolta, you have to feel sorry for him. Almost.

       Again, while his commitment to Buddhism shouldn't be something to mock him for, it illustrates Gere's problem. "He's a charming guy" according to Sidney Lumet, who directed him in Power, and whose opinion might actually be worth something. "Richard has beautiful technique. But when an actor is as beautiful as he is, it's difficult to be taken seriously."

       Alas, he does want to be taken seriously. Enemy and friend, detractor and admirer, could none of them accuse Gere of having an over-developed sense of the ridiculous. Once more, listen to him: "Happiness releases good energy into the universe. ... There is an emotional congruency I have with gymnastics. ... I think there is a touch of the gypsy in all of us. Some people do it in dreams. Some people do it in life. I think it's here."

       This sort of stuff isn't the ism in plagiarism, or activism, it demands Joan Crawford's profound question: "Whom is kidding whom?"

Geoffrey Wheatcroft is the author of The Randlords, and is a contributor to British publications too numerous to mention.

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