Young Hollywood actors like to boast of the hellish basic training they go through to star in war movies like Saving Private Ryan or U-571. Their stories are always similar. The message is always the same: Playing soldier will make a man of you.
Every weekend of my childhood, it seemed, my parents would pack my sisters and me into the family Montego, and we'd head to Long Island, looking for houses. We children didn't dread the routine, the highway drive from Brooklyn and the perpetually deferred decisions. Instead, we reveled in the fantasy. First we chose which room would be ours; there would be no sharing here. Then we would sweat the details--the relative merits of a cathedral ceiling versus a sunken living room, the pivotal differences between a split-level and a splanch.
For up-and-coming Hollywood directors, it's a regular stop on the pay-your-respects express: a visit with Billy Wilder, the man generally considered to be the greatest living American film maker, the sardonic impresario who gave the world Some Like It Hot, Sunset Boulevard, and The Apartment. Cameron Crowe made the pilgrimage in 1995. He was there to touch Wilder's hem, of course, and to ask the scrappy 89-year-old, who hadn't directed a film in 14 years, to take a small part in the movie Crowe was about to shoot.
Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding, Jr., were committed to the cast. The film was Jerry Maguire. And in no uncertain terms, Wilder said no.