By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
In that moment I grasped why Ryder has such a reputation as a man-killer. Not only was she flirtatious, she was shrewd: If you want to win the loyalty of a bookish interviewer, tell him he resembles an actor famed for riding motorcycles into barbed wire and knowing how to hot-wire a car. I’ve been on her side ever since.
Over the last few years, though, Ryder‘s shrewdness has deserted her. She’s gone from being a pop icon -- the James Carville figure in Primary Colors dubbed all the interns ”Winonas“ -- to being publicly psychoanalyzed alongside Rex Reed. In fact, from the moment she was arrested for shoplifting at Saks Fifth Avenue on December 12, and busted for possession of the pain pill Oxycodone, Ryder became a national punch line. Hip shops instantly began selling T-shirts that cried ”Free Winona!“ and things have gotten no better since. David Letterman gleefully linked her to Yankee outfielder Ruben Rivera, who stole Derek Jeter‘s mitt (”You know what that means? They may have to call up Winona Ryder from Columbus“). Last week on Saturday Night Live, ”TV Funhouse“ pictured her at the Academy Awards swiping an Oscar from the podium -- twice.
Such mockery continues even though we don’t really know the full story of her alleged crime. Initial press reports suggested that Ryder had been videotaped stealing clothes and cutting off price tags -- our local D.A.s always talk big -- but in the March 12 Los Angeles Times, Ann W. O‘Neill reported that the tapes show no such thing. This new information hasn’t stopped the joking, nor diminished the widespread desire to think her guilty. (The opposite is happening with John Nash, where DreamWorks‘ well-orchestrated campaign against a ”conspiracy“ against A Beautiful Mind can’t alter Nash‘s arrest for indecent exposure and relationships with men -- however much Sylvia Nasar tries to backpedal from her own book.) Sixty years ago, movie stars were modernity’s answer to the ancient gods and goddesses. Today, they‘re part of the same clownish celebrity stir-fry as Rosie, Bono, Monica and Bill O’Reilly. Audiences now view screen stars with as much schadenfreude as awe: We may want them to seem greater than we are, but we exult each time we discover they‘re actually smaller.
Or at least less attuned to ordinary human reality. A friend was once riding in a famous actress’s car when she saw something crumpled on the floor -- a check for $30,000 that had never been cashed and whose absence hadn‘t even been noticed. (”Don’t do that to me!“ my friend yelped in outrage.) I‘ve been with stars who go to restaurants without money (somebody else will pay), expect cappuccinos simply to materialize (an assistant will anticipate every need) or possess a sense of entitlement the size of a Mercedes Humvee -- because high-end freebies are lavished upon them. People ask why a ”millionairess“ like Ryder would shoplift, but the real question is why Saks’ staff would make it a news story. Ryder bought thousands of dollars‘ worth of stuff on the day she was arrested, so why call the police instead of her agent or publicist? I would have thought that an old-school store like Saks, especially in Beverly Hills, would know better how to treat a star. Then again, maybe they think Ryder no longer is one. Would they have turned in Gwyneth Paltrow?
Although women do most of the adult shoplifting, studies show that this is because they do most of the shopping -- once in the store, men are actually more likely to take a five-finger discount. Still, the psychological dimension of such theft is classically associated with either disaffected teens or unhappy women acting out their loneliness, neglect and feelings of emptiness. It’s easy to believe that Ryder belongs to both camps.
After all, her life‘s been surreal ever since the mid-’80s, when she rocketed to fame as the post--Molly Ringwald teen darling, whose allure was inseparable from her inner conflicts. In a sense, she updated the Natalie Wood role in Rebel Without a Cause for a less tragic era, playing the nice, brainy gamine who‘s drawn to rebels and outsiders, be it Edward Scissorhands or murderous Christian Slater in Heathers. It’s this persona that made her iconic -- disaffected girls wanted to be her, geeks and troublemakers wanted to date her, Johnny Depp (briefly) wore a tattoo proclaiming ”Winona Forever.“
But in Hollywood, time is the enemy of actresses, who resist growing older, often with sad results: Even smart, talented Madeline Stowe recently turned up in We Were Soldiers with collagened, Daisy Duck lips, as if hoping to reclaim a beauty she has never lost. Few roles wear a bolder expiration date than the alienated teenage heroine, and just as Ryder took the mantle from Ringwald, she herself was surpassed by Christina Ricci, who used fleshiness as her badge of unconventionality. Today‘s fave is Ghost World’s ostrich-necked Thora Birch, who, like her predecessors, inspires a deep, slightly weird affection. Consider Esquire‘s grizzled critic Tom Carson: ”She can play my bongos anytime.“