According to his Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) biography, Steve Guttenberg has the record for most original films to go to franchises in film history, and appearing in the most films in The Screen Actors Guild from 1980-1990, tying Gene Hackman. It’s a pretty heady accomplishment for Guttenberg, who headed out to Hollywood two weeks after graduating from Plainedge High School in 1976.
Quickly thereafter, he landed in a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial alongside none other than fast food franchise founder Colonel Harlan Sanders that you can track down on YouTube. In the next five years, Guttenberg went from landing commercials for Honda, Coca Cola and Dentyne to landing prominent roles in a couple of seminal made-for-TV movies (1977’s Something For Joey; 1981’s Miracle On Ice). The native New Yorker found his way to the big screen bouncing between the fame of being in a cast alongside the likes of Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck and James Mason in the 1978 science fiction thriller The Boys From Brazil to the being front and center in the infamous 1980 Village People comedy-music biopic Can’t Stop the Music.
And that’s before Guttenberg really got rolling in the ‘80s starring in quintessential ‘80s tent-pole flicks ranging from 1982’s Diner and 1984’s Police Academy (and a handful of subsequent sequels) to 1985’s Cocoon and the 1987 Leonard Nimoy-directed Three Men and a Baby. Credit a strong work ethic dating back to Guttenberg’s teen side hustles that found him setting up businesses revolving around babysitting, pet-sitting, washing cars, mowing lawns, caddying and mucking stalls at Bethpage State Park. Guttenberg’s daily nose-to-the-grindstone approach is one he cleaves to right through today.
“I’ve done the same thing for 55 years,” he explained. “I get up early. I have breakfast. I write a letter or call a few friends and family and then I go to work.”
For his latest project, Guttenberg stars alongside Cybill Shepherd in How to Murder Your Husband, an entry in Lifetime’s Ripped from the Headlines movie series based on the real-life story of romance-thriller novelist Nancy Crampton-Brophy (Shepherd) who was convicted in 2022 of murdering her husband Daniel (Guttenberg). The author who was known for penning books about tumultuous relationships featuring woman protagonists who fantasized about killing their own husbands or fleeing their spouses and faking their deaths had penned a blog post a few years earlier that used the same heading as the title of this Lifetime movie. Shot over five weeks in Vancouver, How to Murder Your Husband came off a rough stretch for Guttenberg, who’s spent the prior five years caring for his ailing father Stanley in Arizona before he passed away last July. Leaving for the shoot on his father’s birthday in September, the younger Guttenberg welcomed the chance to work with Shepherd on such a unique production.
“When my agent called, he asked if I wanted to check out this really interesting project with Cybill Shepherd, I told him I did,” he recalled. “Like so many other people I was first introduced to her via the movie The Last Picture Show, then Taxi Driver, The Heartbreak Kid and then Moonlighting. I just thought she was terrific. They sent me the script and I thought this true story was fascinating. I looked up all the information about them and discovered [the Brophys] had a real deep and loving relationship that was also problematic and false on a lot of levels. I got interested and said yes. I also liked director Stephen Tolkin, who is very smart.”
Guttenberg’s portrayal of the sweet and otherwise guileless Daniel Brophy finds him providing the perfect juxtaposition to Shepherd’s manipulative, myopic and narcissistic title character. It’s a performance he was happy to rise to.
“The challenge with this performance was to support Cybill and make her job as easy as possible,” he said. “That was a terrific opportunity for me to use all my skills to work some of the disciplines I needed out on the set, to figure out who this character was and to do a lot of my own homework. So when I was there, it was all about going with what Cybill was doing.”
The path to starring alongside Cybill Shepherd in a Lifetime movie started with the 64-year-old actor being born in Brooklyn and moving with his two sisters and parents to Flushing. When the family eventually relocated to North Massapequa, it was a shock to the system for the then-nine-year-old Guttenberg.
“I just remember seeing all the grass in front of everybody’s house and saying to my parents, ‘Everybody has grass?’,” he recalled. “They said yeah. Then I went in the backyard and I said, ‘Everybody has their own backyard?’ and they said yeah. Then I asked if other people could come into it and they said no. I couldn’t believe it.”
When you ask Guttenberg about growing up in Massapequa, he’s quick to gush about everything from local eateries (the Jolly Roger, Wetson’s) to hitting up Adventureland and Smiley’s Happy Land.
“Oh man, I remember the first day Sunrise Mall opened and going to the Sunrise Drive-In, which actually was owned by the man who created Viacom, Summer Redstone,” he said. “And of course, there was Carvel, All American, Krisch’s and Pizza Cove, which was there before Joey Pappalardo owned it and was right next to a storefront library, which was the Plainedge Library. Sunrise Highway was near where I grew up and things were so safe then that my parents would let me bicycle from my house in Massapequa to East Islip to see one of my good friends.”
Guttenberg’s first taste of the acting life came when he was 12 and participated in a Teen Repertory Theater sponsored by the Town of Oyster Bay and produced and directed by Marilyn Rosen. It left an indelible imprint on Guttenberg.
“What you would do is learn three plays—Rapunzel, Snow White and Rumpelstiltskin,” he said. “We got to spend the whole summer doing these plays and going from library to library and I loved it. There were four guys and four girls and they were all beautiful girls. I was in love with Marilyn Rosen. She was gorgeous. I was in love with the four girls—they were gorgeous. And the three guys I worked with were all different archetypes. George was 6’3” at 14, so he played the strong guys. Then there was a heavyset kid and a very skinny kid. I played the Prince and it was an incredible and amazing experience.”
How to Murder Your Husband is airing on Lifetime. Check you local listings for air times.