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The Year that Was: 1991

”Batman Returns,” Mickey Rourke, Axl Rose, and ”Northern Exposure” were some of the pop-culture highlights of the past year

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Best Exorcise Video

The devil made them do it. On second thought, it was probably just Nielsen. ABC’s 20/20 aired an exorcism on April 5 and drew an audience of 29 million — one of the largest in the show’s history — as well as a hell of a lot of media attention. The tormented soul belonged to a 16-year-old Floridian named Gina who screamed, writhed, spoke in an unidentifiable language, and called herself ”Minga.” Coverage of the event ranged from Nightline to David Letterman’s ”Top 10 Ways to Tell You’re Possessed” (No. 1: When the Father Dowling show comes on, your eyes start to sting). There’s no word yet on whether Minga got a book deal.

Now It Can Be Tolled… Vital statistics from Geraldo Rivera’s autobiography, Exposing Myself:

Number of pages before Geraldo mentions his first conquest: 28
Number of pages his first marriage lasts: 12
Number of times he likens himself to Edward R. Murrow: 1
Number of times he compares himself to William Kunstler: 1
Number of women, identified by name, he says he slept with: 19
Number of times sex with more than one woman (usually at the same time) is cited on the same page: 5
Number of married women he mentions having flings with: 4
Number of Geraldo marriages: 4
Number of days he waited after the birth of his son to have a fling with a pair of coeds, whom he dubs ”the twins”: 2
Number of times he fantasizes about Barbara Walters naked: 1
Number of photos of the author included: 46

Turner Broadcasting

She can fly a plane, repair a roof, bag a deer, and build a shrine to one dearly departed boyfriend after another. She can think fast, talk back, hit hard, do anything — except open her eyes wide enough to realize that the perfect guy for her is a prickly little city mouse who gets under her skin and into her fantasies. As Northern Exposure‘s Maggie, Janine Turner offered radiantly annoyed befuddlement in counterpoint to Rob Morrow’s jittery wisecracking; they were the year’s most romantic couple-that-doesn’t-know-it’s-a-couple. With a courtship this tantalizing, a consummation is inevitable…isn’t it? As Maggie might tartly respond, ”In your dreams, Fleischman!”

Besides, Can You Imagine The World’s Most Dangerous Band Playing ”Tea for Two”?

You’d think royal succession were at stake. You’d think they were electing a new pope. Nope. It was just those NBC weasels, notifying a breathless public that Jay Leno — not David Letterman — would take over The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson leaves next May. ”Just how pissed off are you?” Johnny asked Dave on Aug. 30, when the Late Night leader chatted with the Tonight Show host in his first TV interview since the announcement. ”Let me give you a little piece of advice,” Letterman responded. ”You keep using language like that and you’re going to find yourself out of a job.” During the monologue, Carson warned: ”When we come back from the commercial, if Letterman is sitting at the desk and says I’ve stepped down for health reasons, don’t believe him.” It turns out Dave’s plenty ticked. Not so much at not getting the gig as at the shabby way NBC is treating him. Will he jump to ABC? As they say at the home office in Lebanon, Pa., Gosh only knows.

Guess Who’s Coming To the Word Processor?

Well, you can say this for her: She writes the way she talks. And when she doesn’t actually want to say anything in her best-selling autobiography, Me, she moves on. Briskly. Like this:

Oh dear!
Quite.
Oh my golly!
Can you imagine?
Oh-oh-oh!
Lawks.
Well, what next?
Oh bunk.
What to do — what to do.
You see. Indeedy. My, yes.

Furever Young
When Annette Bening dropped out of Batman Returns last summer because she was pregnant with Warren Beatty’s baby, Sean Young set out to land the coveted Catwoman role. Dressed in feline wear and thus even scarier than usual, she prowled the Warner Bros. lot looking for director Tim Burton — who reportedly hid in the men’s room-while her brother videotaped the hunt. The Young Ones did make it to the office of production head Mark Canton (who was in a meeting with Batman himself, Michael Keaton), but no luck: Michelle Pfeiffer got the part. Young did, however, get to air her homemade video on Entertainment Tonight and appear in full attire on The Joan Rivers Show. ”My friends loved it, but I’m sure there are people who think it’s crazed,” she says. ”That’s because their status quo differs.” Meoww!

Joke of All Trades

Let us now praise famous hyphenates, beginning with the biggest: In 1991, nobody was more of a Renaissance man than pugilist-photojournalist-tattoo artist Mickey Rourke.

It has been a high old time for the Greasy One: He snapped steamy — er, we mean ”artistic” — photographs of his girlfriend, actress and model Carré Otis, for a special issue of the French magazine Photo, above (hey, they really love him in France), lasted four rounds in the ring against a Fort Lauderdale auto mechanic in a thankfully brief boxing career, and even sidelined as a custom tattoo designer — for friends only. Now, if he ever decides to quit appearing in duds like last summer’s arthritic Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, maybe he can even put ”actor” back on his résumé.

Caught in the Act

As Paul Lemos kept telling the cops: ”I’m not a psychopath. I just play one on TV.” See, the 29-year-old actor portrayed suspected serial killer and criminal fugitive Ricardo Caputo last summer in a half-hour special of America’s Most Wanted called ”Ladykiller: Most Wanted Man in America.” And he did quite well — at least, the New York City Police Department thought so. Police apprehended Lemos three times, once surrounding him with about a dozen officers and two cop cars and a van. ”I can testify that the police are doing their job,” said Lemos. The real Caputo is still at large.

Dead Heat

In which we celebrate deathless prose, drop-dead sex appeal, and killer talent — the entertainers who made this the Year of the Living Dead: V.C. Andrews (1924-1986)
Best-selling gothics like 1991’s Secrets of the Morning continue to be cranked out under her name — but they’re written by a writer who sounds a lot like her and accepts her royalties.

John Cheever (1912-1982)
Now fans of Cheever’s well-made fiction know all about Cheever’s unmade beds, thanks to the publication of his journals. Which makes readers want to seek out his fiction all the more. Which makes his publisher very happy.

Patsy Cline (1932-1963)
Since the 1985 biopic Sweet Dreams, sales of her records have increased tenfold; this year, her Greatest Hits topped Billboard‘s Country Catalog chart for more than seven months.

Nat ”King” Cole (1919-1965)
Being dead doesn’t mean you can’t sing with your daughter: Natalie Cole revitalized her vocal career doing an ”Unforgettable” duet with Dad.

Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949)
Her Gone With the Wind, a steady seller since its 1936 publication, jumped back onto best-seller lists spurred by sales of Alexandra Ripley’s soapy sequel, Scarlett.

Jim Morrison (1943-1971)
July 3, the 20th anniversary of the musician’s death, kept the Morrison industry of records, books, and videos humming; Oliver Stone also fanned the rocker’s fire with his movie The Doors.

Anne Sexton (1928-1974)
Diane Wood Middlebrook’s biography of the suicidal poet created controversy about access to a patient’s psychiatric records — and pumped up sales of Sexton’s poetry.

Little Tree, Big Fib

When a little-known memoir by a Cherokee orphan became a surprise hit this summer, USA Today called it ”one of publishing’s sweetest stories” (and Entertainment Weekly praised the ”elegiac memoir” for its ”tone of moral certainty”). In November, however, after 19 weeks as a New York Times nonfiction paperback best-seller, Forrest Carter’s The Education of Little Tree was moved to the fiction list. The switch came after allegations that Carter was not the peaceful environmentalist whose Native American childhood is documented in Little Tree but Asa Carter, onetime segregationist speechwriter. India Carter, his widow, confirmed his identity, though not reports of his Ku Klux Klan ties. ”We were shocked to find out that Forrest Carter had really been Asa Carter,” says Elizabeth Hadas, director of the University of New Mexico Press, which published Little Tree. ”But we still believe in the book. We just took the label ‘A True Story’ off the cover.”

Diaper Rush

It was a big year for big bellies — and the babies that follow. Annette Bening announced she was great with Bugsy costar Warren Beatty’s child (it’s a girl!) and a million media commentators delved deep into the pros and cons of mature fatherhood. TV’s Murphy Brown announced that she’s expecting somebody’s child (it’s a boy!) and a million columnists weighed in on the pros and cons of mature motherhood. Fictional TV women pined for kids (on Cheers and Designing Women) and took home-pregnancy tests while we watched (on Anything But Love and Sisters). And real-life TV women Deborah Norville and Katie Couric took maternity leaves while we waited. Motherhood was powerful. Also visible: Annie Leibovitz’s portrait of a very expectant Demi Moore made headlines. Parodies followed. But never mind. Mother Moore and little child (Scout) are doing fine with other little child (Rumer) and big daddy (Bruce Willis).

The Hype Report

Push it, push it real good: That was the motto this year as competition spurred record companies to new heights of hype. Record stores opened at midnight to sell the latest wares by Guns N’ Roses, U2, and Ice Cube; Metallica rented Madison Square Garden just to play their new album over the P.A. system; and Richard Marx chartered an MGM Grand jet and played live in Baltimore, New York, Chicago, Cleveland, and Burbank — all in the same day. The result? His album didn’t move a notch on the charts. By contrast, Kenny Loggins’ ”comeback” concert in the Grand Canyon seemed for a moment like the tasteful move of a seasoned pro.

I Want My MDTV

Memo to: Robert Stack
From: Doogie Howser, M.D.
Re: Idea for new ”reality TV” show

How about we do Unsolved Medical Mysteries, using real cases in which TV affects the brain? Got a coupla great suggestions:

That woman viewer in Albany, N.Y., who was reported last July to suffer from epileptic seizures whenever she heard the voice of Entertainment Tonight cohost May Hary. (Got evidence if you want it from the neuro specialist who wrote to the New England Journal of Medicine, saying that the Sounds of Mary gave his patient ”a feeling of pressure in the head, epigastric distress, and mental confusion.”)

That woman in Kansas City, Kan., who came out of a five-day coma last August when she heard the theme music to Growing Pains (note: her sister’s fave show!) on her hospital TV set. (Get the sister to describe, as she did in a letter to the show, how ”Janet’s eyes FLEW open and she looked at the TV. Then she closed them and opened them about three times and then suddenly she turned over on her back and she stayed awake for 1 lhour and 15 minutes. This was the beginning of her coming around and getting her memory back.”)

Let’s talk —
Doogie

P.S. Amanda Plummer would be good for either role. Ditto Mare Winningham. What think?

Got it Covered

This was a year in which album covers wanted to let it all hang out — but censors were often hung up. The cover of Tin Machine II, by David Bowie’s band, featured nude Greek statues; after complaints from record stores, the offending genitals were airbrushed out for U.S. customers. (Censors needn’t have worried; record sales shriveled.) Then U2 bassist Adam Clayton posed nude on the band’s Achtung Baby, but Island Records chose to put an X over Clayton’s privates on all but a few limited-edition copies. No such problems for Nirvana, though. The cover of Nevermind, showing a nude and definitely male baby, didn’t stop the album from hitting the top 10 and selling more than a million copies. Memo to Bowie: Next time, try newborn Greeks.

Onan the Barbarian

Sex was never safer. ”I don’t want anybody else, when I think about you I touch myself,” sang the Divinyls in the chorus of their hit song ”I Touch Myself.” Certainly, it was a big year for self-examination: Pee-wee Herman pleaded no contest to performing in public; Michael Jackson caressed himself no fewer than 13 times in his 11-minute video ”Black or White”; and Madonna, in her film Truth or Dare, sang ”Like a Virgin” while entertaining herself on a large bed with lights flashing and two male servants standing by. All in all, quite touching.

Campfire Boys

Ho! Pass us the truth stick, and we will speak to you of 1991’s goofiest, most pervasive pop-cultural trend — the men’s movement. We will speak of the gurus, Robert Bly and Sam Keen, whose sacred texts taught a nation of disaffected males to reclaim their Inner Hairy Man, or was it their Little Primitive Child, or was it their Fire in the Belly? We will speak of Wild Man Weekends, where we gather with hundreds of our brethren, get naked, and beat our tom- toms. We will speak of long nights around the campfire, raising consciousness about how Dad made us afraid to cry. We will speak of pilgrimages to the mini-mall to view Iron Kevin in Dances With Wolves, or — if that’s sold out — Crystal Billy in City Slickers. We will speak of Home Improvement, out favorite new TV series, and of self-improvement, out favorite section of the bookstore, now larded with imitation primers. Here’s one. Let’s see: ”There is more to spiritual renewal than just…getting together with your brothers once a week to bemoan and bemoan.” Hey, what is this? Fire in the John, by Alfred Gingold? A parody? Who gave him the truth stick?

No Nun-Sense

Nailed by a Sister wasn’t a 1991 rap tune; it was the fate of TV talk-show host Phil Donahue last July, when Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a reporter for the Catholic News Service, discovered that the nuns Donahue had mentioned in a syndicated column in The Washington Post didn’t exist. Seems the irrepressible interviewer had altered the names of four nuns who befriended him during his parochial school days in Cleveland. Seems he also fabricated a handwritten prayer-book inscription, circa 1953. Teensy sins, surely? In seeking absolution, Donahue issued a correction, and an apology: ”I’m doing what I’m sure Sister Mary would approve of,” he said, ”and that is, confessing my sins.” Donahue also admitted to being ”dramatically baptized to the rules of journalistic convention.” Ten Hail Marys and 10 Our Fathers wouldn’t hurt either.

‘Body’ Politics

Just before the August premiere of Body Parts, horror auteur Eric Red’s blood-crimson dismemberment extravaganza, real-life body parts were found in the Milwaukee apartment of alleged serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. The horror shocked good citizens, spawned bad jokes, and resulted in the cancellation of Body Parts television commercials in Milwaukee. Indeed, some local theaters banned the movie altogether. ”Body Parts wasn’t that gruesome, actually,” says Tony Timpone, editor of Fangoria magazine, which caters to horror-movie fans. ”And I really don’t think the publicity hurt the film.” He blames competition from Terminator 2 and mediocre storytelling from Red for the flick’s lack of legs.

Private Lives, Public Confessions

Got a minute? Read a tell-all! Got 10 seconds? We’ll screen ’em for you.

And the Beat Goes On, by Sonny Bono
”After endless discussions, I heard myself repeating the words that were spoken to me in various meetings…Look at Cher. There is absolutely no reason on earth why Sonny Bono cannot have a hit TV show too.”

You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, by Julia Phillips
”He offers me a toot. I feel weird about doing it in front of his kid. For about a second.”

Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorized Biography, by Kitty Kelley
”When the First Lady was with Frank Sinatra, she was not to be disturbed. For anything. And that included a call from the President himself.”

Under Fire: An American Story, by Oliver L. North with William Novak
”President Reagan didn’t always know what he knew.”

A View From Above, by Wilt Chamberlain
”You may find this hard to believe, but I’ve had an encounter or two…with girls under five feet tall.” Wouldn’t It Be Nice, by Brian Wilson
”Despite having the figure of the Goodyear blimp and an appetite for drugs and booze rivaling that of an entire rehab hospital, I was blind to my self-destructiveness.”

Dye Harder

Were they real — or were they fakeroo? Turns out some of this year’s more vivid tattoos — including the crucifix and other designs on Robert De Niro in Cape Fear and the killer bees on the Marines in Dogfight — were bogus, designed and applied by Temptu Inc., a makeup studio that’s specialized in ersatz skulls and serpents for years. With regular touch-ups, they last about a week. Among the faux hearts and flowers on-screen in 1991: William Sadler’s full-body tattoos in Rush, Kate Nelligan’s lightning bolt in Frankie & Johnny, Viggo Mortensen’s scorpion in The Indian Runner, and Veronica Webb’s ”Daddy’s Girl” heart in Jungle Fever. One of the few true tattoos belonged to Julia Roberts in Dying Young: The Chinese ”strength of heart” symbol on her shoulder blade matched the one ex-fiancé Kiefer Sutherland has on his arm. Too bad it didn’t wear off in a week.

Was It Something I Said?

Okay, last time: This is your foot. This is your mouth. This is your foot in your mouth. Any questions?

Feet of Clay
The audience woof-woofed through the roof when an HIV-positive Magic Johnson proclaimed on The Arsenio Hall Show that he was ”far from being a homosexual.” As if being ”close to being a homosexual” would have made Magic any less woof-worthy.

Feet of Fey
Holly Dunn set feminism back pre-Ms. with her song ”Maybe I Mean Yes”: ”Nothing’s worth having if it ain’t a little hard to get…When I say no, I mean maybe, or maybe I mean yes.” Criticized for encouraging date rape, Dunn asked radio stations to pull the single off the air.

Feet of No Way
In a song called ”Black Korea” on his new album Death Certificate, rapper Ice Cube referred to the ”chop suey a–” of a Korean deli owner and threatened: ”So pay respect to the black fist/Or we’ll burn your store right down to a crisp.” Island Records responded to complaints of racism by removing the song from the British edition of the album.

Bleech and Blue

Thanks, but we’ll skip the video: Lead singer Perry Farrell commemorated the final performance of his band, Jane’s Addiction, last Sept. 26 by performing naked onstage. Guns N’ Roses vocalist Axl Rose hasn’t done the Nude Thing — but he did jump into a St. Louis audience and start a riot on July 2 when he saw someone in the crowd photographing his performance. And count us out next time GG Allin and his band the Murder Junkies come to town: In Orlando last month he defecated onstage, hurled bits at the audience, and got arrested. Ewwwwww! Make sure all employees wash hands before leaving the stage.

Papal Bull
Was Miramax Films going to let a few advertising departments ruin the August release of their inflammatorily titled satire The Pope Must Die? Fat chance! When CBS, NBC, and several newspapers refused to run previews and ads for Pope, Miramax announced that in certain markets the film’s title would be shortened to The Pope Must… Later, the company added a bizarre variation: Beginning Sept. 13, the film was advertised as The Pope Must Diet. Despite heavy news coverage of the title changes, the film grossed only a slim $555,668.

Reporting and writing by: Tim Appelo, Giselle Benatar, Meredith Berkman, David Browne, Jess Cagle, Dave DiMartino, Juliann Garey, Melina Gerosa, Mark Harris, Tina Jordan, Kate Meyers, Suelain Moy, and Benajmin Svetkey