University's 'young Tom' stars in current films
by Sarah E. Varney
September 30, 1983
One night in Cincinnati, two couples who were visting the city decided to see a movie called In Praise of Older Women. They sat in the dark and the movie began. The opening shot was of a well built man's crotch covered with boxer shorts.
"Oh my god," shrieked one of the women, "I know that underwear, that's Tom Moore!"
"It's alright," her husband assured the other couple. "She's a costume designer." The woman who screamed was Linda Conaway, a former costumer for the University's theater department.
Tom Moore wasn't famous when he graduated from the University with a degree in speech and dramatic arts in June 1971. In fact, he started out as a radio-TV major and switched to theater late in his college career, according to Professor Larry Clark of the University's theater department.
But Tom Moore changed his name to Tom Berenger and while he still isn't a household name, he is a success. Berenger has two movies out now. He stars in Eddie and the Cruisers, and he co-stars with William Hurt and Glenn Close in The Big Chill.
Tom Berenger's success isn't really a recent thing; he has always been a successful actor, and The Big Chill is his eighth film. Larry Clark is no longer in touch with Berenger but he has followed his former student's career closely. Unlike many actors who go to New York and struggle to make it for years, Berenger got started fast.
"I think Tom's one of the very few who, within a short time, was working steadily once he went to New York," Clark says.
Berenger found work in several off-Broadway productions in 1973 and shortly afterward landed a role on a popular television soap opera. Clark remembers that Berenger played a priest in love. Then he got his first movie part as a walk-on demon in The Sentinel. In 1977, Berenger got what Clark terms his biggest break, the role of the gay trick who murders Diane Keaton in Looking for Mr. Goodbar. At about the same time, Berenger was pegged to star in the Canadian film In Praise of Older Women. He started to get lots of modeling work immediately afterward.
Berenger continued to polish his acting. He co-starred in Butch and Sundance: The Early Years. Clark credits Berenger's casting as Butch Cassidy to his resemblance to Paul Newman.
In 1979, Berenger appeared with Suzanne Pleshette in the NBC television movie, Flesh and Blood, about a boxer's incestuous relationship with his mother. "Tom was good in that, but the network got such flack that they scheduled it opposite the World Series and no one saw it," Clark laughs.
Clark directed Tom Berenger in only one play at the University. That was Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
"I think I cast Tom in the first play he was ever in," recalls Clark. "He wandered into the audition and I cast him as Nick. He was the only inexperienced person in the play, but he learned to hold his own. Tom made up a lot of ground in a hurry. We always called him, 'young Tom.' "
Clark admits he had no predictions one way or the other about Berenger's chance for success. "I gave up predicting successes a long time ago. There's just no way to tell for sure." Clark describes Berenger--as a student--as a very personable, very handsome and very hardworking.
Larry Clark may not have forseen Berenger's success but he has always been firmly convinced of his former student's talent. "Tom's strength's are his ability to communicate an honest inner intensity that sort of consumes him and whatever he happens to be doing at the time," Clark says. "There's a certain innocence in the kinds of roles he does. It's like he has one foot in innocence and one foot in street innocence and you don't know which way he'll go."
Berenger's role in Eddie and the Cruisers bears Clark out. Clark says the fact that Berenger has shaken his resemblance to Paul Newman and avoided being typecast proves his ability. Berenger's drastically different roles in his two current movies are good evidence of this. "One of the reasons he has worked is because they know he can get past what he's done and bring something imaginative to his next project," Clark says.
Clark has been trying to bring Tom Berenger back to the University for
some time now. He'd like Berenger to spend an afternoon answering theater
students' questions. "I have written to him recently and asked him
to come by," Clark says. "I'm hoping, but I realize how
busy he is."
Thanks to Marie K.