His eyes opened, from now on he wouldn't simply talk a good game but act upon his words, too.
His father would say that George's voice actually broke when he was trying to impress guest Lynda Day George, the glamorous star of Mission: Impossible.
Name: George Clooney
6 May 1961 (Age: 53)
Where: Lexington, Kentucky, USA
Height: 5' 11"
Awards: Won 1 Oscar and 2 Golden Globes, nominated for 6 BAFTAs
They said it couldn't be done. They said that TV stardom necessarily disqualified an actor from major cinematic success. Yet, despite being the veteran of no fewer than fifteen TV pilots and seven major TV series, George Clooney would become one of the biggest and the brightest film stars of them. Ocean's Eleven and its subsequent franchise would see him draw together and headline over the likes of Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon and Al Pacino. He'd win an Oscar for his acting in Syriana and be nominated for Michael Clayton, as well as being nominated for directing and writing the screenplay for Goodnight, And Good Luck. His production credits would include comedies, thrillers and politically-charged award winners like Far From Heaven. This TV star was now a genuine Hollywood heavyweight.
George Timothy Clooney was born on the 6th of May, 1961, in Lexington, Kentucky. His mother, Nina, was a former state beauty queen, while his dad, Nick Clooney, was a TV newscaster, actor and talk-show host of great repute around the Cincinnati area. The son of Andrew Joseph Clooney and Frances Marie Guilfoyle, Nick had begun his entertainment career in the army as a DJ then tried his luck in Hollywood, before returning to the mid-West. He'd be a news anchor in Lexington, following in the footsteps of his hero Edward R Murrow, then score his own TV show in Columbus, Ohio in the late Sixties before quickly moving on to a new show in Cincinnati in 1969. This was on WCPO's Channel 9. From here, in the early 1970s, he'd move on to WKRC-TV's Channel 12, also in Cincinnati, both versions of The Nick Clooney Show being morning chat shows. 1974 would see him get national coverage when he hosted the daytime game-show The Money Maze then , when this failed, he returned to his early love of more serious journalism when he became news director and anchor for WKRC.
From the age of 5, young George would potter around his father's sets, joining in where possible, shouting out the temperature during the weather report, generally being charming (some things never change). Nick's audiences loved him. George's aunt, the famous singer Rosemary Clooney, thought he'd make a fine comedian. Once, when he was thirteen, he was at home trying on an Easter Bunny costume for one of his dad's shows. Suddenly, there was an awful rumbling - it was Augusta's first earthquake in 150 years. Poor George; in his cute suit and huge fake feet, he had to leave the building and stand, humiliated, among the neighbours. Throughout his teens he build his role on his dad's show, serving coffee and doughnuts, greeting guests and even warming up the audiences.
Outside of TV, Nick would make some 150 personal appearances a year, visiting fairs, schools, businesses, anywhere there was an audience. The whole family - Nina, George and sister Ada - would go and George would learn the importance of entertaining the public at all times, any arguments in the car would have to be immediately forgotten upon arrival. In Ohio, Nick was seen as a cross between Elvis and Johnny Carson and refused to disappoint people. It was a lesson George learned well, eventually becoming a master of the press conference and red carpet.
George attended Kentucky's Augusta High School, but was no academic. Indeed, his father would give him extra book reports as he didn't think the boy was reading enough. War books became a favourite. George was more sporty. Indeed, baseball was his life. A big star at Augusta High, he actually tried out for the Cincinnati Reds, but did not make the cut.
He tried college, at Northern Kentucky University, but didn't like that. He tried following his father into broadcast journalism, but didn't really want to do that either. Then came revelation. George's uncle was the actor Jose Ferrer, and now he came to Kentucky, along with his actor sons Miguel and Rafael, to make a horse-racing movie called And They're Off. Miguel was a particular friend of George's and he got him a minor role. The film was never released, but something in George Clooney was. He'd not seriously considered acting before. Indeed, his only real contact with that world had come very early on, when Raymond Burr came to Kentucky. George had trailed around behind the poor fellow all day, every five minutes grabbing his sleeve and shouting "You're Perry Mason! You're Perry Mason!"
Nick told him he ought to stick with college, have something to fall back on. But George replied that if he had something to fall back on, he'd probably fall back. So, he spent a season picking tobacco for his uncle Jack, then in 1982 took off for LA in his '76 Monte Carlo, with $300 in his pocket. The idea was to stay with his aunt Rosemary while he studied and looked for acting work, but she didn't fancy his chances and didn't really want to help him on his way to disaster. Nevertheless, when she went off on tour she invited George to be her driver.
Other work did not come. This was the time of the Brat Pack and George was just a couple of years too old. He borrowed $200 from new friend Grant Heslov (later his production partner) to have head shots done - still nothing. He became depressed and something of a pain, so Rosemary asked him to leave. Luckily, a friend and fellow-struggling-actor Tom Matthews could put him up - in a walk-in closet. George lived like that for a year, while touting for roles, doing construction work and studying under the renowned Milton Katselas. His first class production secured him an agent. Now the work came - and in the end HOW it came.
Many think that George Clooney was an immediate (and lucky) sensation with his first big part, in ER, then casually stepped into the movies. It didn't happen like that at all. He had to sell insurance door to door, draw caricatures in the mall, and flog lemonade from a stand. He did indeed start in a programme called E/R, but not the successful one. This one began in 1984, with Elliott Gould as divorced Dr Sheinfeld, a physician on call at a tough hospital. Like the later ER, it was set in Chicago, and veered between sit-com and high drama. For a couple of years, George was George Burnett in The Facts Of Life, a long running series about boarding school girls. Then, for a further year, he was Booker Brooks in Roseanne (this was a prime gig but, unable to get laughs, Clooney felt a failure and walked before he could be sacked). In between, there were a few film roles. There was the Scream-like Return To Horror High: Grizzly 2, with Charlie Sheen, which was (unsurprisingly) almost never released: and Return Of The Killer Tomatoes, where those vicious fruit were reanimated by John Astin (formerly Gomez Addams). Now reasonably confident of his toe-hold in Hollywood, Clooney would encourage his dad to return to LA and have another shot at the big-time. This he did, scoring a job on KNBC-TV in 1984. Ever grateful and generous, Clooney would always, but always attempt to encourage and help out his friends and family.
On paper, it doesn't look like much, but Clooney was actually big news in TV. He could get pilots greenlighted, and the money got progressively better. In 1990, he starred as Chic Chesbro in Sunset Beat, a shortlived TV series about LA cops who go undercover as bikers (Clooney LOVES motorbikes). Then came Baby Talk, a series based on Look Who's Talking, which featured sit-com gods Tony Danza and Scott Baio. He played Detective Ryan Walker in Bodies Of Evidence, a series of police mysteries. Then, between 1993 and '94, he was a cop again, as Detective James Falconer in Sisters, a popular series about four sisters in different walks of life, which variously featured Swoosie Kurtz, Julianne Phillips and Ashley Judd. He'd also, he later explained, became properly politicized. In 1992, after the Los Angeles riots, he and his friends had gone down to South Central to help with the clearing up operation.
By now, Clooney was already rich. He was earning $40,000 a week, owned a Hollywood home and two cars. For some years, he'd been "the best-paid unknown actor in Hollywood". Trouble was, he couldn't get a film agent to represent him, not even one from his own agency, William Morris. He tried for a part in Thelma And Louise, reading for Ridley Scott five times, but lost out to Brad Pitt. He was gutted, and outraged, couldn't watch the movie for a full year. Then, when he did, he later recalled, "I sat there with my mouth open, saying I would never have thought of doing things the way he did them. Suddenly, I realised how right Ridley Scott was".
This film problem had not been George's only source of trouble. While making Baby Talk, he'd argued continually with the producers and quit in acrimonious circumstances. He believed he'd never be employed again. Beside that, he was splitting from his wife, Talia Balsam. The daughter of actors Martin Balsam and Joyce Van Patten, Talia was a year older than George and was a TV regular in shows like Happy Days, Taxi, Dallas, Magnum PI etc. They'd married in 1989, just after George had split from Kelly Preston (now Mrs Travolta). George claimed he would never marry again and never have children. Nicole Kidman would bet him $10,000 that he'd break this vow by the age of 40. On his 40th birthday, she'd send him a cheque. He'd return it with a note saying "Double or nothing on my 50th".
Now came the big break, though it must have looked like business as usual to George. It was yet another TV series, again called ER. But George answered the call of Warners president Les Moonves and took it on. Unlike the 1984 version, it was a mega-smash and, as heart-throb doctor Doug Ross, George was the sexy centrepiece. Some have snidely asked what Clooney would have been without ER - it's more pertinent to ask what ER would have been without Clooney, with his humour, his timing, his looks and his action-heroics.
Now came the movies. On the set of ER, Steven Spielberg had told Clooney that he'd could be a movie star if he stopped moving his head. He'd soon be proven correct. George had earlier auditioned for Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, performing Michael Madsen's horrifying dance sequence. Now he made the cut, starring alongside Tarantino himself as Seth Gecko in the weird, road-movie-come-vampire-flick From Dusk Till Dawn. Clooney played a baddie for the first time, but he went over well, his haircut in particular proving popular. He'd got himself a “Roman” cut to look especially crazy - but everyone thought he was cute. So he kept it.
George received $250,000 for From Dusk Till Dawn. His next offer was infinitely more exciting, and not simply for the $3 million on offer. What thrilled George more was a note saying "The Peacemaker is the first film from our new studio and I'd love you to do it". The studio was Dreamworks, the writer Steven Spielberg, possibly the only man powerful enough to get George out of a contract to play the Green Hornet, which he did.
First though came a superior rom-com with Michelle Pfeiffer, called One Fine Day. Here Clooney managed to hold his own beside one of the industry's finest actresses, even though they were required to deliver their lines at twice the normal speed. Lots of money was made. Then came The Peacemaker, with Kidman. This was righteously slagged off but, as George later pointed out: "Dreamworks was being reviewed rather than The Peacemaker. It was the first time I'd gotten bad reviews ever in my life. Actually, Batman came out first, so it was like a one-two punch".
Ah, yes, Batman And Robin. George had been asked to take over from Val Kilmer by director Joel Schumacher and had accepted, despite making only $3 million to Arnie's $20 million. The movie wasn't good, mostly for its lack of story, but also because the involvement of both Robin and Batgirl added a thoroughly unnecessary superficiality. George wasn't too hot either. As he'd learned his craft, he'd begun to use a few fail-safe moves, in particular one where he looked down and slowly raised those big doe eyes (Antonio Banderas did something similar). The ladies may have loved it, and Schumacher, legendary for making stars look impossibly good, may have demanded it, but it was wholly inappropriate when George was sitting on butler Albert's death-bed. Worse still, much of the movie was looped - a process that the usually mild-mannered Clooney hates with abandon.
Fortunately, Clooney learned fast that he had to get real. Even more fortunately, though it was slated by everyone, Batman And Robin made money - $230 million worldwide, plus merchandising and video receipts that may well have taken its profits into the billions. Strangely, it was Clooney's next picture, his first real critical success, that lost money. After Batman, he'd looked for a decent script for over a year. He felt he needed one because he didn't believe he could carry a bad film on sheer personality. He also believes, for much the same reason, that he needs high quality co-stars. Very realistic is our George.
So, along came Steven Soderbergh with Out Of Sight, a smart, slick, indie-thriller that paired George, as Jack Foley, with the up-and-coming Jennifer Lopez. Money was lost due to marketing departments not being sure where to place such an unusual film, but those who saw the movie knew that George had arrived. His reputation so enhanced, he moved on to Three Kings, a superb movie about rebellious soldiers looting gold bullion during the Gulf War.