Monday, December 17, 2012

My Famous Relatives: Richard Gere

Richard Tiffany Gere, born 1949.
A few years ago David and I found that he was related to many crowned heads of Europe. It was exciting. And it was one of the factors that spurred me to delve into the genealogy of my own family. For months I searched for a celebrated blood relative of my own, but without luck. At last, however, I began to turn up relatives who had made some wider mark on the world. One thing rewarding about famous relatives is that there’s usually a lot more information available than just dates and names. Perhaps the best known of the famous relatives that I’ve discovered so far is the actor Richard Tiffany Gere (born 1949).

How are Richard Gere and I related? We’re tenth cousins. Our common ancestors are our mutual great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents Samuel Rider (1601-1679) and Anne Gamlett Rider (abt. 1605-1695). They immigrated to the USA from Northampton, England, between 1636 and 1638, and I’ve mentioned them in previous posts to this blog.

With Debra Winger in An Officer and a Gentleman.
The Rider branch of the family provides the blood relationship between Richard Gere and me, but we also have a family connection through two marriages. My second cousin twice removed Charles Elwood Grant (1900-1945) married Helene Thelma Stafford (1902-1985), Richard Gere’s tenth cousin once removed. And Helene’s sister Hilda Lucille Stafford (1898-1973) married Roy Robert Grant (1897-1988), another of my second cousins twice removed. As I’ve written on this blog before, the Staffords descend from Mayflower passenger Richard Warren (1580-1628) and his wife Elizabeth Walker Warren (1583-1673). And so does Richard Gere.

Richard Gere has never been an actor whose career I particularly followed. I recall first being aware of him when the movie An Officer and a Gentleman was released in 1982. I saw the movie during its original theatrical run and enjoyed it. But I was far more interested in one of the movie’s locations than I was in Richard Gere’s leading role.

Fort Worden State Park, near Port Townsend, Washington.
An Officer and a Gentleman was partly filmed at former US Army base, now State Park, Fort Worden near Port Townsend, Washington. I spent a week at Fort Worden in 1974 when I was one of the two kids selected from Clallam County to attend a retreat for fifth and sixth graders with a talent for writing and drawing. In addition to working on the book the students all collaborated on—my contribution was a linoleum block print of Herby the Medicine Man from Ruth Plumly Thompson’s The Giant Horse of Oz—I explored, with adult supervision, Fort Worden’s spooky old, partially flooded military bunkers. And in the boys dorm I learned definitions of terms for sexual prophylactics that had previously been opaque to me. So when I saw An Officer and a Gentleman I was more interested in the shots of Fort Worden than in Richard Gere.

The poster in Judi's room.
But I continued to be aware of Richard Gere, as ubiquitous a presence as most any movie star in US culture. When I was in art school one of my female apartment-mates had a poster of Richard Gere hanging in her bedroom. His white tank top-clad torso and tight jeans so blatantly screamed sex symbol that I scoffed at the poster. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so derisive if I’d known back then that he was my cousin.

I remember hearing jokes in the 1990s about Richard Gere’s conversion to Buddhism and trips to Tibet. Why were people who didn’t even know him so concerned by Richard Gere’s religious life?

I went with a group of friends to see The Cotton Club in 1984. We went opening day because one of the friends was a big Francis Ford Coppola fan. I remember kind of liking the movie, contrary to the general reaction, but beyond Diane Lane, the Hines brothers' dancing, and a scene of someone shaving with an old-fashioned razor which I think I admired for the historical research and the ability of anyone to shave with such an instrument, I don't really remember the movie. I certainly didn't remember Richard Gere was in it until reviewing his career for this blog post. Well, it's been a while.

In And the Band Played On.
I've seen a few of his other films that I actually recall him being in. Days of Heaven from 1978. Something called Power from 1986, which I saw on an airplane.  Sommersby, a 1993 movie he did with Jodie Foster, I barely remember except for the scene where Gere quotes from Homer’s Iliad. I was impressed to see him in 1993’s And the Band Played On, a tv adaptation of Randy Shilts’s book of investigative journalism into the early years of the AIDS crisis. In that Gere played a thinly disguised version of Broadway choreographer Michael Bennett.

More recently I’ve seen him in Shall We Dance, a solid, middle-of-the-road Strictly Ballroom-wannabe, notable for Stanley Tucci’s comedic performance. I thought Gere made a perfectly respectable Billy Flynn in the movie version of the play Chicago. I have friends—many of them dancers—who thought the movie of Chicago was terrific. I'm afraid it seemed mostly like lukewarm Cabaret leftovers to me. But I don’t fault Richard Gere for problems with the material and direction. Or for the fact that Catherine Zeta-Jones—one thing in the movie I would call terrific—overshadowed everyone and everything else simply by appearing onscreen.

Richard Gere in recent days
Richard Gere married model Cindy Crawford in 1991, but they divorced in 1995. In 2000 Richard Gere and Carey Lowell had a son, my tenth cousin once removed, Homer James Jigme Gere. Homer is also the first name of Richard Gere's father, my ninth cousin once removed, Homer George Gere (born 1923). In 2002 Richard Gere and Carey Lowell married.

Richard Gere’s been in popular and critically praised movies that I haven’t seen—Pretty Woman, American Gigolo, the recent Arbitrage—so I can’t claim to be a big Richard Gere fan. But I’m certainly happy for his success and wish him the best in his continuing acting career. I also like being able to say I’m related to a movie star.

5 comments:

  1. I am also related to Richard Tiffany Gere

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  2. Then we must be distant cousins, too! Thanks for visiting.

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  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. My wife, my two daughters and I had the fortunate opportunity of seeing the premiere on Friday night March 3rd at the Miami film festival.
    We had the fortunate opportunity to see him live on stage before the viewing of the movie.
    My wife Brenda Levine has followed his career for 40 years didn't understand the movie at the viewing but then understood it more after reading this article about the movie's plot.
    We did go to the after-party in the hopes of shaking his hand and meeting him.
    We were disappointed in that, but highly satisfied by the whole experience.
    My wife had an obstacle in getting there because she's handicapped.
    All in all it was fun and the movie was great we give it ten Stars and hope for a big success and it was very entertaining and Richard is still as handsome as he was in the movies, "Breathless" and "American Gigolo".
    It was an opportunity of a lifetime
    Bravo! Congratulations!
    The movie is a winner because both Richard Gere and Joseph Cedar are winners!

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    1. That sounds like it must have been a great evening. Thanks for your comment, Richard.

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