Sometimes, the most iconic outfit is your birthday suit. When Demi Moore appeared naked on Vanity Fair at 7 months pregnant (with her second, Scout), plenty of people clutched their pearls, and others applauded the magazine for celebrating a woman’s pregnant body. The story goes that Demi asked Annie Leibovitz to take this photo just for her and Bruce to have, and then Vanity Fair saw it and asked if they could use it on the cover. It was unlike anything that had come before, and has been aped since by the likes of Britney Spears (and, in a hat-tip, Moore herself for Harper’s Bazaar). It’s a stunning and careful portrait, but I also look at her in it, and wonder if it’s the angle or the lighting that makes one side of her face feel a wee incongruent with the other. The rest of her looks amazing.
What I found more informative, from a retrospective point of view, is the profile itself — which Demi once referred to as “snide” in parts, largely pegged to this first line here:
Though being Mrs. Bruce Willis couldn’t hurt a girl in Hollywood (at least until Hudson Hawk), Moore takes umbrage at the notion that her three-and-a-half-year superstar marriage jacked up her career. “I don’t think being Bruce’s wife has helped my career. I didn’t get an agent or a publicist because of Bruce. Did my life become higher-profile because of him? Yes. Does that give somebody a job or a hit movie?
“Do I think that since I’ve been with Bruce I’ve grown and that made my work better? Has Bruce affected me as a human being and contributed to my work? I’d say yes.” But did Ghost work, Moore asks pointedly, “because I’m Bruce Willis’s wife?”
The whole piece is a study in how famous women, and famous women who married famous men, were and are treated in the media. The framing is that, after the success of Ghost, she had to prove herself in The Butcher’s Wife or else be branded a one-hit wonder — a reductive attitude and a rapid dismissiveness that women still suffer today both as actors and directors, while men get innumerable chances. Although I do appreciate the many, many swipes the author took at Hudson Hawk, which had just bombed for Bruce Willis, please note that The Butcher’s Wife was apparently ALL on Demi’s shoulders, and not Jeff Daniels’s or the writer’s or the director’s.
There is also extensive discussion of whether she had earned her fame, whether was a diva, and whether she was what today’s Internet would call thirsty. The writer doesn’t particularly stick up for Demi — she sneaks in a lot of snarky asides like the one below about The Ivy — and so Demi has to stick up for herself in the eternal struggle of women against being branded difficult.
“I’m sure there are a lot of people who think I’m a bitch,” says Moore. “I ask for what I want and there are times I say, ‘I don’t like this. I don’t want this. It doesn’t work for me.’ I don’t fear to speak my mind. If it means changing everything that’s there, I’ll do it.”
She takes another bite of the steamed vegetables that have been delivered from the Ivy to her trailer on the Paramount lot. She doesn’t seem angry about the Industry dish accusing her of becoming an instant prima donna, just a tad defensive. “From my perspective I’ve got a very professional reputation,” she shrugs. “I’m strong and opinionated, but I’m not difficult in the sense that ‘Is my motor home big enough?’ It doesn’t bother me. Time will outweigh the moment. Besides, if you’re a woman and ask for what you want, you’re treated differently than if you’re a man. . . . It’s a lot more interesting to write about me being a bitch than being a nice woman.”
But this quote, which doesn’t even really have to DO with Demi, made me catch my breath:
“Demi has this accessible vulnerability that makes her attractive,” says Denise DeClue, one of the screenwriters of Moore’s 1986 film About Last Night. . . . “She’s like the prettiest girl in your class. She’s perfectly suited to the roles she gets. The best women’s roles aren’t complicated—they’re very simple, two- or three-note roles. If you can do that well, focus and not be confused, you’ve got a lot going for you. This is the nineties. This is the lottery-ticket deal. Do you need years of formal training? Do you need an intellectual understanding of the role or do you just have to be at the right place at the right time?”
The best women’s roles aren’t complicated. If you can focus on two notes and not be confused, you’re fine, that’s all you need. Wow. That is astonishingly dismissive of women, their capabilities, their creative contributions, and above all their smarts. She’s saying, “Eh, you don’t have to be smart, or even any good; you just have to get lucky,” and she’s kind of implying that applies to Demi Moore. Awful.
Given all the eyebrow-raising about success and ambition and whatnot, I’m glad that Demi just plainly stated this:
“I’m very ambitious and very driven,” Moore concedes. “I want [stardom]. I’m not, like, ‘Oh, yes, well, if it happens, it happens.’ I really want this.” Moore says it’s more important for her to have longevity than immediate success. “Most of the things I’ve done have been with newer directors. I’d like to work with more established directors, because I want to learn more. I want to be a great actress.
“I will seek out whatever it takes to make my life better,” she says resolutely. “That’s how I deal with my life on all levels—whatever you need to educate yourself, expand, explore.”
Good. Own it. In 2020, women still have to apologize for what they want. Hell, there were rumors Kamala Harris was being deemed too ambitious to work as a vice president, when in fact oodles of Veeps in history have used the job to understudy and train for the top gig. So I’m glad that in 1991, Demi Moore said that and stood by it. That had to be hella hard then, if it’s still this hard now.