Honey, Who Shrunk The Stars?

Case in point: Josh Hartnett. ''Look at the hype that came out on him before 'Pearl Harbor,''' says the Hollywood manager. ''Did anyone honestly care about him? When the hype gets ahead of the work, you're f -- -ed.''

Trouble is, while hype has always been a part of the movie industry, it virtually runs Hollywood today. In the past 15 years, thanks to the near-maniacal obsession with opening weekends, hype has proliferated like bacteria in a petri dish. ''The economics of the business are now geared much more toward the short term,'' explains the head of another major studio. ''Everybody is trying to score the next big instant hit. Nobody is paying attention to the long-term care and feeding of these new stars. They're being pushed into movies that are going to open huge, rather than movies that might be better for their careers in the long run.''

''There's less time for actors to hone their skill,'' says Newman. ''They're suddenly being asked to carry films, being pushed at audiences way too soon. There's no sense of discovery.''

And the films they're frequently asked to carry aren't exactly filled with tour de force turns. ''The Day After Tomorrow'' may have made Jake Gyllenhaal a name in some households, but unlike, say, ''Risky Business'' or ''Mad Max'' or ''Star Wars,'' it's not a memorable film. ''We're not making movie stars because we're not making good enough movies,'' bluntly states Hollywood casting director Denise Chamian. ''If a movie is good, that's what catapults an actor to stardom.''

BLAME THE MEDIA (OR, YOU READ IT HERE FIRST -- AND FOR THAT WE APOLOGIZE)

Of course, the object you're holding in your hands has also contributed to the hype explosion in Hollywood. The proliferation of celebrity-obsessed press -- the 24-hour entertainment cable channels, the hundreds of Internet showbiz sites, the racks upon racks of celebrity-driven magazines, those miles and miles of televised red carpets -- it's all been ferociously stoking the culture's insatiable appetite for new young things. Feeding that hunger requires a constant stream of fresh faces and instantly recognizable names -- who has time to wait until these kids actually do something worth covering? Compared to today, ''Al Pacino probably got minimal publicity going into 'The Godfather,''' says Newman. ''Nowadays, he'd be on the cover of [competing magazines] and being interviewed by Katie Couric for a month prior to the film coming out.''

Consider this 1957 quote from Joshua Logan, who directed Marlon Brando in ''Sayonara,'' seven years into the late actor's very hot career: ''Marlon's the most exciting person I've met since Garbo. A genius. But I don't know what he's like. I don't know anything about him.''

Retaining a Garboesque mystery is key, maintain astute insiders. ''A certain amount of publicity is good because then you're on the radar,'' says Chamian, ''but when it becomes too much about the personal life on ''Access Hollywood'' every night, that's bad. Tom Cruise has been successful at avoiding this. He doesn't seek publicity and tries to deflect it whenever possible.'' (Note to Ben Affleck, now more famous for being famous than for opening movies.)

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