The Middlebrow

Demi Moore

The mother of all actresses.

Illustration by Charlie Powell

When was the last time Demi Moore was in a picture? Not a motion picture—mercifully, those seem to have stopped—but a magazine cover? Demiologists date the artist’s last major work to the August 1991 issue of Vanity Fair, in which she posed nude and pregnant, though a vocal minority argues for the August 1992 issue, in which she posed nude and lathered with body paint. To those two masterworks, let us add a third: this week’s cover of the Star, which announces, “DEMI PREGNANT AT 42!” The magazine reports that Moore and her boyfriend, Ashton Kutcher, 27, are expecting a baby in October. This is big news. When not carrying a child, Moore comes off as an unsmiling, wooden actress that America tends to root against. Pregnant Demi, on the other hand, ignites our greatest sympathies and passions. This is the actress who spans genres, even decades—the Demi we deserve.

Of course, she might not be pregnant. But while Moore’s handlers issue hazy denials—”She cannot at this time say she is pregnant”—the Star’sbreathless article dishes out the specifics. Moore learned the news on March 4, the magazine reports, then phoned Ashton and yelped, “Honey, I’m pregnant!” Already, the tabloid has begun to portray Demi in a more sensitive and respectable light. It reports that she has forsaken her regular diet of Red Bull and cigarettes. Moore’s three daughters—Rumer, Scout, and Tallulah Belle—are said to be overjoyed at the news. Why, there’s even talk of a wedding, to ensure the Kutcher baby enters the world as part of an honest union.

Has an actress ever leveraged pregnancy more effectively than Demi Moore? The recent births by Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Roberts reminded us of everything we love about them. Moore, by comparison, uses pregnancy to make us forget what we detest about her. Moore’s most celebrated pregnancy was her second, at 28, when she posed for Annie Leibovitz’s infamous Vanity Fair cover shot. The movie Moore was ostensibly promoting (The Butcher’s Wife) was wretched and seen by no one. But the photos were so incendiary that Moore was elevated to the role of feminist saint. The withering attacks from talk-show hosts and American Enterprise Institute fellows only made her more so. “People can’t bear the idea that I could be sexual and provocative, and still be a nice person with a nice family and a nice husband,” she said later.

Pregnancy has the further effect of burnishing Demi’s biography: It makes her hardscrabble childhood seem more poignant. She was born Demetria Guynes in Roswell, N.M., in 1962. Her mother, Virginia, named her after a beauty product. Her father disappeared before she was born; her stepfather, Danny Guynes, divorced her mom and killed himself when Demi was still in high school. Demi says her family moved 48 times during her youth. Years later, her mother descended into alcoholism, rebuffed Moore’s attempts at intervention, and wound up replicating her daughter’s nude poses for a low-end magazine.

Motherhood does more than animate Demi’s public persona. She says it invests her movies with previously unnoticed depth. This will come as a surprise to some viewers, who thought Moore’s movies were primarily vehicles for her to cry and remove her clothes. Moore has said, “When I start to reflect on films I’ve done, starting with Disclosure to The Scarlet Letter, then The Juror, Now and Then, and Striptease, even though they’re very different, they have elements that have a general theme … a very maternal theme.” Moore says she idolized Hester Prynne for years before acting in The Scarlet Letter; never mind the scene in which Moore lovingly inspects her body in the bathtub. Striptease was the inspiring story of a single mother that only incidentally contained nude dancing. Some matriarchs are harder to figure—was Disclosure’sMeredith Johnson the mother of high tech?—but one admires her efforts, nonetheless.

Pregnancy also gives Moore what Hollywood starlets really want: creative control. “Gimme Moore,” as one studio executive dubbed her, spent her career terrorizing directors into caving to her demands. But never did she wield more influence than at the birth of her oldest daughter, Rumer, in 1988. Moore traveled with then-husband Bruce Willis to Paducah, Ky., where he was shooting In Country. She commandeered a local hospital, placing three video cameras and a director named Randy in the delivery room. When her labor started, the cameras rolled, with Willis looking brave if a bit bewildered, as in Die Hard, and Moore panting and moaning, as in Indecent Proposal. When the baby’s head finally emerged, Moore was said to turn to the director and grunt, “Did you get that?” Though largely unseen, it remains a canonical performance, just behind her work in G.I. Jane and Blame It on Rio.

Moore appeared last weekend on Saturday Night Live alongside Kutcher, in a gray wig and a floral-print dress. The obvious gag was that Moore was 15 years older than her paramour, but if she is indeed pregnant, the skit carried a deeper meaning: Moore was angling to become Hollywood’s oldest expectant mother. And Moore may not stop with one more. Pregnant or not, her spokesman says the actress wants more “children”—plural—which could guarantee regular Demi births deep into the new century. “Pregnancy agrees with me,” Demi once said. So much more than acting.