Paul Hogan

He always played the same character, he said: "Me." Or at least a bloke not too different from Paul Hogan, the former pool lifeguard, union organizer and Sydney Harbour Bridge scaffolder who stumbled onto the telly in 1972 when his workmates dared him to enter a talent show. That character (who never wore a suit save in jest; who talked, Hogan said, "like the guys down at the pub"; and who could spot a poser a mile off) was assertively working-class, unashamedly Australian, and enormously popular.

As Hoges the footy-loving pub philosopher of The Paul Hogan Show, and as Michael J. "Crocodile" Dundee, the bushman who conquers New York with a grin, a "G'day" and a big knife, Paul Hogan made himself into an emblem of Australianness--and sold it to the world.

Thirteen years after its release, Crocodile Dundee remains the most successful Australian film ever made. Its $328 million gross was the 10th biggest in history (it still ranks a creditable 56th). The “Yanks” and “Poms,” whose influence on Australian life had made them favorite butts of Hogan’s quietly patriotic humor, adored Dundee’s relaxed machismo, his naive goodheartedness. And their enthusiasm made Australians--always anxious about their international image--wildly enthusiastic about themselves.

“Australia has a new roving ambassador,” cheered Sydney’s Daily Mirror, “the phenomenally successful Crocodile Dundee, otherwise known as Paul Hogan. And every one [of his interviews] is a plug for Australia--a positive, bright, breezy Australia bristling with energy and talent.”

Hogan’s countrymen lost no time living up to the advertising: travelers proudly broadened their accents, salted their speech with Aussie colloquialisms, and said “G’day” instead of “Hi.” On a visit to the U.S., Prime Minister Bob Hawke introduced himself as the leader of “Crocodile Dundee country.” His allusion to the Marlboro cigarette commercials was apt. In Dundee, Hogan had created a hero who personified Australians’ most marketable qualities, a brand image the nation would rejoice in, and rebel against, for a decade.

That triumph was no accident. Ever since TV producer John Cornell had spotted Hogan sending up the judges on New Faces and hired him as a humorous editorialist for the news show A Current Affair, the duo had been building up the Hoges persona like the prizefighter Hogan had once briefly been. As their ambitions for their asset grew, from a big-city audience to a national and then an international one, they used carefully chosen bouts of advertising to gauge Hoges’ market punch. Everything they lent his guileless grin to scored a knockout.

Winfield cigarettes became (and remain) the most popular brand in Australia; Foster’s lager became the second-biggest-selling beer in Britain; American tourist visits to Australia doubled in four years in the wake of Hogan’s “shrimp on the barbie” ads. As well as proving Hoges’ appeal in untried markets, each campaign added a new inflection to his likable-larrikin persona. By the time filming on Crocodile Dundee began, Hogan could say confidently: “We know there’s a market demand for this type of product, and we are supplying that product.”

That didn’t sound much like happy-go-lucky Hoges. But then Hogan, whom acquaintances describe as an astute businessman with little time for fools, was, as he conceded, “a bit smarter than I make out on the old telly.

“ And as he zoomed further from his “ordinary bloke” origins--divorcing Noelene, his wife of 30 years, to marry his American Dundee costar, Linda Kozlowski; spending long periods in Los Angeles; even having a face-lift--Hogan became less and less willing to play the working-class hero (except in his films, which critics panned as lame remakes of Crocodile Dundee). “I’m not the little Aussie battler any more,” he protested in 1996. “If I can have a Rolls-Royce, I’ll have a Rolls-Royce. That’s the whole point of it.”

Australians are also growing impatient with the Hoges/Dundee image, which is widely seen as too Anglo-Celtic, too laid-back, too philistine, too yesterday. “Me and Hoges have a lot in common,” Hogan once said. “Neither of us gives a bugger what people think.” Australia hasn’t quite reached that level of insouciance, but (with a self-confidence that owes much to Mick Dundee) it is now striving to project a truer image: to be seen as smarter, more entrepreneurial, more ambitious, Hogan. The new Australianness may have less appeal at the box office, but as a pub philosopher or a simple bushman might say, you can never go wrong just being yourself.

BORN Oct. 8, 1939, in Parramatta, Sydney

1972 Makes TV debut on New Faces, finishing as runner-up in grand final
1972 Starts eight-year run as pitchman for Winfield
1973 Makes first of 60 Paul Hogan Shows
1981 First Foster’s beer commercials shown in U.K.
1984 Australian Tourist Commission ads start in U.S.
1986 Crocodile Dundee is released
1990 Marries Linda Kozlowski