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Sept. 28, 2010, 12:02 a.m. EDT

Did Stone go too far with Gekko?

Commentary: Stone wanted Gekko to ask himself tough questions

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By David Weidner, MarketWatch

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — For a generation of Wall Street bankers, the symbol of the perfect investment banker wasn’t any flesh-and-blood individual in the industry, it was Michael Douglas.

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Oliver Stone on making 'Wall Street' sequel

Director Oliver Stone talks with columnist David Weidner about why he made "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," revisiting the subject and the characters after 23 years, and assesses the appeal of antiheroes like Gordon Gekko.

Douglas reprised his role as Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” which opened last weekend and was the top box-office draw, grossing more than $19 million. The movie, like the industry in which it’s set, seems to have prospered from a lack of meaningful competition.

Reviews have been mixed. But there’s one thing the critics liked almost universally: Douglas’s Gekko.

Gekko, in the 1987 movie “Wall Street,” became the financial industry’s archetype not only in through his belief system — greed is good — but through his style of dress: contrast collars, slicked-back hair and suspenders.

Ellen Mirojnick, the original movie’s costume designer has said she tried to fashion a look that was a part Clark Gable and part Duke of Windsor. She said the director, Oliver Stone, complained to her that no one on Wall Street looked like Gekko. Soon enough, just about everyone did.

Rising above the role

It may not have been intentional, but many of those who found success aspired to be like Gekko — whether they admit it or not. James B. “Jimmy” Lee, the rainmaking investment banker at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. /zigman2/quotes/205971034/composite JPM +0.57%  , looks the part and — to some of his detractors — lives it, too.

Lee, who propagated the leveraged loan, is often compared to Michael Milken, the junk-bond king at Drexel Burnham Lambert, who director Stone, in large part, based Gekko’s character on.

Gekko’s sweeping influence extends beyond appearances. Wall Street was an industry full of Machiavellian types when the original came out. The ranks of get-rich-at-any-cost bankers has only swelled in the 23 years since.

With “Wall Street,” Stone may have created a monster.

Stone doesn’t see it that way, of course. When I asked him if it bothers him that so many young bankers in the 1990s were influenced by Gekko, he said that my premise was “a bit exaggerated.” But he also acknowledged that Gekko, like another of his characters, Al Pacino’s Tony Montana in “Scarface” were “attractive.”

“Villains sometimes tend to rise above their role in life,” Stone said. “They become heroes or anti-heroes. We lost our bearings in America, we’re living way beyond our means and people began to worship the idea of excess.”

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David Weidner is the Wall Street columnist for MarketWatch. He formerly covered M&A and financial services at The Daily Deal, American Banker and Dow Jones...

David Weidner is the Wall Street columnist for MarketWatch. He formerly covered M&A and financial services at The Daily Deal, American Banker and Dow Jones. He writes the Writing on the Wall column which appears Tuesday on MarketWatch and Thursdays on WSJ.com. He also is a regular contributor to the News Hub.

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