These days, a photo of John Travolta tends to elicit a practically Pavlovian response from those who follow celebrity gossip. Sadly, we see that face — that familiar, aged but still handsome face — and think, “Oh, is there another lawsuit?”

John Travolta alongside Taylor Kitsch in "Savages." (Francois Duhamel/AP)

In recent months, that’s what the star of “Saturday Night Fever,” “Grease” and “Pulp Fiction” has become known for: denying allegations raised in lawsuits filed by male masseurs who have accused him of making inappropriate sexual advances toward them. The initial lawsuit that started this recent wave of Travolta scandal was filed in April by two masseurs, and later dropped; a former Royal Caribbean cruise ship employee made similar charges in a suit filed two weeks ago. Travolta and his camp have denied all allegations raised.

Even though Travolta says none of these charges have any relationship to the truth, they nevertheless presented an obvious problem as he prepared to promote “Savages,” his first major release in two years, which arrives in theaters Friday.

How can Travolta — arguably the most universally recognized actor in Oliver Stone’s brutal drama about the drug trade — use his star power to publicize the picture? The answer, as Travolta’s promotional efforts have demonstrated, is very sparingly.

Under other circumstances, Travolta might have done some sit-down interviews with glossy magazines, yakked it up during red carpet premieres and made some stops on the late night talk show circuit.

Instead, he walked the red carpet at the “Savages” L.A. premiere last week but did not stop for interviews, instead making sure plenty of photographs of him and wife Kelly Preston being cute and kissy were snapped. They attended the after-party together as well.


The next night, at the New York premiere, Travolta took a similar approach, sans Preston. He did the photo-posing thing on the carpet but didn’t do interviews and reportedly skipped the after-party.

As previous TV listings suggest, he had been scheduled to appear on “The Late Show With David Letterman” last week, but Blake Lively, his “Savages” co-star, ultimately took the spot instead.

As best as I can tell, Travolta has limited his major broadcast appearances to a visit Tuesday to “Live! With Kelly,” during which hosts Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan made no mention of the masseur accusations, and a lengthy sitdown with his fellow “Savages” cast members on “Charlie Rose.” Because Rose’s program focuses on the artistry of the film business and not the sordid rumors that are also part of it, the scandal did not come up during that appearance either.

Is all of this avoidance a wise move for Travolta? Perhaps at this stage it is. If there are questions he still is not prepared to answer, or simply does not want to dignify, the only way he can promote his movie is in in­cred­ibly controlled situations. Those are in­cred­ibly rare in this media age, which means he has to limit his publicity efforts practically by default.

But with more films slated for release in 2013, clearly Travolta can’t avoid the media forever. At some point, he will have to face questions from someone about all this.

Until then, it appears that the Academy Award nominee just wants his work to speak for itself. For the record, he’s quite good in “Savages,” bringing a manic energy to his role as a corrupt drug enforcement agent who will say whatever he has to in order to get what he wants.

It’s a part that, in many ways, stands in stark contrast to what Travolta the celebrity must do right now: keep his mouth shut and hope the dark clouds and unsavory allegations disappear.