Oct 25, 2012

Harry Hamlin Making Love

Harry Hamlin hirsute, handsome, and pleasantly muscular, but not a bodybuilder -- he was kin more to Tom Selleck and  Gregory Harrison than Sylvester Stallone. But gay teenagers in the early 1980s looked beyond his muscles, for his role as the first positive gay character in a Hollywood movie.

Aspiring to be a great actor, not a hunk-of-the-week, Harry graduated from Yale with a degree in drama and then received his Master of Fine Arts degree.  He appeared in two serious adaptations of the classics: The Taming of the Shrew (1976) and Studs Lonigan (1979) before relenting and appearing in a toga, or out of a toga, in Clash of the Titans (1981), a retelling of the Perseus myth of ancient Greece.

It's heterosexist, with Perseus getting the girl at the end, and there is little or no buddy-bonding, but it was one of the few movies of the period where the hero was nude or shirtless throughout.

The next summer Harry starred in Making Love (1982), as successful writer Bart McGuire. The producers really, really wanted us to like him.  There is a long montage at the beginning that demonstrated just how good, noble, and kind he is.  Also not at all stereotypic, except he likes Gilbert and Sullivan, the precursor to show tunes.

Another long montage establishes that successful doctor Zack Elliot (Michael Ontkean), is also good, noble, and kind.  So is his wife, Claire (Kate Jackson, then famous for the babe-detective series Charlie's Angels).  

The superhuman virtue of the three main characters established, Bart and Zack become friends.  Bart tells Zack he's gay. He responds nobly. Bart offers Zack a back rub that turns into sex.

Zack tells Claire that he's gay.  She responds nobly.  They break up so Zack can move in with Bart.

Bart wasn't really looking for a romance, so they break up. But not to worry, Zack finds a new boyfriend instantly.

Everyone is affluent, tolerant, noble, and perfectly coiffed, with no anxieties, no conflict; everything works out fabulously.  It's awful.  I can't watch it today.  But in 1982, we were watching and saying: "Look, a gay character on a movie screen!  Who isn't leering and decadent, and doesn't die at the end!"

Harry Hamlin has been busy, starring in over 30 movies and 12 tv series.  Michael Ontkean, too. But Boomer kids will always remember the summer of 1982, when they were Making Love.