Mar 2, 2024

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.


  1. Harry and Mike were hot in that movie along with the new boyfriend John Calvin.

  2. I mostly remember Clash of the Titans as one of the two movies that introduced me to stop-motion animation, the other being The Never-ending Story.

  3. Harry was president of the UC Berkeley Deke House the year before I joined in 1972. Two years later he returned from Yale to study at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater. He visited our frat house many times over the remaining year I lived there and we became good friends. My room was a popular place in the evenings to get high on weed and talk deep thoughts, and Harry would entertain us with his very adept guitar finger picking. He was smart, handsome, and charismatic, and I admired him greatly, but he was too masculine and hairy for me to fall for him in a sexual way.
    Harry invited me and another friend to see him onstage in "Equus". I had no idea what to expect of this play. I had recently come out of the closet by bringing an 18yo gay boy as my date to the frat house toga party. No one seemed to bat an eye about it (guys or girls), so I suspect they must have known already. Though I was only into smooth bodies (the younger the better), I had plenty of experience seeing mobs of naked hairy men at the San Francisco bathhouses by that time. Still, seeing my friend bare all on a public stage in front of hundreds of theatergoers was unnerving. The three of us went out to a theater bar afterwards to talk about the ideas in the play, which remains one of my favorites. I never had any gay vibes from Harry, but he was always gay-friendly.
    In those years the frat was renting rooms to female students. Supposedly, Greek life wasn't popular enough at Cal in those days for us to find enough good good men to join the fraternity, so it was better just to rent the extra space to women. What the national DKE Fraternity didn't know was that we were also covertly initiating them into the fraternity, making them members, not just renters.
    I've seen Harry many times on screen and stage, but the best performance of them all was in 1975 when he showed up "unannounced" at our co-ed frat initiation as "the man from National" and took over the initiation (as planned), convincing all the rushes they were going to get kicked out of the house unless they agreed to live there with guys only from that point on. Amazingly, the new guys all remained solidly behind the girls, despite believing he was the real deal, thereby failing, but actually passing, the initiation test. It's a great story that needs a longer telling, especially as Harry did not include it in his 2010 memoir of that time, "Full Frontal Nudity: The Making of an Accidental Actor".

  4. "Making Love" may seem dated now but it was very progressive when it came out- a positive gay love story from a major studio with good looking well known movie stars as the lovers.

  5. "making love" was a milestone at the time, and should be viewed as such. i still view zach's character as similar to my own.

  6. Wow, that was a long time ago... 😏

    But hey, even then, love was that... love! 💙

    1. It was astonishing at the time, the first mainstream movie with positively portrayed gay characters who don't die at the end. They spend about 1/4th of the movie bucking stereotypes by demonstrating that Harry Hamlin and Michael Ontkean are both nice guys,

    2. II was ground breaking, and probably the first gay movie I ever saw. I was so nervous entering the cinema because I was sure that everyone would know I was gay, because why else would I go see it. I love hairy men so Harry was gorgeous. I saw it a few times, but always found the ending to be very sad. They made it clear that he and his first wife would have been a perfect love match if only he wasn't gay and that he would never have kids which was something that Harry really wanted ie he could be gay and successful and happy but never as happy as he would have been if only he could have been straight (note they made it very clear that being straight wasn't a choice which was positive). I agree with Boomer, I cannot watch it these days.


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