Withering Glance: When Hollywood finally made a gay movie

Rick Nelson and Claude Peck dispense unasked-for advice about clothing, etiquette, culture, relationships, grooming and more.

 

CP: When you pleaded with me to watch “Making Love” again, I figured, here we go again with your moderate Harry Hamlin obsession. Or am I mistaken?

 

RN: You are not. After he popped up as a dyspeptic shark on “Mad Men,” I immediately skipped past his “L.A. Law” years and went straight, no pun intended, for his role as Bart, the commitment-phobic home wrecker in that 1982 sudser. Watching it now, it’s hard to believe that “Making Love” was the “Brokeback Mountain” of its time. Well, sort of.

 

CP: I remember perfectly the anticipation. Sure, the gays had dutifully headed to the art house before that to see such shocking indie and foreign films as “Taxi Zum Klo,” but this was different: a big Hollywood feature, opening wide and starring the smartest of “Charlie’s Angels.”

 

RN: Poor Kate Jackson. Her jilted-wife character really gets the short shrift, while being forced to wear one of Hollywood’s worst early-’80s wardrobes.

 

CP: What’s wrong with a perky beige sweater vest and a voluminous, front-pleated peach skirt? I disagree that hers is such a thankless role in the movie. With her button nose, wavy chestnut hair and double dimple, Jackson was that year’s It woman. She was the studio’s ploy to get mainstream audiences to come see a gay-themed love story. Not that it worked.

 

RN: It’s all so soul-suckingly tasteful, and WASP-ishly chilly. Jackson and preppy on-screen hubby Michael Ontkean — they had co-starred in TV’s “The Rookies” — have all the trappings of the upwardly mobile perfect marriage. Until … cue violins. And cut to the inside of a gay bar.

 

CP: Where Hamlin’s Bart, in a lumberjack shirt (!), makes eating a handful of peanuts while surveying the crowd the sexiest movie moment of the season.

 

RN: While pushing snack-food sales through the roof.

 

CP: How many time do we see him doing pushups, shirtless, in the era’s trademark dad jeans?

 

RN: I’m thinking Jordache.

 

CP: He later said that his reward for playing gay in “Making Love” was not getting another studio movie for 20 years.

 

RN: Yes, but the Hamlin torso became the gay-gym ideal for more than decade, so at least he has that.

 

CP: And his “L.A. Law” residuals. And a chin cleft in which you could park a Smart Car.

 

RN: We digress. In today’s marriage-equality world, it’s hard to believe that the film began with a warning that its subject matter might be “too sensitive for some people.” Just a scant 32 years ago.

 

CP: At least gay screenwriter Barry Sandler had the guts not to shy away from Zach’s resolve that he and Claire would have to split up. I liked their “big reveal” scene. And I loved the waiter on roller skates.

 

RN: My top takeaway is Roberta Flack’s theme song, by composer Burt Bacharach. It was her last big hit. Alas, it never became a gay “The Way We Were.”

 

E-mail: witheringglance@startribune.com

Twitter: @claudepeck and @RickNelsonStrib

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