Today, Hamlin Says ‘Making Love’ Was Ahead Of Its Time

Harry Hamlin in the ground-breaking queer film "Making Love."
Harry Hamlin in “Making Love” (screen capture)

In an interview with PEOPLE Magazine, Harry Hamlin says playing a gay writer in the 1982 queer-themed film, Making Love, “ended my film career.”

For those who aren’t familiar with the film, it was – in many ways – the Brokeback Mountain of its time. Produced by 20th Century Fox, it was the first major studio film about a same-sex affair.

In the film, Hamlin played Bart, a gay novelist who becomes involved with a young doctor, Zack (played by Michael Ontkean) who is just coming to grips with who he is even though he’s been married for several years to TV executive, Claire (played by a post-Charlie’s Angels Kate Jackson).

As you can see in the original trailer, 20th Century Fox knew it had a film that dealt with material not usually seen at your local cineplex.

Prior to Making Love, most queer characters in films were either victims of some horrible death or portrayed as crazy murderers or flamboyant (popular word back in the day) over-the-top queens.

Reflecting on the 40th anniversary of the film, Hamlin tells PEOPLE, “I was told by a lot of people, you can’t do that movie. I think it had been offered to pretty much everybody in town and everyone had turned it down because they thought it might be damaging to their careers.”

But Hamlin says he was “looking for something serious and something meaningful, rather than doing a movie about vampire bats invading a small town in in the Midwest, which is the type of fare I was being offered at the time.”

Harry Hamlin in the 1980s (photo: Alan Light - CC License)
Harry Hamlin attends 39th Emmy Awards in 1987 (photo: Alan LightCC License)

While his friends urged him to turn the role down, Hamlin’s agent thought it was a good idea. “He said I was somewhat Teflon because I was out in the press having had a son with Ursula Andress.”

“Everyone knows you’re straight so you’re going to be okay,” Hamlin recalls his agent telling him. “But I didn’t really pay much attention to any of that noise. I thought it was interesting and bold. I was attracted to that.”

The film’s release was met with mediocre reviews. With most of the attention on the subject matter, the performances were pretty much ignored.

This writer vividly remembers seeing Making Love in a movie theater while I was a freshman in college. While I hadn’t come to terms with my own sexuality at the time, things were bouncing around in my head. Sitting in the dark theater, the tension in the air was palpable as Hamlin and Ontkean kissed onscreen. I recall a male movie goer yelling out, “Don’t do it!!!”

L-R Michael Ontkean, Kate Jackson, Harry Hamlin (promo photo via IMDB)

After making what was, at the time, a bold choice as an actor, Hamlin would later realize its impact on his career.

“For years, I’d think was that the reason why I stopped getting calls? And finally realized that was the last time I ever did a movie for a studio,” the now-70 actor says. “I’ve done independent films but never a studio film. I had been doing nothing but studio films and basically going out on all the castings for all the movies. That stopped completely.”

Of course, today we see actors not only accepted in LGBTQ roles, but honored with Academy Awards. Just a few examples include Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, Sean Penn in Milk, Charlize Theron in Monster, Mahershala Ali in Green Book, Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody and Olivia Colman in The Favourite.

Four years after Making Love, Hamlin scored in the hugely successful NBC TV series L.A. Law, which he starred in for five years. More recent work includes his role in Mad Men, plus playing news anchor Tom Brokaw in National Geographic’s The Hot Zone: Anthrax.

Looking back on Making Love, Hamlin says, “Regardless of the effect it had on my film career…I’m very proud of having done that movie.”

He also shares that people have approached him in public thanking him for making the film saying “they were affected by it and that it helped them come out.”

(source: PEOPLE)

 

21 thoughts on “Today, Hamlin Says ‘Making Love’ Was Ahead Of Its Time”

  1. In 1982, I was 20 yrs old in my 3rd/4th year of college in Los Angeles, trying to live my life with “my truth” since 1979, although still largely in the closet. It was a difficult period, still struggling with what life was going to be like for me as a gay man. I will be forever grateful to Harry Hamlin, Michael Ontkean and Kate Jackson for having made this film, showing that gay men could have “normal” successful careers and lives and that “we are out there”, not alone but struggling with how to live our truths. At that time, it was necessary for the world to stories like this, and for gay people to see themselves represented in this way. It’s a shame that Hamlin’s film career suffered as a result at that time.

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    • I was 18 and LOST. I snuck away from my pack and saw this movie a few times. It was the ONLY thing in my world at that time that allowed me to feel that being gay was ok and I was NOT alone. Thanks Harry and Kate and Michael.

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  2. ??? If you look up Mr. Hamlin on imdb, you’ll find that he’s been steadily getting work ever since he made “Making Love” in 1982. The film hardly ruined his acting career.

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    • Thank you for the comment, Dan. I wrote the article. As Hamlin was specific in his quote (and I was careful to quote him correctly), he never said the film “ruined his acting career.” Later in the article he went on to note the many successes he had in TV and indie movies. His remark was in reference to the fact prior to ML he’d been doing major studio films. And after the film came out, auditions for major studio films dried up. I think the article has been misinterpreted as him being angry or grousing about the experience. But as I closed the article, I included his quote that he was glad he made the film. Thanks again for your comment.

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  3. Yes, Harry Hamiln is straight. However, he was certainly no stranger to the gay gaze, and he leaves that part out the story. In the mid-70s, he was acting at ACT in San Francisco when he played the controversial lead role requiring a nude scene in EQQUS. There was plenty of buzz about his sexuality then, that’s for sure. I saw the movie when I was out and living in NYC, but even in Manhattan, there were gasps. If it wasn’t an art house movie, it was a “date movie,” and last time I checked, there were a lot of straight guys in the US going to the movies, especially in 1982.

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  4. I’ve seen the film and thought it was an accurate and sensitive portrayal. In the movie Harry Hamlin plays a successful gay author, and it must have been shocking to audiences to see that a gay man could lead a happy and productive life. The film was ahead of its time, and I’m not at all surprised that it had an effect on Hamlin’s later career.

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  5. Harry Hamlin is a hero, his agent was a putz for not telling him that the movie coming out during the Evil Reagan Years and the moron majority apex was going to be career changing. The other actors that turned it down were more established stars and would have been safe. But they were cowards. Harry is an actor and took the “interesting role”, which is what a real actor does. The shallow LA actors were truly cowardly. Hamlin took the role, thank goodness LA Law hired him and made him a TV star. As an actor, I greatly respect him and his decision.

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  6. Whatever. Moonlight 🏅 an Oscar for best 🎥. Making Love didn’t, 😝. An Oscar! It’s not about white 🏳️‍🌈. Making Love 💕 is about two middle or upper income white 🏳️‍🌈 men. Moonlight wasn’t. Again it won 🏅 an Oscar. You’re probably still 😡 that it will never 👎 change the fact that Moonlight is about two young 🏳️‍🌈 and black impoverished teens.

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  7. Until a movie like that came out it would have been labeled “ahead of its time”…it was time! I was in high school and I remember thinking maybe I was going to be OK, out in the world as a gay man.

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    • “Clash of the Titans” was released in June 1981 produced by MGM.

      “Making Love” was released in February 1982 produced by 20th Century Fox. After “Making Love,” Hamlin never starred in another major studio film.

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    • Thank you for your comment. I wrote the article. The headline is a quote from Mr. Hamlin. In the article I wrote, I include his expressed appreciation for a long career in TV. I believe Mr. Hamlin’s point is the world wasn’t ready for a major studio, mainstream film about a gay relationship in such a sober tone. As mentioned in the article, in the decades since, actors have won Oscars for queer roles. But in 1982, the world’s reaction wasn’t as welcoming.

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      • I think your totally rite. I saw it when I was 14. I thought it was incredible. It made me feel I wasn’t the only guy with these feelings.

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  8. I loved it, but I do remember hearing quite a few gasps in the theater audience.. It may have been before it’s time, but the content and timing was perfect I believe.

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