Aug 30, 2010

Is Jon Hamm's handsomeness an axiom yet?

Watching him cavort and shimmy, wiggle and jive in the intro dance number at last night's Emmy Awards, his hair bouncing like a Collie's mane, I had fresh reason to ponder the entirely benign, almost freakish gift to the nation that is Jon Hamm's handsomeness. If Roland Barthes were still around he would probably call him an "axiom". How trained Hollywood's beautiful people are, these days, to shove their head into a paper bag at every available opportunity — Johnny Depp, Charlize Theron, Brad Pitt, to name just a few of the worst offenders. Hamm — for whose nascant movie-stardom last night's Emmy's were practically a coming-out ball — is a glorious throwback to the time when stars used to enjoy being looked at, soaking up the limelight the way plants seek out the light, photosynthesising their fame and sending it back out into the ether, redoubled. Today's stars are no less glued to the mirror than they used to be, but they're much more embarrassed by the fact, affecting a matte, brushed-steel indifference to their fame, taking aerosal cans to their own image in extravagant acts of self-graffiti in role after role. It's the sack-cloth-and-ashes approach to movie glamour — shame-faced, apologetic. Maybe it's no surprise that the two male actors who body-swerved this tendency — George Clooney and Jon Hamm — have also come to their careers late, and through TV. Theirs is the seasoned humility that comes from the long, hard slog towards the limelight; which means they still retain a connection to the silken, long-distance allure that movie star glamor has on an audience. Until recently, they were sat there with us in the cheap seats. They know what fame looks like from the outside, and having finally made it to the inside, they're not about to try and booby trap the audience's yearning in a fit of reverse vanity. They will stand there like men, godammit, lungs full, feet planted on the ground, backs braced, soaking up the attention like Kirk Douglas or Burt Lansaster* in their irradiant prime.

* See this impression of Lancaster which Alec Baldwin did on Letterman recently. It's a thing of great beauty, well worth enduring the 20 seconds of commercial for 'Outback' restaurants.


  1. Wanted to weigh in somewhere on your blog and since I happen to be a major fan of Mr. Baldwin (best guest host SNL has ever had), I figured I might as well drop in my two cents here.

    Found your site via James Wolcott and what a great find this is, Sir (knighthood not intended!). Your writing is absolutely sterling (currency not intended!) and a smile a minute as I travel back through your archives. Simply brilliant. I loved your take on sharing The Revolution... hey, it's about time... and would make for a much more civilized event than a downtown mosque face-off.

    Anyway, that said (and copious apologies for tainting this site with those two little horrid puns of mine), I look forward to more of your archives and of course your next post. Like that of Mr. Wolcott's, yours is a language the rest of us just don't speak.

    (Not intended as short for Cheerio!)

  2. Thank you so much for your kind words, scribbler50!

  3. Well said - beginning to end. We need more stars like that. As much as I admire Clooney and Hamm, we don't have anyone even in the same galaxy as a Lancaster anymore. That gravitas and presence is what's lacking not only when our "stars" are being mistaken for the homeless on the streets of Soho, but even on screen we don't have that breed of men and women who can burn a whole in our collective memory. When, and if, we ever get another dose of that kind of star power - then we'll be the lucky ones. In the meantime, we'll continue to watch TCM I guess.

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