Category Archives: masculinity

New Persona

“The man who has just left his wife or his profession or both often stops shaving temporarily. The resulting beard, as it develops, will most obligingly give him the different successive aspects appropriate to the stages of psychological and social development he is about to pass through. That is, first it makes him look like someone caught in a natural disaster—flood, earthquake, fire; then it makes him look like a bum; then like a shipwrecked mariner; and finally like a desperado. Eventually the man either returns to his wife and/or job (or to a very similar wife and job) and shaves off his beard; or else he changes his life permanently, in which case the beard (if allowed to survive) takes its final form and becomes part of his new persona.”

—Alison Lurie, The Language of Clothes (1981)

Highlights from Esquire’s Viggo Mortensen Profile

Some highlights from Esquire’s recently-published profile of Viggo Mortensen:

  • “He’s the kind of guy who picks you up at the airport….”
  • “Viggo loves to drive. Sometimes he drives cross-country, just for the hell of it. And yet he has rented a Ford Fusion. ‘They always do this thing where they try to upgrade me to some fancy fucking car.’ But he doesn’t want a fancy fucking car. At times, he spontaneously pulls over to the side of the road for a good five or ten minutes to finish a train of thought—about life or death or demons or fears or his favorite soccer team in Argentina, San Lorenzo. About the time in the wilds of New Zealand when he skinned, cooked, and ate his own roadkill. (‘It was there.’)”
  • “He just doesn’t scream ‘I’m famous.’ Plus, he’s dressed like everyone around him, in a plaid flannel shirt, generic jeans (they’re not even Levi’s), and old black sneakers he got in Denmark a couple decades ago. (Mortensen doesn’t go in much for trappings. He has a flip phone!)”
  • “He lives in Madrid, and he works when he wants to work, doing whatever he feels like doing.”
  • “Mortensen is fifty-seven and has been at this drill since 1982—choosing to become an actor at age twenty-three after watching too many movies and thinking, I can do that.”
  • “His previous careers included driving a truck, delivering flowers, and loading ships in Denmark. For years he lived from gig to gig, check to check, mostly broke. It probably didn’t help that, on a whim, he left L. A. and moved to Idaho. He supported his acting career for years by bartending and waiting tables.”
  • “He had the world by the balls, with his pick of roles—big studio stuff, Clooney kind of stuff, paycheck stuff. He turned all of it down, choosing instead to do what he wanted to do, little of which was lucrative. ‘I mean, how much fucking money do you need?’ he asks.”
  • “He used some of his Lord of the Rings loot to start a publishing company—yes, a publishing company; it’s called Perceval Press, after one of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table—that would publish poets and other writers who might not otherwise get a book deal, and do so without having them ‘compromise.’ He could also afford to spend time on his other interests—writing poetry, taking photographs, painting.”
  • “…his ability to speak eight languages”
  • “‘I think about death all the time,’ he tells me as we both fire up another cigarette.”
  • “…the well-worn leather-bound journal he carries with him everywhere. He wants to ‘record life.’”

James Garner (1928–2014)

James Garner11

James Garner played cowboys, soldiers, detectives, astronauts, and race car drivers. He was, as Brandon David Wilson said on Twitter, “American manhood personified,” “a kind of ideal midpoint,” as Ned Raggett tweeted, “between laconic cool and comic vulnerability – like Steve McQueen plus Cary Grant.”

In a great piece for the Atlantic on the dearth of charm among American men, Benjamin Schwarz basically designates Garner – with his “casual wit,” “good-natured ease,” “liking for and appreciation of women,” and “quizzical detachment” – America’s last charming man. He writes, “Garner had a magical ability to convey his offscreen persona of red-blooded, hardworking, plain, and thorough decency, even as his charming onscreen persona didn’t fully jibe with it. He thereby made a light touch and an ironic stance qualities that men found not just appealing but worthy.”

Of the three mid-20th century male TV stars who made the jump to movies – Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, and James Garner – Clive James likes Garner the best, mainly because, unlike the more taciturn McQueen and Eastwood, Garner had a facility with words, a crucial component of charm. It doesn’t hurt that Garner was also, by all accounts, a pretty nice guy: married to the same woman since 1956, civil rights advocate, lifelong marijuana smoker.

Garner’s oft-remarked-upon charm is present from the beginning of his career in the late 1950s. Unlike Cary Grant, who didn’t hit his stride charm-wise until well into his career, Garner’s charm appeared more or less fully formed. This, I hypothesize, is partly due to the fact that he did stuff before becoming an actor. He lived life. The New York Times explains:

Mr. Garner came to acting late, and by accident. On his own after the age of 14 and a bit of a drifter, he had been working an endless series of jobs: telephone installer, oilfield roughneck, chauffeur, dishwasher, janitor, lifeguard, grocery clerk, salesman and, fatefully, gas station attendant. While pumping gas in Los Angeles, he met a young man named Paul Gregory, who was working nearby as a soda jerk but wanted to be an agent.

Years later, after Mr. Garner had served in the Army during the Korean War – he was wounded in action twice, earning two Purple Hearts – he was working as a carpet layer in Los Angeles for a business run by his father. One afternoon he was driving on La Cienega Boulevard and saw a sign: Paul Gregory & Associates. Just then a car pulled out of a space in front of the building, and Mr. Garner, on a whim, pulled in. He was 25.

The rest, as they say, is history, but Garner never really shed his “regular guy who works odd jobs” persona. I think this accounted for, insofar as it gave him a certain world-weariness, a fair chunk of his charm. World-weariness is, in fact, a key ingredient of charm according to Schwarz, who writes that “Only the self-aware can have charm: It’s bound up with a sensibility that at best approaches wisdom, or at least worldliness, and at worst goes well beyond cynicism.” “I was never enamored of the business, never even wanted to be an actor, really,” Garner told the New York Times in 1984 in a quote reproduced at the end of their obituary for him yesterday. “It’s always been a means to an end, which is to make a living.” Now, some of this may be false modesty on Garner’s part, but at a time when it seems like everyone and their mother wants desperately to be famous, Garner’s “take it or leave it” attitude, and the life experience that led to it, strikes me not just as indicative of charm, but of virtue. It’s usually stupid to try to emulate actors, but James Garner might be the exception to the rule.

What Would Denzel Do?

“Generally, I just think there is a real lacking in men knowing how to hit on women. I have this whole running joke with someone: What Would Denzel Do? Like, you don’t think about how many days you should wait to call the girl – you just do it when you want. Fuckin’ Denzel. You do what you want, you know what you want.”

Emily Ratajkowski

Charm

“Most men hold charm in vague suspicion: few cultivate it; still fewer respond to it; hardly any know whether they have it; and almost none can even identify it.”

—Benjamin Schwarz, “The Rise and Fall of Charm in American Men”

Beards

“The beard, being a half-mask, should be forbidden by the police. It is, moreover, as a sexual symbol in the middle of the face, obscene: that is why it pleases women.”

—Arthur Schopenhauer

(Via @GuyLongworth.)

Related reading: Have we reached peak beard?

What’s Sexy

I can tell you what I think is sexy in a man. It has to do with warmth, a personal givingness, not self-awareness. Richard is a very sexy man. He’s got that sort of jungle essence that one can sense. It’s not the way he combs his hair, not the things he wears; and he doesn’t think about having muscles. It’s what he says and thinks.

—Elizabeth Taylor