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- March 30, 1987
- Vol. 27
- No. 13
Last of the Great Romantics
For L.A. Law's Harry Hamlin, a Hot Night with the One You Love Is Champagne, Vivaldi and Sharing
The announcement last year that Harry Hamlin was being cast to play attorney Michael Kuzak on L.A. Law brought comments ranging from "Harry who?" to "Isn't he the guy who used to go with Ursula Andress?" But four episodes into the show, when Hamlin climbed into a gorilla suit and King Konged Susan Dey into abandoning her intended groom at the altar, the carping stopped. Harry was bright (given to existential discussions); he was sensitive (with eyes that big and that brown, he has no choice); and that mellifluous voice makes Tom Selleck sound like a canary. And his lips, well, let's just say there haven't been lips like that since Mick Jagger.
The difference between Hamlin, 35, and PEOPLE'S previous "Sexiest Man Alive" titleholders—Mark Harmon last year and Mel Gibson the year before—goes beyond the fact that Harry's the only one who's played Hamlet. In terms of pure sexuality, Harry's the type who would talk afterward instead of just rolling over or lighting a cigarette. Okay, Harry might smoke. "I'm a reforming smoker. I'm chewing nicotine gum during the day," he says, though he allows himself two at night. But he could talk too. About important stuff. Big issues. Big authors. "I get interested in writers who are enigmatic," he says, recalling the long nights he spent at Yale University's library ingesting the dramaturgy of avantgardists Peter Brook and Antonin Artaud. "It seems that since they are enigmatic they must be good. But on the other hand, it could just be somebody who is insane and writing drivel." Don't let him go on like this, because Hamlin admits he was hanging around the library as much to meet girls as to study.
Hamlin's tongue gets tied only when it comes to discussing whether he finds his 158-lb., 5'11" self sexy. "Certainly when I look in the mirror, I don't get turned on," he says. "Well, ah, it's not something I spend a lot of time considering, but, uh, as long as my wife does, then I suppose I do." That's right, he's married. Very happily. And she does think he's sexy. But Laura Johnson, 28, who played the trampy Terry Hartford on Falcon Crest for almost three seasons, says what you really have to know about her husband is "He is very, very romantic." Harry, she says, will take her out in a rowboat at sunset with a bottle of champagne and tapes of Vivaldi.
When other women discuss Hamlin, there's always talk of his sweetness and smarts. Susan Dey, who gets into bed with Hamlin regularly on L.A. Law in her role as Grace Van Owen, says, "Harry has the charm, vulnerability and diplomacy of Cary Grant and the explorer, survivalist instinct of Robinson Crusoe. Harry is vulnerable, but with an edge." Morgan Fairchild pronounces Harry "extraordinarily sexy," but claims his "intelligence and sensitivity make you look past the flesh."
Still, who can be blamed for lingering on the flesh, kept trim via thrice-weekly sessions with a personal trainer? As his wife puts it, "Women really respond to Harry. Women spot Harry and make their way over to our table. You wouldn't believe the claws and fangs."
It's a Sunday afternoon and Hamlin is showing a visitor around his two-bedroom cottage in Laurel Canyon. He is wearing faded jeans, a T-shirt and a windbreaker. From his balcony, he points to his garden. Earlier, with the aid of his cat, Meno, he did battle with a mole. "I got vicious," he says. "I felt like Rambo. Meno would spot the grass moving and I had a big machete and was pounding away. Unfortunately, I don't think I got the sucker."
Laura comes by, wearing the same blue sweater Harry was wearing the day before. "We're like Mutt and Jeff. We spend hardly any time apart," says Hamlin. "That could be the key to a successful marriage." They've been together since 1984, when Johnson met Hamlin at the opening-night party for Awake and Sing!, a play he was doing in New York. She'd been invited by her publicist, who was also Harry's.
"We spotted each other across a crowded room," Hamlin quips, fully aware of the cliché.
"I don't think we were smitten immediately," she says.
"I was," says Harry, "and I've admitted that to you before."
It may not have been instant combustion for the Burbank-born Johnson, but she concedes, "I was very much taken by this guy who was very nice, and very intelligent, and very articulate. Plus he didn't ask me my sign." They were married a year later, the first marriage for Harry, the second for Laura, formerly wed to a film editor.
Hoping to have children soon, they are shopping for a bigger house. "That doesn't mean it isn't possible to start having a child here," Hamlin says.
He is, of course, already a father. Son Dimitri, 6, lives in Rome with his mother, Ursula (Dr. No) Andress, the statuesque Swiss-born actress who preceded Linda Evans and Bo Derek as Mrs. John Derek. Hamlin and Andress—then 28 and 43 respectively—met in 1979 while filming Clash of the Titans. Set on Mount Olympus, this potboiler had Ursula playing Aphrodite and Harry as Perseus. Their skimpy togas soon became entwined, and the love affair continued until 1983. Despite Dimitri, differences in age and backgrounds kept the two from marrying, Hamlin says, adding: "It's not that I'm glad [the relationship] is over, but I'm glad that what's happening now is happening." Andress is not chatty on the topic either, although the two are on friendly terms and share Dimitri. "She has the day-to-day role during the school year, the tougher role," says Hamlin, who gets Dimitri every summer. "She's an excellent mother."
Hamlin has several telephone conversations with the boy each week, during which he improvises adventure-filled stories. "It's got to be 15 minutes long at least and it's got to have his favorite characters, which are Mickey Mouse, Chip 'n' Dale, Donald Duck and Goofy," says Hamlin. "He also likes Pluto once in a while, but Pluto's a dog." The other characters, Hamlin helpfully explains, are "anthropomorphic." Harry's the kind of guy who makes distinctions like that, even to his child. His house and his trailer on the L.A. Lawset are loaded with pictures of Dimitri, including a framed montage of 12 shots above his trailer refrigerator on the back of which Andress has penned, "Taken while trying to get a decent passport photo."
Harry grew up in Pasadena, Calif. with an older brother and a half brother from his socialite mother Berniece's previous marriage. His father, Chauncey, was an aerospace engineer with two children by a former marriage. Harry's is no rags to riches story, but rather riches to riches. After prep school, he went to the University of California at Berkeley in 1970, at the height of its radical phase. Hamlin made his contribution: As president of his fraternity, he approved the taking in of female boarders. When there was a fire early one morning and the residents fled in their pajamas, the picture made the front page of the campus newspaper. "The fraternity was called a brothel and I was called its pimp," says Hamlin. "I got a chuckle out of it until it hit the AP wires." A university scandal ensued, and Hamlin says he was encouraged to leave, which he did. An above-average student, he went to Yale, graduating from there in 1974 with a degree in drama. Having performed in plays at Yale, he decided to pursue acting full-time. "There was some initial resistance among my immediate family," he says, "mainly because they figured that I would never be able to put two dimes together."
After four years at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, his career clicked. He has worked steadily since 1978, first in Movie Movie, then Clash and several TV minis, including Studs Lonigan and Space. Hamlin's best known film role, that of the gay writer on the make in the 1982 bomb Making Love, is also the one he blames for having cost him many parts. "If you play a gay role, it sticks more than it does if an actor were to play a murderer or a psychopath," he says. "There were a couple of producers that I heard through friends were convinced that I was gay and that if I was going out with a woman it was a front."
On the set of L.A. Law, Michael Tucker, the show's cherubic Stuart Markowitz and a guy who—let's be honest here—was never in the running, is sizing up his co-star. "When I first met Harry," says Tucker, "I found it hard to believe that anyone that good-looking could be so intelligent, witty and self-possessed. But then when I got to know him better I realized that Harry was not that good-looking after all." While Tucker jokes about Hamlin's looks, co-star Corbin Bernsen, the show's other resident lady-killer, pays allegiance: "I look up to the guy," says Bernsen. "He's solid."
Inside Hamlin's trailer (his shiny black 911 Porsche is parked outside), Harry picks at a plate of sliced fruit and pays little mind to his pretty-boy image. He knows the hard work he's put in as an actor is beginning to reap dividends. L.A. Law is now a success with critics and audiences. The first he expected; the latter has been a welcome surprise. "I was a little concerned that the show might be too complex compared with Magnum, P.I.," says Hamlin. "So it's very encouraging that people do like it because maybe it means people are watching TV for other reasons than to dope themselves out."
It was the complexity of the characters, Hamlin says, that drew him to the show in the first place. He knew that L.A. Law's co-creators Steven Bochco and Terry Louise Fisher expected more of him than a well-groomed appearance. "There's something mysterious about Harry," says Fisher, "and women find that immensely attractive." Hamlin intends to keep it that way, at least as far as playing Michael Kuzak is concerned. "I have not yet fully defined the character and I've done that on purpose," says Hamlin. "I want the next three years—God willing—to be a process of discovery. I don't want to nail Kuzak into a square box with known dimensions."
Even if L.A. Law lasts for years ("It's the first steady job I've had since I was a box boy at Hughes supermarket in Pasadena"), Hamlin insists he won't forsake the stage for the courtroom. Already he is talking about having another go at Hamlet and he expects he'll be ready for Henry V in 10 years. "I know I have Lear down at the end and Cyrano somewhere in the middle," he says.
And there's always the possibility of doing a remake of Clash of the Titans. "I brought my toga home," says Harry, raising hopes of another glimpse of those knees. He's kidding, of course. Frivolous flicks are a thing of the past for The Sexiest Man Alive. Besides, says Harry, laughing, "I used the toga to wash my car."
- James Grant.
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