The Duke in Stagecoach. Need we say more?
Sunday, March 21, 2010

It's a Guy Thing

Since I did a page on women, it seems only fitting that I should do a page on men. If Marilyn Monroe stands for a certain vision of feminity, then John Wayne stands for a certain kind of masculinity, a masculinity that is definitely out of fashion in this age of the metrosexual.

John Wayne is apparently, even 30 some years after his death, controversial. Some people are offended by the fact of his patriotism and his lack of service during WWII. I don’t want to get into a controversy about that. You can Google for “John Wayne OSS application,” and find numerous sites that discuss his alleged evasion, and his application for service with the OSS.

Did Wayne regret his lack of service in WWII? Possibly? Did it lead to him becoming a super-patriot? Possibly. Lets assume that he had mixed feelings about joining. He had family, and he had a career that was finally starting to take off after the success of Stagecoach. Is he that different from those of us, including myself, who did not serve during Vietnam, and later changed our positions? We will forever be stung by the charge that we were cowards, and we will forever doubt whether, if we were younger and eligible for combat, we would still evade or whether we would do what we now conceive to be our duty.

Nietzsche spoke of masks. In the course of our lives we assume many masks so that we disguise ourselves from our families, friends, and even ourselves. Walter Kaufmann connects this to Aristotle’s concept of virtue. We may pretend to be brave, but the man who pretends to be brave, and does brave things, does in fact become brave. So the mask becomes ourself, and we become what we pretend to be.

Did this happen to Wayne? I’ve got no idea. What I do know is that in his early years he had a definite masculine beauty. Look at that picture of him from Stagecoach. Doesn’t it convey a man who is free from doubt about himself, who is not tentative, and who is capable of dealing with any woman who entices him? Put him next to a Montgomery Clift, and Clift’s whininess become obvious. Not only is it obvious, but it is also somewhat repulsive.

So is the Duke’s masculinity merely a pose, or is it something that he assumed and grew into? That’s for the reader to decide.

Clark Gable gives Vivien Leigh that coolly appraising gaze, and she says that he looks as if he knows what she looks like without her chemise on. In Gable’s look we see the knowledge that he has seen Scarlett, and that he has appraised her, and weighed her, and decided that she is worthy of him.

Gable, in an early movie like Manhattan Melodrama was able to convey an integrity and a regard for his friend, William Powell, that said that he would stand by him, and not betray him, even if it meant his death. In later films he would convey a certain world weariness, a seen it all attitude that is there in Gone With the Wind.

In Comrade X he played a newspaper man in Soviet era Russia before the war. In contrast to Walter Duranty, a real reporter, he actually strove to get the truth out about the repression and the trials. Gable played reporters several times, in It Happened One Night, Comrade X, and Teachers Pet, along with other movies. The role of the experienced, somewhat cynical, hard-edged reporter was one that suited him.

His last picture was The Misfits, with Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift. Here he played a modern day cowboy, and while it may be difficult to remember, he did play in the occasional Western. As a cowboy he embodies the rough masculinity that stands in opposition to the effete, sensitive Montgomery Clift.

Robert Mitchum, shown here with Ava Gardner in a scene from My Forbidden Past, was another actor who could look at a woman and discern her character. When he looks at Janet Leign in Holiday Affair, you know that he has immediately understood Leigh’s relationship with her son, and her relationship with her suitor. Like Wayne he tended to play the same character, but it was generally a character that you liked and admired.

Richard Widmark, shown here as Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death, came to prominence playing a sadistic, maniacal killer. Now my experience of killers is fairly limited, confined as it is to a brief period in 1966, so I don’t know whether such characters exist, but Widmark’s performance will convince you that they do. Widmark very nearly didn’t get his breakout role because the director, Henry Hathaway, thought his high forehead made him look too intellectual. He had another memorable role in Pickup on South Street, as a pickpocket. He didn’t always play bad guys though. In The Cobweb, he plays a psychiatrist who has to preside over the choice of drapes for the hospital. The issue, however, is not solely drapes, but patient autonomy and self governance. In The Tunnel of Love, a film directed by Gene Kelly and based on a novel by Peter DeVries, Widmark is cast with Doris Day in a romantic comedy.

Widmark was married for 55 years to his first wife, and remarried two years after her death. That marriage lasted until his death.

Steve Jobs. So far I’ve talked mostly about actors, but Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak deserve most of the credit for starting the computer revolution that ultimately brought us the web, laser printers, and many other goodies. Woz I’ve already talked about in my comment on his autobiography, so lets focus on the mercurial Mr. Jobs. If Steve Wozniak was the technical guru at Apple, Steve Jobs is, I think, the spiritual head of Apple. I’m not saying that he’s the only possible CEO, or the best of all possible CEOs for the company, but that without him it is simply another company. It may make good products, but Jobs has always had a vision that influenced him in creating and leading the development of product. When Apple created the Macintosh, it was Steve’s vision of a computing appliance that inspired much of the design effort. That the computer is not an appliance, like a stove, or a refrigerator, is not necessarily his fault, but he made real for the masses things such as the computer mouse, the graphical user interface (GUI), the idea of moving things to the trash, and much else. When he was forced out by the board, he went on to found Next, which was never overwhelmingly successful, but the operating system became the basis, once Next was acquired by Apple, for OS X. Here Steve succeeded in doing something others had failed at, giving Unix a human face.

Jobs survived pancreatic cancer, and had a liver transplant in Tennessee. I suppose that you could say that because Jobs is rich, and was able to take himself from California to TN that he gamed the system. But is it his fault, or the fault of the guys who designed the system? Once all of that is said and hashed over, there is always the knowledge that Jobs, whatever his faults, has lived by the idea that there is more to life than being the richest guy in the cemetery

Cary Grant. If John Wayne is an icon of the hypermasculine male, Cary Grant stands as an icon of the urban male. In his roles he embodies the male, not of the streets, as Widmark does in Kiss of Death or Pickup on South Street, but the male of the middle and upper classes. He’s got a taste for the good life, and he can handle himself with women, but he’s not dominated by or obsessed with them. The knowingness of a Gable is combined with a worldly charm, and with good looks. While there are allegations that Grant was bisexual, and he may have been, that doesn’t come across in his screen persona.