F/M/K: Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty
by Julie Klausner and Natasha Vargas-Cooper
Julie: Where do we start, Natasha?? How do we begin? There is no origin story for this triad, there is only legend as it has always existed: a solstice, a sword in a stone, a shadow on concrete getting longer, shifting its angle but always there, every day, from when you could first notice shapes that bodies made on the ground when they were lit by the sun.
Three kings, as it goes this time of year, are under consideration, and all three are mighty, formidable, ’70s men of the revolution.
I’ll start with Jack Nicholson, and OF COURSE I would fuck him. Any era, any age, any weight, even with Bucket List hair. What am I, stupid?
Look, I could sit here, on my cat’s favorite chair with my laptop on a throw pillow between my legs and tippity type onto my dumb-dumb screen that “I’d marry Jack Nicholson.” But what exactly would that do, besides advertise to the internet that I’m every bit as out of touch with reality as Second Lifers? Fantasy footballers? World of Warcraft players? Is that still a thing? Don’t tell me, please — I’m begging you, stop moving your lips.
Where in any narcissistic psychotic construction of reality could I posit, even hypothetically, that I’d be the one who’d get Jack to marry her? That I’d be more successful at the impossible than Anjelica Huston? I’d be dumb to try. It’s like when parents, two generations ago, knew to discourage their children from foolhardy career aspirations. They were fresh enough off the boat to force Jacob Jr. to learn a trade instead of encouraging him to pursue his all-consuming love of dance. And it served Jake well into his future to know what stars he shouldn’t have bothered to extend an elegant, Black Swan wing toward. It’s the same way with Jack. You can’t marry him, so there’s no point wanting to.
But you don’t really want to marry him. If you think you do, you’re due for a long, serious heart-to-heart with your brain and your vagina to make sure one isn’t making the other stupid, or sick with vertigo. Because all of what Nicholson represents — when he’s not acting like Daddy, because I know that can be confusing, Brainpussy — signifies kinetic, maniacal, deviant, and revolutionary genius. And that is all stuff you put between your legs, not into your Crate & Barrel registry fantasies. Admittedly, sometimes that star stuff gets past your cervix and into your brain stem to rot it from the inside out with dirty magic fungus, but by then your girlfriends have ideally intervened and deleted his number from your phone — so, it almost doesn’t matter.
Jack is a paragon; a pentagram. His backhanded role in Hollywood mythology is that of the GREAT FRIEND, which is something you say about men who are always there for other men — in this case, other legends/villains. When Robert Evans needed his house back. When Brando died. When Roman needed a place to rape that girl.
Men are the ones, including his Beatty-Friend-Foreves, to whom he is still, and always will be, available. Come by, he’ll tell you about dropping acid with the Monkees. He’s got all kinds of stories about Roger Corman. Do you want to know the one about how he thought his mom was his sister and his grandparents were his parents, until they all died and he finally got set straight? Or maybe you’d like to know who his real father is. Well, that makes one of you, because Jack doesn’t give a FUCK.
Nicholson is such an iconic avalanche, such a menacing, Dionysian pillar of familiarity and status that even his ripoffs have grown into elders. Christian Slater? Sure, fine. James Spader? Sort of? Also, fine. More than fine — great. The guy from high school you still have dreams about boning while your boyfriend is out of town, because even your subconscious is a guilty pile of garbage? He too owes the semiotics of his eyebrows to Jack’s, and he didn’t even play the astronaut who showed up at the hotel for Shirley McClaine in Terms of Endearment. Jack is paid to pretend to be the Guy Who Shows Up. The Man who Wants to Be a Better Man. But in real life, he still has the luxury of being the dissipating legend who does what he likes.
There is Mick Jaggerness in Jack — a rock star essence that, compounded with electrocuting charisma and the ability to play different shades of dark, is actually poisonous. There was something bizarrely on the nose about his role in The Departed — all open robes and dildo brandish. That’s who Nicholson is. Not a very subtle character — half cranky veteran and half unbridled kid with a viper in his open boxers. Baby New Year and Father Time all in one, with the untethered new values of the sexual revolution coursing through his veins along with the untrappable, undefineable markings of whatever cool has always meant and always will mean.
He’s the man you ride while you can, and get your asshole bleached for. You enjoy his stories and pretend you’re one of his guy friends, or the girl who can hang with those, as though there has ever been one who blends successfully or proves herself an exception. But you never, ever, count on Jack to be around for any longer than it takes for you to be left wanting more, handling the truth — this guy was never yours, and never could be. He’s never been yours. He’s barely just learned to be his own. So forget it, girl. It’s Chinatown.
Let’s move onto Dustin Hoffman, because I’m about to make my Jewish parents very happy. I would marry Dustin Hoffman, and it’s not just because he is a Jew. It is because he is THE JEW.
Come, if you will, into my ’70s time machine, the one that in no way resembles whatever Austin Powers mystery van or Scooby Doo thing — but something else that takes us back to a time in which Jewish character leads were new and masculine and not yet feckless comedy leads or obese bong-hitting buffoons in permanent adolescence. Around the late ’60s and into the early ’70s, Dustin Hoffman spearheaded a new era of Semitic actors that was outright Genesis when it came to the forging of a new identity, not just for the Hebrew hotties that passed — I’m looking at you, Paul Newman — but for actual brunette, olive skinned, generously-nosed young men you recognized from Bleecker Street, or summer camp, or Vassar. There, suddenly, was Elliot Gould, Richard Benjamin, and Dustin Hoffman — and they all looked kind of pissed off. And it was Hot.
To break through on screen in this way, to endure the critics calling you ugly and short and “cerebral” in a way that you knew just meant “rabbinical and impotent,” took a guy with confidence about the size of his brain being more important than the length of his dick. And Hoffman had that, plus gobs of talent, and enough intelligence to know when to defer to the smarter guy on set, it seemed. That is curiosity and rachmanus, which, along with healthy love of carbohydrates, are the founding blocks of Jewishness.
Behold, the New, Old Testament: Dustin’s debut as Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate. Just as Nicholson brings a Whitman’s Sampler of daddy-flavored chocolates in tow, Hoffman managed to make the archetype of the Semitic fawn — all drift and privilege, and, eventually, all-consuming, nascent sexual desire — corporally and intellectually irresistible.
Benjamin. Benjamin! Benjamin! I’d scream it through chapel glass. Hoffman’s modulations in that role between ennui and hysteria, between muttering and flailing, between stakes and boredom, all in those Ray Bans while Simon and Garfunkel played, made a generation of twee boys want to sort of-grow up to make films, and a generation of girls want to deflower smart boys like Dustin Hoffman. Beyond what was, even then, the maturity he infused into his character’s second adolescence, that role announced from the rafters: Here is veritas, warmth, brains and humor that is essentially humanist — here is Dustin Hoffman.
Finally, let’s discuss Ishtar’s fluffier half. Warren Beatty, a man with a name that just vibrates with symmetry and curves, palindromic double r’s and t’s back to back, and then W’s and B’s, swooping all voluptuously like Julie Christie’s hair in Shampoo.
It’s a telltale triad in terms of personal histories alone: Nicholson, never married except for a pre-acid blip to a girl we don’t know; Hoffman, divorced from an actress in 1980 (Kramer research? I wasn’t there) then married an attorney, whom he’s still with, four kids and all. And then there’s Warren Beatty. The bad, boyish, bad boy, who was slope nose-deep in pussy until Annette Bening, who we now know, from her Tour de Crocs in Kids are All Right, is not just a great actress but a fucking voodoo shapeshifter in her abilities.
And before I go further, I need to disclaim that, before I categorize Beatty to the “K” pile, which I am doing, that I’ve never once been in the same room with him, unlike Natasha, who has a great story about meeting him that has as much to do with her age and her father than it does with Mr. Beatty.
Mine is the luxury of saying “No, you don’t fuck Beatty” having never borne witness to the throbbing, charisma-fueled, panty-dissolving fuck spell that Beatty obviously casts on any woman within restraining order-distance of his cock, which I have a feeling you can smell from the hallway over. But the mythology of Beatty’s batting average has more clout than his screen presence, I’m sorry.
Let’s talk about Bonnie & Clyde. His breakout, post-Splendor in the Grass “I don’t want to do any movies I can’t ‘control’ because Woody Allen screwed me out of a role in a film based on the way I used to answer the phone and my sister is Shirley McClaine and I’ll show you who has a pretty mouth” auteur debut.
What do you know about this film besides how hawt Faye looked in her beret (and neckerchief! Take that, Dorothy Michaels!) and the violent bullet-riddle sequence at the end? Do you know that Clyde was a total weirdo who wouldn’t fuck Bonnie for a million pesos? They say Clyde was impotent IRL, but it also had to do with the character’s pathological disgust around the semantics of connecting — he got off instead on ripping off rubes. The irony of Beatty’s notoriety as a super-mack after playing a withholding celibate sociopath is notable more than his own illusion that what makes him him is his directorial vision. It’s not.
What Beatty has is charm, charm, charm. Women love charm more than they love safety, which is why several of us are still sleeping with substance abusers (drug addicts, as a survival strategy, are the most CHARMING PEOPLE ALIVE, because that skill helps them get drugs. Similarly, anorexics will, at some point, sprout fur on their forearms for warmth). Beatty has charm, but he likes to think of his boldfaced assets as power and smarts. And he can play all the senators and gangsters he cares to cast himself as, but he’s nothing besides a poon-drenched tomcat with a Clintonian smile, as far as I’m concerned. You can find Cheshire grinners like him in any office building in America. Just peek into the corner suites and don’t try to follow the trick during the Shell Game — it’s designed so that you’ll miss it.
I’m not into pretty. Vain I can do. But I don’t want to be with the boy star. I want to be marry his funny friend, or fuck his mean neighbor.
What do you think Annette Bening did? It had to be a harder play than Jessica Seinfeld on Jerry or poor Regina Lasko playing the little match girl to Dave Letterman. Do you think she played it like The American President? Or did she get all Grifters on him? Was she fabulous in the sack or did she hold back? How do you book the part of Mrs. Warren Beatty?
Regardless, today Warren is a neutered swan. His wife works and he smiles. He is a greatest hits tribute reel, a plaque — a semi-soft erection of a towering skyscraper. A marvel of how far talent and nepotism and, above all, charm, can and will take you, along with a guardian bromance halo around your efforts at all times. But more than anything else, I’ll remember his silly b-roll backstage with Madonna during Truth or Dare, and how the two were playing each other, and it all being so over for him and just peaking for her, and in a way, it was like he passed the torch in that black and white footage to his Pagan successor backstage (maybe it was before “Hanky Panky,” maybe he waited until “Express Yourself”) — because he knew he had run, if not dry, at least sandy. Ishtar as a man. And soon after that, Annette Bening slunk, catlike, onto the set of Bugsy, and her job was easy then. Madonna had stretched him out, gotten him ready — the rest was in Annette’s capable hands. It was all over.
* * *
Natasha: JUH-LEE KLAUS KINKSI, come sit next to me, girl, I wanna work out our differences like Mila and Natalie at a low-carb swan-themed slumber party (don’t tell mama, I put the ballerina cake in the trash). Now, lay back, and let me goose whisper to you about my husband, Warren Beatty.
In the way Jack is our Dionysian satyr menacingly goading nymphs out of the Olympus lake to join him behind the columns for an orgy with the centaurs (Lake Olympus = Polanski’s jacooz?), Beatty is like Apollo. The indecently symmetrical, detached beauty, a beardless Beautiful Boy divine and naked yet completely unexposed. We’re venturing beyond The Pretty with Beatty and into the ethereal! I say he’s Apollo and not Narcissus blissing out on his own image in the ancient waters, numb and asleep, because Beatty has a powerful warrior drive to him, some kind of Alexander the Great by way of Brentwood thing, in terms of artistic and sexual conquests.
You know how some actors have that terrifying emptiness (Michael Pitt!!)? They give you the sensation that you could fall right through them and never hit a core, like planet Jupiter or Ghost Dad? They’re just this ectoplasm of genetics that constantly swirls but is unable to form an actual human. Have you met these people? You know it instantly that they have vapor souls. WELL, let me give you the Wikileak on Warren Beatty. SMASH CUT TO A SWANK PARTY AND A NOT-QUITE-18-YEAR-OLD ME IN A PROVACTIVE GOWN OF VELVET.
Beatty and I were introduced by my dad. Beatty took my hand and never let it go. He asked me rapid-fire questions, reacting to every word I said. Never releasing my hand, never breaking eye contact, and cracking a presidential smirk, he said to my dad:
“I don’t know which I like more, Marc.”
“Your car or your daughter.”
It wasn’t said wolfishly or perversely. I also wasn’t being patted on the head like a child, which I had proven myself not to be given the pretty capable tête-à-tête I threw down. It felt like an utterance of sincere admiration, addressed at me like I was a small triumph. Of course it had a sexual subtext, and that set me on fire.
But there’s no way to side step over the trail of bodies left in Beatty’s sexual wake. Accumulated they pose a question I hope no man makes me answer but I’ll toy with for Warren Beatty: can a womanizer love? Or rather, is there a certain type of womanizer who doesn’t fuck every body because he hates women but because…he’s enchanted by them? And he’s literally/spiritually just plugging away until he finds the right match?
Why speculate? Pauline Kael used the sandalwood scented suds in Shampoo like tea leaves to decipher what Beatty’s psychosexual kick is.
“George [Beatty] doesn’t need to be raised high or brought down, and he has nothing to obliterate. Maybe when he’s older he’ll be of the garden-variety narcissists who must have attention from women (and secretly hate them). But at this point in his life jumping happily to oblige any woman who wants him, he has pagan purity of an adolescent.”
All this to say, you marry this man. He’s a man of vision who digs women, liquidates your chonies, and has some kind of meaty soul that you can succor!
Now, on to the tear-drenched apocalyptic sex one would have with Jack Nicholson. You nailed it here: Jack is a man worth bleaching your asshole for. What a sexual menace! Camille Paglia has a theory: western democracy, with all its emphasis on individualism, diverts the human desire to slavishly worship imperial figures (like the Romans did) so we sublimate that desire onto movie stars. We want to worship and be ruled by them. They are like totems enshrined in our lowly homes. The oatmealy Reeses Witherspoon and Ryans Gosling of the world, with their by-golly by-gum affectations, are not worth our worship. Jack is worth joining a murder cult for. Unlike Beatty — and here’s the great irony in terms of sexual charisma — his lack of vanity, his balding pate, piggy belly, and swing-low nipples, are what make him so sexy: an unabashed embrace of the of a maturing male body; a reckless embrace of his aging! Could you ever feel more like a woman when you are underneath the girth of such an unapologetic man (See Gandolfini Manifesto 1.0)?
And so here’s an unapologetic sacrifice: Dustin Hoffman is axed. I just deleted the hand wringing spurred by executing this Muppet of a man, but I can’t even begin to play reverent on this one because I’m currently considering some Oedpial levels of ocular mutilation based on the donkey show I just witness called Little Fockers. Like, shit on Dustin Hoffman for such a nakedly whore move, continuing to lovelessly fellate this franchise when he has an Oscar under his size-31 belt. I read somewhere that Alec Baldwin said that actors are closer to plumbers than artists. Someone calls them up for a gig and they’ll take it (Dr. Seuss, Baldwin!!). I know it’s naïve of me to feel betrayed when men of once golden pedigrees like Hoffman tongue the balls of some bullshit weekend blockbuster instead of striving for quality projects but I still live in a world where it inspires rage in me. No doubt, Phillp Seymour Hoffman is a blowhard, but at least the guy has some shame. I cannot continue to apologize or marry or fuck dudes who are down with The Fockers. Fock ’em with a chainsaw.
Previously: Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase.
Julie Klausner wrote a BOOK and Natasha Vargas-Cooper wrote a BOOK, and both of them are experts in concurrently frightening and arousing weak men with discourse and panache. Sophie’s F/M/K is a regular column on The Hairpin!