Harry Hamlin: Playing Gay in 1982's 'Making Love' Ended My Film Career

Courtesy of American Conservatory Theater
Harry Hamlin starred in an acclaimed production of 'Equus' at American Conservatory Theater in 1976 before being discovered by Hollywood.

After 1981's 'Clash of the Titans,' the Yale grad wanted to tackle "something relevant and cutting edge," but he says the way-ahead-of-its-time drama torpedoed his job prospects until 'L.A. Law': "The door shut with a resounding smash."

Harry Hamlin says playing a gay writer in the 1982 big-screen drama Making Love put his career on ice for several years.

The actor, looking back now, says the film "was too early. It was 10 years too early, I guess, and it completely ended my career. That was the last studio picture I ever did. The door shut with a resounding smash."

Hamlin, 68, was an in-demand actor in Hollywood at the time, he tells the It Happened in Hollywood podcast. Warner Bros. had offered him "the Clint" — a three-picture deal named for the one given to Clint Eastwood.

But when Hamlin learned the two movies the studio had in mind for him were Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes and First Blood, the Yale-educated actor decided the deal wasn't for him. (The parts ended up going to Christopher Lambert and Sylvester Stallone, respectively.) 

Instead, he made the schlocky Greek-myth epic Clash of the Titans, a part he took because it would allow him to work alongside his acting hero, Sir Laurence Olivier, who played Zeus to Hamlin's Perseus. The film shot in 1978 but was released in 1981 — as it took Ray Harryhausen three years to complete the painstaking stop-motion effects.

For his follow-up, Hamlin was brought in by director Arthur Hiller (Love Story) to read for 20th Century Fox's Making Love, which was to be a groundbreaking film about a same-sex affair, the first of its kind for a major studio.

"Everyone in town had turned the movie down," says Hamlin. "Because at that time the idea of a gay world was still not accepted." The actor read the script and thought, "This is exactly the kind of movie I'm looking for. I want to do something that's relevant and cutting edge."

Hamlin took the part — but as production wore on, the script was toned down considerably from the one he signed on to. (One scene, involving a sex act with a pay phone, was cut out completely.)

Hamlin had a tradition of cooking a chicken dinner for his female co-stars before shooting commenced, and continued the tradition with his male romantic lead, Michael Ontkean.

"Michael said we have to rehearse the kiss," Hamlin recalls, referring to their initial kiss — a first for a studio film. Hamlin demurred, saying since it was Ontkean's character's first time kissing a man, they should save the moment for when cameras rolled.

Before the scene, Hamlin suggested the kiss be a "soft, only slightly open-mouth kiss." Ontkean agreed, but when Hiller called action, he "put his hand behind my neck, came in and just shoved his tongue down my throat."

While the film did modest business at the box office, Hamlin says his movie offers all but disappeared after the pic came out — and he wouldn't work again until 1986 and the NBC drama L.A. Law, on which he played law firm partner Michael Kuzak for eight seasons.

For years after Making Love, Marvin Davis, the late Colorado billionaire who bought 20th Century Fox shortly before the movie came out, would remind Hamlin that he very nearly sold off the studio at his wife's urging over the gay-themed film.

Hamlin, who appears on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills alongside wife Lisa Rinna, recently appeared in the off-Broadway play One November Yankee.


For much more from Harry Hamlin on the making of Clash of the Titans and Making Love, listen to the episode of It Happened in Hollywood and be sure to subscribe.