“A hard man is good to find.” Mae West

1955_Novak_Mae_HargitayA few years ago I was sitting in a movie house waiting for my film to start. It was an odd choice for me, The Magnificent Seven, and to be honest I can’t remember how I had ended up there. Anyway the movie started and everything was going smoothly until there was a scene where a black leather clad Yul Breener strutted across the screen, the camera  holding him steady and capturing his physicality, his bold sexy presence. The audience responded in kind, his words were drowned in the sea of catcalls,  wolf whistles and  shouts of “hell yeah.” And since this was San Francisco and it was the movie house in the Castro, the unofficial official gay hq,  the audience was primarily male. I’m neither gay nor male but for this one brief euphoric moment  together we were all united by the incredible joy this vision, this magnificent vision of a man, gave us.  I actually don’t remember anything about the movie,  who the other 6 were, but what was burned into my brain that night was the power that his man, this sublime example of manhood, held over a couple of hundred people. His swagger, his manliness, that he looked so good in leather. I think they all played a part. But what I also remember was that here was a tough, a guy prepared to take on a bigger gang of marauding bandits and fight to the death, and all to protect and defend a group of villagers he didn’t even know.   These tough guys with a heart of gold, they do have some sort of magnetic pull. Remember the valiant Russell Crowe in Gladiator  when he promised the thousands in the colosseum entertainment. And they, or rather we, got it, in buckets. The film itself made over 560 dollars worldwide which means a lot of people were in fact entertained by Maximus Decimus Meridius and his tough as nails, tear-of-my-own-skin, fight tigers and chariots with my bare hands, ways. Maximus spends almost the entire movie in a skirt but we never think of him as anything but all man, and all hard. But again a hardness that is matched equally with a sense of good. He gets bloodied and battered  so he can avenge his wife and son’s murder and join them in the Elysian Fields as soon as is possible.  And then more recently there was Tom Hardy, his very name spelling out his appeal who bulked up to play a mixed martial arts fighter in Warrior. It may not have been seen by as many but those who did were once again entertained, to revel in Tom’s full glorious manness(I know its not a real word but it sums him up the best); his bulging biceps, his six pack, his bulging biceps, his shapely torso, his bulging biceps. You get the drift. Again here is a guy who can beat the proverbial blank out of anyone yet he too is fundamentally ‘a good guy’, a guy with deep rooted family values who gave up everything to help his mother escape her  drunken abusive husband.  Mae  West herself didn’t merely  pay lip service to such words; she lived by them.  She dated a boxer nicknamed ‘Gorilla Jones’  who twice won the NBA Middleweight World Boxing Championship and defeated over half his opponents with knock outs.  In her later routines at Vegas and elsewhere she surrounded herself  on stage with male bodybuilders, or musclemen as they were called then, including a former Mr Universe, all wearing only  loin cloths to best show off their assets. She then went on to spend the last 26 years of her life with one of them, Paul Novak, a man not only  30 years her junior, but  a man who believed  he was put on this earth ‘to care of Mae West.’ He was her bodyguard, her lover and her companion up until the day she died at the ripe old age of 87. Not bad, eh? 

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