Harry Hamlin Reflects on 40 Years of ‘Making Love’

It has often been reported that Harry Hamlin regrets starring in the controversial gay romantic drama Making Love (1982) — but it's just not so.

A love story for the '80s (Image via 20th Century Fox)

"Regardless of the effect it had on my film career, I went on to have a great career — and I still do. I'm very proud of having done that movie," he tells People Magazine on the occasion of the groundbreaking film's 40th anniversary.

But it was a slog for him — and clearly, it also had an impact on the film careers of co-stars Kate Jackson (she didn't make another feature for seven years, and made only four more features ever) and Michael Ontkean (who rarely seemed to talk about the film and who, like Jackson, seems to now be firmly retired).

The studio took the movie seriously. TOO seriously? (Image via 20th Century Fox)

"For years," Hamlin recalls, "I'd think, 'Was that the reason why I stopped getting calls?' And finally realized that was the last time I ever did a movie for a studio ... I had been doing nothing but studio films and basically going out on all the castings for all the movies. That stopped completely."

On impact, Making Love was polarizing. The reviews were fair to middling, but the first week's box office was strong. That ended soon enough, because unlike in 2022, it was a time when a significant number of people who went to see the film based on the stars had not a clue it was about a man coming to terms with being gay, cheating on his wife with another man and leaving her — for both their own good.

Randy Report's Randy Slovacek remembers viscerally what it was like seeing it in a theater:

“I vividly remember seeing Making Love in a movie theater while I was a freshman in college. While I hadn’t come to terms with my own sexuality at the time, things were bouncing around in my head. Sitting in the dark theater, the tension in the air was palpable as Hamlin and Ontkean kissed onscreen. I recall a male movie goer yelling out, 'Don’t do it!!!'”

This same thing happened to me when I saw Madonna's Truth or Dare a decade later — a guy groaned in disgust at seeing two actual gay men kiss on the big screen.

Making Love today feels like a rather staid, earnest Lifetime Original Movie, with surprisingly few eyebrow-raising or camp moments. (Okay, when Jackson confronts one of her husband's gay friends and there is a jar of Vaseline on the end table, that was pretty wild.)

Caught red-handed! (Image via 20th Century Fox)

So it is surprisingly remember that Jackson had to deal with an icked-out Tonight Show crowd while plugging the film.

Super famous at that moment from her 1976-1979 run on Charlie's Angels, Jackson walked out to a gushing greeting from guest host David Brenner, who was clearly terrified, and to actual catcalls from the studio audience. When Brenner finally got up the courage to talk about the movie eight minutes into the film, Kate asked him, "Do you know anything about it?" The subject was clearly dicy, and the crowd — pretending to know what the hell they were alluding to — was with her. At first.

Kate said the film is about "living, loving and letting go when you have to." Then she blurted out, "It does deal with homosexuality. What do you [think about that]?" and there were boos, to which Brenner snapped, "Look at this, a guy from Utah who sucks wood."

Then she continued on with her description, name-checking old-school director Arthur Hiller (1923-2016), who had also directed everything from Love Story (1970) to The Hospital (1971) to Silver Streak (1976), and who would go on to direct Outrageous Fortune (1987), among others.

After the clip, the crowd applauded politely and Brenner and Jackson did not return to discussing anything gay:

I love that this clip exists. What a moment in time.

Times have changed, as Hamlin points out. Back when he took the plunge, not only did gay-themed films seldom make an impact at the box office, but playing gay could taint an actor.

"If they were contemplating having me be a love interest to a young female star, the thought was, 'How is the audience going to react?' Even though I was straight, I think the perception at the time was that anybody who could play gay must be gay."

Thankfully, Jackson, Ontkean and Hamlin took that risk and did Making Love, taking the brunt of the fallout so that other gay-themed works could come out and be less and less controversial. At one point, it seemed playing gay was Oscar bait, and then it became arguably offensive for a nongay actor to "take" a gay role from a gay actor. Now, I think we are moving toward equilibrium.

Don't miss the rest of Hamlin's recollections here — we aren't likely to hear a word from Kate or Michael on this one.

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