Hollywood has seen many leading men who have swooned many a woman and made many a young man emulate over the years. Today we have seemed to go to a “Flavor of The Month” for favorite leading men. This alludes to the Andy Warhol quote about everyone being famous for 15 minutes. After his successes as a leading role player in films such as “Dare Devil” and “The Sum of All Fears”, Ben Affleck was touted as a favorite leading man in 2003 and now that it is 2010 he is not talked about as much. Mr. Affleck is a talented actor and writer. Brad Pitt gained his fame in the late 1980s and early 1990s yet he still is strong in Hollywood, however, he seems to make more headlines regarding his relationship with Angelina Jolie. Shia LaBeouf was the talk of the town last year because of his roles in the Transformers and the Indiana Jones franchises yet not much is said of him lately. Recently, there was an article about the Spiderman producers wanting to go in a different direction because their main man Toby Maguire is now over 30 and has kids. If I’m not mistaken, Marvel Comics has matured Peter Parker over the years and in some incarnations of the series, Peter Parker is now an adult who is now making a living and has a family. I am not disregarding the fact that the movie industry has to pay attention to the youth market to make money off of their films. This article is about men from the past (some of whom are still working even in their Golden Years and some who are no longer with us) who are still revered for their machismo, suave, and star power. I am covering the periods from the 1930s to the 1990s. These leading men are not listed in any particular order but feel free to come up with your own list and comment on mine.
10) Burt Reynolds: Burt Reynolds is now over 70 and still is working, though not as much, as an actor. He was originally a stunt man and when he became a star he would often do his own stunts. In some aspects he could be considered to be the Jackie Chan of his day. To those of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s we would often be drawn to the screen when “Smokey And The Bandit” or “Cannonball Run” was in the theatres or on a movie channel. His career took a brief nosedive in the early 1990s but after his role in “Striptease” Burt saw his career revive. With roles in films like “Boogie Nights” and the remake of his 1970s film “The Longest Yard”, Burt Reynolds has shown that he and his quirky smile, infectious laugh, and confidence are still good selling points in films.
9) Clint Eastwood: Even though he is going to turn 80 in 2010, Clint Eastwood has shown little sign of slowing down. He may spend most of his days behind the camera these days but he will make an appearance in front and prove he can still act. Many people can remember him from his days on the television series “Rawhide” where he played Rowdy Yates. After he left the tales of the Chisolm Trail, Eastwood became the cynical and tough San Francisco Inspector Harry Callahan in the Dirty Harry saga. Clint Eastwood has shown true grit through the years in a eclectic pool of roles. He has played a cowboy, a Marine Gunnery Sergeant that is facing the realities of his military career ending, multiple detectives and private investigators, and even has played an astronaut. Clint Eastwood is the man who shows you can be tough yet sensitive at the same time.
8) Humphrey Bogart: It is hard to not say how Bogey has affected how leading men are portrayed on film. His most famous role would be as Richard Blane in “Casablanca”. Richard “Rick” Blane was the man who owned a bar in Casablanca, Monaco at the time of the Nazi Occupation of France and French territories at the start of World War II. Though he was a tough as nails man who did not let his feelings be shown too often, He did, however, get torn emotionally when he had to chose between his love for a woman or the greater cause of her husband leading the French Resistance. Humphrey Bogart also played leading men with rugged exteriors in other films such as “Key Largo” and “The African Queen”. Bogart did earn an Oscar for his role in “The African Queen” in 1951. Bogart was often placed in tough guy roles and he played both the hero and the villain. Bogey’s image of a deep voiced, cool and collected man is still seen as a sign of being “Cool”.
7) James Cagney: James Cagney was a good Irish Boy from New York who was a diverse actor. He sang, danced, acted, and had the penchant to make men laugh. Some of his most memorable roles include Tom Powers in “The Public Enemy” and as George S. Gerwin in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in which he won a Best Actor Oscar in 1942 for the latter. He played an unwilling soldier who became an unlikely hero in the World War I film “The Fighting 69th” which was filmed shortly before the United States became involved in World War II. One note is that he filmed the movie “Here Comes The Navy” aboard the U.S.S. Arizona which met its fate on December 7, 1941. James Cagney was never afraid to speak his mind and was a friend to fellow actor and future United States President Ronald Reagan. Cagney’s last major role was in 1981’s “Ragtime”. Cagney showed that acting was a job and not an easy way to get a pay check.
6) Sean Connery: Beginning in 1962 with his debut as James Bond in “Doctor No”, Sean Connery has made many a woman swoon and many men want to be like him. Though he is most famous as British Secret Agent 007, he has played many other memorable roles on the silver screen. In 1959 he played the lead role in Disney’s “Darby O’Gill And The Little People”, and after retiring from playing the world’s most famous spy he played Dr. Henry Jones Sr. in “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade”. Connery won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal as Irish Chicago Cop Jim Malone in 1987’s “The Untouchables”. He continued his Midas Touch with “The Hunt For Red October”, “The Russia House”, and “Entrapment”. He has been in retirement from acting since 2004 and was Knighted by HRM Queen Elisabeth II in 2000. Sean Connery is not only seen as a gentleman, but a noble one as that. Sir Sean Connery is still a favorite actor among movie goers.
5) James Stewart: With his “aw shucks” demeanor and stammering speech, Jimmy Stewart was a great leading man in Hollywood history. In the 1930s he was remembered for the “nice guy” roles he played in films such as “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Mister Smith Goes To Washington”. Unlike many movie heroes, Stewart was an actual hero, He put his film career on hold during World War II to fly planes to help the Allies secure victory and continued his military career after the war and reached the rank of Brigadier General in the United States Air Force Reserves. After the war Stewart continued to act in a variety of films ranging from Westerns to Suspense Thrillers. He continued to be active in films until 1991. His best friend from his early days as a struggling actor was Henry Fonda. Though they disagreed on politics and social issues, they were the best of friends until Fonda’s death in 1982.
4) Henry Fonda: Probably best remembered as the soft spoken tough guy in Westerns, Henry Fonda was a favorite leading man in Hollywood. He was always in demand from the 1930s through the 1950s. He was nominated several times for an Oscar but never won a golden statue until his final role as Norman Thayer in 1981’s “On Golden Pond”. This final role was opposite Katherine Hepburn and his real life daughter Jane Fonda. Two of his children and two of his grandchildren followed his footsteps in the acting business, but Henry Fonda remains the patriarch of the acting family. Henry Fonda was one of the most convincing actors of his time and even by today’s standards, his films are seen on classic movie channels and are available on DVD.
3) Denzel Washington: Though he may loosely be considered a classic actor, Denzel Washington has been one of Hollywood’s most prolific actors since the early 1980s. One of his first major roles was as Doctor Phillip Chandler on the television show “St. Elsewhere” opposite Howie Mandell and Ed Begley Jr.. After leaving “St. Elsewhere”, Washington soon landed leading roles in several motion pictures. One of his first major roles was as a Black Union Soldier who held a grudge in “Glory”. His role as Tripp in “Glory” earned him his first Oscar in 1989 for Best Supporting Actor. He has played historical figures throughout his career including Stephen Biko in :Cry Freedom” and Malcolm X in the Spike Lee directed film of the same name. Washington won another Oscar in 2001 for his leading role in “Training Day”. Denzel Washington devotes much of his time to help wounded soldiers and their families and has helped raise money to improve the facilities at military hospitals.
2) Clark Gable: From the mid-1930s until the mid-1950s Clark Gable burned up the silver screen with his many roles. His most famous role is that of Rhett Butler in the 1939 epic “Gone With The Wind”. According to legend, he took that role after Ronald Reagan passed on it. Prior to “Gone With The Wind” Gable garnered a bit of controversy after his being seen without wearing an undershirt in 1934’s “It Happened One Night” that caused a fashion trend that continues to this day. He played along many of Hollywood’s famous ladies including Carol Lombard, Vivien Leigh, and Marylin Monroe. Clark Gable came from the Midwest and had a neatly trimmed mustache and symbolized the manly man in the middle part of the 20th Century.
1) John Wayne: Born Marion Morrison in Madison County, Iowa, young Marion moved to California and became John Wayne. His first exposure to Hollywood came during his college days at the University of Southern California. After an injury cut his football days short, Wayne became an extra in several silent era films and in the 1930s he became the epitome of the movie cowboy. Even though most of his more popular roles were in Westerns, John Wayne also appeared in Military and detective dramas. He is seen as the ultimate sign of male toughness which was evident that he continued to act even after numerous surgeries for cancers, including losing a lung. His years of being the ultimate cowboy was rewarded in 1969 for his portrayal as the gruff U.S. Cogburn in “True Grit”. He has been given numerous accolades and awards from virtually all over the world and is an American icon even after more than 30 years since his passing. John Wayne is the ultimate sign of being macho.
Though many leading men may come and go, some like the 10 mentioned here and men like Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, and Tom Hanks, stand the test of time. These men are still seen on classic movie channels, late night movies, and on DVD and Blu Ray discs.