Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Mad Men, The Loved One, and More

Television's Ryan Callahan gave me Season One of Mad Men for Christmas, and I spent the following week caught up in the 1960s world of the Sterling Cooper ad agency. As I usually do when I dive into a new series and meet a whole bunch of actors I don't know much about, I hopped over to imdb to check out who's who and what's what.

That's how I learned that Bertram Cooper, he of the Ayn Rand obsession and the barefoot walking about, was played by none other than an aged Robert Morse, from the 1965 movie version of The Loved One.

I teach The Loved One, and it's not only my favorite Evelyn Waugh novel, but it's one of my all-time favorite novels by anyone, ever. If you haven't read it, it's a satire of Hollywood and America, circa 1948, but it resonates just as deeply in our shallow world of 2009.

I should have recognized his famous gap-toothed grin from the halls of Sterling Cooper, but the thing is that Robert Morse isn't exactly all that super-famous, and The Loved One was the only thing I'd ever seen him in before the twelve spectacular Mad Men episodes.

And it's not like the movie version of The Loved One was particularly memorable -- it's not even a film I bother to own, and I own a ton of 'em. The problem with the movie is that is that Joyboy is completely miscast with the legendary Rod Steiger. Steiger is maybe one of the greatest film actors ever --well, some people say things like that, but I actually don't think he's all that great, to be honest -- but his puffy physical presence doesn't capture the creepy sadness of the Liberace-esque Mr. Joyboy. Liberace is actually in the movie in a tiny role, by the way, and I can only imagine that he was invited to try out for Joyboy but either the studio wanted a more seasoned actor in the role or Liberace didn't have the dramatic range for the part. Not that Joyboy needs all that much range. He just has to go from creepy to joyously creepy then to sadly creepy. That's pretty much all Liberace can do, anyway, so he would have been a perfect fit.

And getting back to the whole Loved One/Mad Men connection: Robert Morse is in both. Both are about the superficiality of American culture and the way desire is cultivated to make a profit. Mad Men star Jon Hamm, playing the tormented but manly-man Don Draper, has a line in an early episode where he says something like, "love doesn't exist. Guys like me invented it." That pretty much sums up the bought-and-sold notion of the American Dream, and it sums up The Loved One too. Everything that might have once been pure and innocent has been artificially recreated for your mourning pleasure, mechanical beehives and all.

But, seriously, the movie has way too little Liberace.

1 comment:

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

Morse is great in his few scenes in MAD MEN, but I watched THE LOVED ONE after seeing HAROLD & MAUDE in college, even though it was a writing workshop, we watched films, and many students mentioned the Waugh novel as well as the film.