Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Michael Ontkean: Matinee Idol

Harrison Ford, Michael Douglas, William Hurt, Richard Gere: pussies! Each of them turned down the lead role in the 1982 film "Making Love," fearing that playing a gay would sabotage their careers. Instead, the role went to Michael Ontkean, best known at that point as a young cop from 1970's TV series "The Rookies."

Ironically, his co-star in that show was Kate Jackson, who played his unfortunate wife in "Making Love," bearing the brunt when he comes to terms with his homosexuality and has a hot, albeit, short-lived affair with Harry Hamlin.

Safe to say that nobody's career was compromised, as delicate as the subject matter was at the time. I saw the flick at the theater, uh, with my college girlfriend Tess. Talk about squirming in discomfort... The movie's title track, sung by Roberta Flack, is still a fave on my iTunes playlist.

"The Rookies" aired on ABC from 1972-1976. I kinda sorta remember it... More so, I recall the teen mags at the time attempting to turn the handsome curly-haired actor into an idol, a la David Cassidy, Donny Osmond and Bobby Sherman.I now own "Making Love" on DVD, and it remains a must-see at least once a year. While it may seem a little naive now, it certainly opened my eyes three years before I was destined to come out. And for those struggling with seeing the truth, it is as relevant as it was more than 25 years ago.Years later, I found the beautiful film "Willie and Phil" on cable, starring Ontkean, Margot Kidder and Ray Sharkey, in which the liberated trio all fall in love with one another and deal with the complications of a love triangle. To this day, I have the movie on Tivo and love skimming through it.Ontkean went on to star in a few other middling films, like "Maid To Order" with Ally Sheedy (1987) and "Clara's Heart" with Whoopi Goldberg (and a very young Neil Patrick Harris) (1989), before landing what is perhaps his predominant TV role in David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" in 1990-1991, a series that I utterly loathed.Today, Michael Ontkean continues to appear in the occasional Lifetime movie. At age 64, he lives in Hawaii with his wife. She's one lucky lady.