The gay play producer Bill Ball regarded the ‘frightened, shrunken' penis of young Harry Hamlin and told him to show up for rehearsals of "Equus," a play that required complete nudity in the last, tumultuous scene. It was 1976 and Hamlin had just scored his first professional acting role with the American Conservatory Threatre (ACT), thanks to not having a distracting penis. His great success, you may know, led him into film despite never considering it while working his heart out for ACT. The only movie he refers to in the end of his 2010 memoir Full Frontal Nudity: The Making of an Accidental Actor is Making Love. It was the first film to flood him with fans (mostly from the gay community), but he would soon star as Perseus in the original Clash of the Titans where it seems he met and married co-star Ursula Andress (he'd seen her in a Playboy centerfold sixteen years earlier).
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Hamlin has had quite an entertaining life and I could've happily read about the rest of his life after that first performance, but maybe he's right in stopping there because his life became so publicized that his fans don't need reminding. As a new fan, though, more would've been nice. I believe he mentioned he kept a journal, which accounts for his colorful, detailed memories.
I had a great time reading this bawdy, hilarious memoir, from his prologue relating how he came to be banished from Canada in 2000 to his irreverent memories of being three and caught peeing outside in an old bread pan, the death of his mother many years later and discovering her ashes stashed in his basement, how his rocket engineer father designed the starting mechanism for the ship that took Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon and then died while watching Dan Rather, days after Harry drove him to see his old mistress. There's a black-n-white photo of him with a preteen Harry and he immediately reminded me of the fat, dapper cat (with a mustache, no whiskers) in the Cats musical.
As you can tell already, Hamlin's memories are freeflowing like a river gushing forth with life. It's like a natural, reflective conversation with friends over tea, at once intimate and engaging as well as amusing and shocking. He doesn't hesitate to tell us that he got kicked out of a prep school for writing an innocent report on Hitler's Mein Kampf or that his parents gave him a five-year subscription to Playboy magazine. His feelings about his parents, though, were expressed much more than those for his older brother Dave. I really don't have a good picture of him and feel they weren‘t too close.
There's so much I loved in Full Frontal Nudity. One of the highlights was his chapter about being ‘born again,' at least until he showed up at a warehouse wearing white to get prayed over so he could speak to God. He did see the light, but not the one he had hoped for! This is how he describes it:
All I can say is...it worked. I didn't start speaking gibberish and I didn't get down with the old dude, but I did get the lowdown. Suddenly the universe, in all its splendor, opened up in my mind. It was truly infinite and utterly chaotic, but within the chaos there was perfect order, and it was beautiful and powerful and loud and soft all at the same time and everything was just right. Everything was just right. No old man, no judgment, no problem. Only love, only perfection.
So he goes to Berkeley, lives in a fraternity house because it was the only place he could find to live, and it's like 1970. Hamlin wasn't into the hard drugs, but his brothers sure were and one got him into big trouble for possession. If you've ever read a memoir about this rebellious, crazy time, you know what to expect. If you enjoyed it, you'll really enjoy this one. Hamlin accidentally became an actor because of a misadventure concerning the Hell's Angels riding into his camp while on the way to Berkeley to register. He had wanted to be an architect, but those classes were long closed by the time the fog in his brain cleared. I can't say that the change in direction was a bad thing, though, which led to Yale when Berkeley tried to throw him out and finally a full scholarship to ACT.
Full Frontal Nudity is one heck of a good time. Not only does it wonderfully capture the hippie years without too much of the political maelstrom, but paints a vibrant picture of what it was like trying to survive higher education, have a girlfriend and not kill her while hiking the Alps, and finally making it as a professional actor but having to worry about raging hormones while naked. It's got loads of old photos and 279 pages with many chapters of various lengths. Indeed I was sad to turn the last page.
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