Hunk du Jour

Steve Hayes regales us each week with his dishy, funny, and informative classic movie recommendations as the Tired Old Queen at the Movies!

The movies have always benefitted from the "British Invasion" and this was particularly true of the hunks that immigrated to Hollywood during the Golden Age. Ray Milland and David Niven, two of the most successful of these actors, gave up their theatrical careers in London and headed west, eventually wooing the most gorgeous leading ladies on the screen and each landing an Oscar to boot. Milland and Niven were typed by the studios early on as "ladies men", cornering the market on playing sophisticated cads and gentlemanly lovers. Always polite, eager to please and not averse to playing low comedy if the stakes were high enough, both men and women were attracted to their smooth and confident authority as well as their devilish sense of humor. They were the type of men I always related to. They may not have been the obvious, American, masculine, stereotypical heroes of the period, but they had all the great lines and all the smarts. They were the brunt of cruel jokes by their more masculine counterparts, but more often than not, they ended up with the girl. They weren't exactly effeminate, but obviously were in touch with and not intimidated by that side of their nature. Although not possessed of the manic, comedic genius of Cary Grant, they paved the way for such later "suave hotties" as Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and more recently, Colin Firth. I loved 'em!

Ray Milland with Rita Johnson and Mauroeen O'Sullivan - Hunk du Jour

Pictured: Ray Milland with Rita Johnson and Mauroeen O'Sullivan

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Both Milland and Niven, received their stage training in London and were snatched up by Hollywood relatively early in their careers. Milland signed with Paramount and was put into such adventures as Beau Geste with Gary Cooper and Cecil B. DeMille's Reap the Wild Wind with John Wayne. While Niven signed with Samuel Goldwyn and appeared in David O' Selznick's The Prisoner Of Zenda with Ronald Coleman and William Wyler's Wuthering Heights with Laurence Olivier. Much to their dismay, both were loaned out to other studios and forced to play whatever was assigned to them, which usually meant second leads in big dramas or as leading men to the reigning female actresses on the lot. However, both excelled at playing comedy and it was in this genre that they found better roles.

Ray Milland hallucinating under the effects of the DDTs in The Lost Weekend - Hunk du Jour

Pictured: Ray Milland hallucinating under the effects of the DDTs in The Lost Weekend

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When director Billy Wilder first worked with Milland, he noticed that not only did comedy come easily to the actor; there was also a certain darkness underneath. For this reason, Wilder cast him as the alcoholic writer in The Lost Weekend (1945). Wilder wanted to break the notion that alcoholics were merely useless bums. He had Milland portray the main character as a man who was intelligent, funny and sensitive, as well as being a hopeless drunk. Someone who'd use his intelligence to connive, manipulate and do anything he could to get a drink. It was tough stuff and Milland proved to be more than up to the challenge. The one big change in the movie came in the character's motivation to drink. In the movie, he drinks because he is suffering from writer's block, where as, in the novel, the writer's gay, can't face it and it eventually drives him to drink. The movie won Oscars for Best Picture and Milland for Best Actor. Milland had his pick of roles for a while and played everything from Westerns, to thrillers, turning in a marvelously sinister performance in Alfred Hitchcock's Dial "M" For Murder. (1954)

Typical early David Niven. In a tux with cigarette and white gloves. - Hunk du Jour

Pictured: Typical early David Niven. In a tux with cigarette and white gloves.

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David Niven also found his forte in comedies, which eventually led him to other things. He appeared in the Christmas classic The Bishop's Wife (1947) with Cary Grant and Loretta Young and the sexually provocative The Moon Is Blue (1953) directed by Otto Preminger. He scored a big success with Mike Todd's extravaganza Around the World in Eighty Days (1957) playing Phineas Fogg; a role that he claimed was his favorite. The following year, he won an Oscar for Separate Tables, as a Colonel suspected of performing sexually lewd acts in a Bournemouth theatre. Niven would later say; " That was the easiest part I ever played. All I did was copy Alec Guinness."

Ray Milland - Hunk du Jour

Pictured: Ray Milland

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Scandal steered pretty clear of these two, with the exception of Milland's torrid love affair with Grace Kelly during the shooting of Dial "M" For Murder, which threatened his long standing marriage. However, Grace moved on after the film was completed to Bing Crosby, William Holden, Oleg Cassini and Jean Pierre Aumont, among others, before setting her cap on Monaco's monarch. Niven suffered personal tragedy when his first wife Primmie, died of head injuries suffered when she fell down a flight of stairs during a party game at the Tyrone Powers. He eventually remarried, but according to a recent biography, suffered from bouts of depression and many, many affairs.

Ray Milland with Jane Wyman in The Lost Weekend - Hunk du Jour

Pictured: Ray Milland with Jane Wyman in The Lost Weekend

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Both men managed to stay in the top box office arena for a few years. Their suave, debonair manner and great humor allowing them to sail through even the most mundane sex comedies and horror movies of the '60's and 70's. Eventually, both turned to writing their memoirs before they died, with Niven after having written two hysterical Hollywood autobiographies, writing a novel as well.

David Niven in the 1940's. - Hunk du Jour

Pictured: David Niven in the 1940's.

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Ray Milland and David Niven were loved and admired by men and women for being the proverbial "hunks in Tuxedos". Handsome, suave, sophisticated and clever they were never fooled by the old notion of "brawn over brains", but instead, used their innate charm, wit and sophistication, to get what they wanted, proving they had a lot more up their sleeve than a diamond cuff link.

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