The Geezer Roués

“I think the buzz-kill that came in is called the healthy lifestyle,” said New York artist Peter Tunney, who was a budding roué until he walked the aisle this spring at age 45. “There’s a big vibe out there to do everything right. You have to get home on time, you have to get up early, you have to run in the morning. You have to eat green grass for breakfast.”

For 10 years, Mr. Tunney shared an art gallery with photographer and roué Peter Beard.

“Listen, there’s two parts of this,” said Mr. Tunney of roué-ism. “One part is, you love women. That’s just the truth of it. That’s what all these guys have in common, they really love women. And they’re not willing to just settle down. They love their life, they love entertaining with women, they love traveling with women, they love being with them and they love their company and everything else.

“So you have women—and then you’ve got drink. But it’s excess that ends up being the drag. When you’ve got too much excess going on, you really start to become an idiot. And the quality of the people goes down after a while: Who’s there at 7 a.m.?”

Mr. Tunney, who is sober these days, insists that life still has an edge. He still enjoys a large plate of eggs in the morning and he has a brand-new scooter.

“I‘m much happier now and much humbler,” he said. “So paradise lost for me is paradise found.”

But the Vespa-and-eggs technique hasn’t worked out for everyone. The writer and roué Anthony Haden-Guest has moved to London and is no great hurry to return.

“The massive streak of Puritanism in America has reasserted itself, especially amongst liberals,” he said, adding that New York is no long the racy place it was in the 70’s and 80’s. “When I moved to New York there were still a bunch of good writers, often half-drunk, but still very good writers. That doesn’t exist anymore. Where do they go? They probably go and teach at Bard. All the roués I know are reformed or gone back to Europe.” (Like all good roués, Mr. Haden-Guest takes exception to being labeled a roué: “I work extremely hard and have a little fun sometimes.”)

The Actor Studios Mr. Lipton theorized that the young women whom roués would typically prey on have become so sexually liberated and media-savvy that such a plunge today has all the mystery and danger of jumping in a puddle in your rain boots.

“That was part of the allure of the roué; he was something dangerous,” said Mr. Lipton. “He lived in the shadows. And the woman who got involved with the roué knew she was skating on thin ice. There was that excitement.” He noted that women would often get involved with these old devils to boost their visibility.

But in the post-Paris-Hilton-sex-tape era, succumbing to the charms of an older man is not going to raise eyebrows. If a young woman wants to be noticed skating on thin ice today, she simply removes her underwear, clutches her ankles, puts her trust in zoom lenses and glides.

“The wages of sin are pretty damn good,” said Mr. Lipton. “Where does that leave the roués? Somewhere out on the fringes, desperate to attract some attention. It’s not glamorous and sexy. It’s tame compared to these kids running around in their underpants.”

Indeed, some roués have started committing the No. 1 roué sin—boasting. A whiff of desperation accompanies an upcoming article in GQ magazine in which 57-year-old Virgin Atlantic billionaire Richard Branson brags about how he became a member of the mile-high club.