Bad news, ladies: the Geezer Roué—the dashing older (and much older) playboy who saw New York as the verdant playing field of seduction; that dignified and slightly sleazy social genus (and genius) who bloomed in New York City like some rank but irresistible flower, spreading sulfurous spores through the open windows of young women’s studio apartments—is no more.
“That breed is almost extinct,” offered pop culture sage and Vanity Fair columnist George Wayne. “Thank God for Jack, and his sagging scrotum sac, for still holding the fort.”
“Jack” being Nicholson, of course, who last month was famously photographed on a boat off the coast of France, shirtless and pork-bellied, licking his lips before moving in on a foot-long sub. Looking at the photograph of the actor, who turned 70 this year, one realized: Here is the last truly happy man on this overly analyzed, politically correct, downward-dogging, grass-fed, girls-gone-wild planet. His belly said it all: I came, I saw, I conquered.
Mr. Nicholson comes at the end of a long and distinguished Hollywood lineage of Geezer Roués: Douglas Fairbanks Jr., David Niven, Rex Harrison, Robert Evans, Darryl Zanuck, Alan Jay Lerner, Jimmy Van Heusen. On this coast you had Bill Paley, Nelson Rockefeller, Huntington Hartford, Taki Theodoracopulos, even The New Yorker’s Brendan Gill. (This was a time, dear young’uns, when male literary lads ran barefoot through the typing pool rather than setting up house in a comfy Brooklyn brownstone.) Mr. Nicholson’s compatriot roués—Warren Beatty, Michael Douglas—have been tamed, to some extent, by much younger wives and the recognition that perhaps it’s better to go gently into that saggy night. If you want to see a Geezer Roué manqué, have a look at deflated Bill Clinton as he plays the Good Boy on his wife’s campaign trail.
Not so long ago, it was not uncommon to encounter silver-haired womanizers, stinking of Bay Rum, wolfishly a-prowl in Manhattan. What distinguishes the roué has always been his impeccable manners—wealth and success, to be sure—and more importantly, the sense of artistry with which he approaches his life’s ambition: to love and be loved by women. It was less about sex and more about sensibility. Especially if that sensibility had great legs and was significantly south of 30.
But a moment of silence, please: the bell tolls for the Geezer Roué.
Rarely if ever anymore do you see that nattily clad, well-tanned if slightly creepy gentleman leaned up against the end of the bar. Theories abound as to what confluence of conditions has this once proud beast limping toward extinction.
“The art is dead—so are they, for the most part,” said James Lipton, host of Inside the Actors Studio, one night recently at Elaine’s as he took tiny sips of Calvados. Mr. Lipton bemoaned the fact that there are so few roués—and he’s observed many over the years—left for him to put on the hot seat on his TV show.
“Warren Beatty was a successful roué,” he said. “He lived at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. I remember when Shirley McLaine was on my show, saying, ‘Have you ever had Warren on your show?’ I said, ‘No.’ She said, ‘He’s got to do this show. Oh, God, the stories he could tell.’ Later, she said to me, ‘I just would love to jump his bones, just to see what all the shouting’s about.’” (Note to the younger reader: Ms. McLaine is Mr. Beatty’s sister; she was clearly joking. However, that’s the kind of hold the roués once held on all femaledom.)
Mr. Lipton sipped some more Calvados. “The amazing thing about a genuine roué,” he said, “is that women know that you’re a roué. Which is to say that infidelity is in the cards. That whatever you’re going to do with them, or to them—or for them—is purely temporary. You’re not going to be there in a few months. Otherwise you’re not a roué. And yet, they succumb to the roués. That’s the great art of roué-ism: Despite the fact that they know you’re a son of a bitch, and it’s all going to end badly for them, nevertheless they take the plunge.”
But the pool in which to plunge is leaking water fast.