When the pitiful octogenarian Hugh Hefner got ditched by his scheming fiancée a few weeks back, it was a pitiful reminder that the only living “playboy” who can still be considered suave, debonair, sexually irresistible, and, well, cool, is the middle-aged man in the Dos Equis commercials.
With the primavera suicide of über-playboy Gunter Sachs, the passing of director Blake Edwards (whose films helped create “Gstaad Chic”), the dismal reception accorded the feeble Russell Brand remake of Arthur, Hefner’s ignominious repudiation by his runaway bride, and the low profiles kept by geriatric roués like Warren Beatty, Robert Evans, and George Hamilton, it seems that the age of the playboy—stretching all the way back into antiquity—has run its course.
The Most Interesting Man in the World is no longer Lord Byron or Beau Brummel or Porfirio Rubirosa. And it is certainly not Taki. It is an actor in a beer commercial. A Mexican beer commercial. Women will probably not mourn the passing of this golden age. But men will. Most men.
God, you ask yourself, what happened?
The term “playboy” traditionally refers to well-heeled predators who do not have to work for a living, whose primary concern is the pursuit of pleasure, and who are obsessed with beautiful women. If the women are not technically beautiful in the purest sense of the word, being rich will do. The classic, archetypal playboy has mysterious economic underpinnings, a preternaturally radiant tan, resplendent incisors, and fabulous hair—though sometimes veering a bit too far on the Waffen SS side.
Typical of the species is the first-century b.c. sybarite Mark Antony, who turned his back on a brilliant career as a tyrant in Imperial Rome so that he could frolic in the perfumed sheets of the roving slut Cleopatra, until recently his best friend’s girlfriend. Cleopatra—sultry, insanely wealthy, homicidal—was the prototypical playboy inamorata in that she was not especially good looking but had terrific bone structure, owned an entire country, and knew how to show a guy from out of town a good time. She also had a great asp.
When I was growing up in the 1960s, the young male American psyche was being shaped by the suave James Bond, and everyone I knew wanted to be a playboy. (Possibly not one boy named Aloysius.) We all wanted to drive a Lamborghini around the Arc de Triomphe in a Formula One competition hosted by the Aly Khan, toss back a few cocktails in Saint-Tropez with Rubirosa, spend the morning in bed in Monte Carlo with Brigitte Bardot and the afternoon in bed in Saint-Tropez with Claudia Cardinale. We might even slip in a quickie with Jeanne Moreau at lunch.
If we weren’t all tuckered out by sunset, we might fly one of our eight private jets to (pre-Castro) Havana to have a nightcap with charismatic gangsters and then seduce Rita Hayworth or bed down with a woman whose grandfather surrendered to the Soviets at Stalingrad. Or we might ask Warren Beatty to fly the plane while we dallied with someone named Bambou or Zsa Zsa or Miou-Miou or van der something in the cargo hold. It was a full, demanding day, but an awful lot of us were willing to give it a rip.
It is probably sexist to admit that young men used to entertain such fantasies, but at least it’s nice to know that there was a time in the not-too-distant past when men were more interested in women than they were in going public. The playboy’s three favorite letters were S-E-X, not I-P-O. Those days are gone; few young men entertain such fantasies now. It’s not just that playboys are a thing of the past—so are wannabe playboys and playboys manqués.
Everyone today is so . . . generic. Young men used to idolize sybaritic, muscular fashion plates who burned through their money, not spindly little men who hoarded it. Businessmen, by and large, were considered dull, unromantic, pathetic. In today’s world, where youth’s cultural icons are dweebs like Mark Zuckerberg or slobs like Mark Cuban, there is no place for the playboy of yore, the type who shoots rhinos, parachutes into the Alps, consumes champagne by the barrel, and never worries about what all the tobacco, alcohol, and barbiturates are doing to his health. The closest we get to a sun god like Marcello Mastroianni today is Russell Brand in Get Him to the Greek. Or Donald Trump. Or Puff Daddy. Or the guy in the beer commercial. Take a gander at the 50th anniversary rerelease of La Dolce Vita and see if Russell or Donald or Diddy is in the same league as Marcello.