Harry Hamlin Interview: Hollywood Star Exposes His Early Life in 'Full Frontal Nudity'
Pasadena, California native Harry Hamlin became a household name when he starred in the popular television legal drama L.A. Law that ran from 1986 to 1994. The actor made his debut on the big screen in the 1981 fantasy film Clash of the Titans and was voted People’s Sexiest Man Alive in 1987.
Other television appearances include The Taming of the Shrew, Master of the Game, The Hitchhiker, Laguna Heat, Favorite Son, Dinner at Eight, Deceptions, Deliver Them from Evil: The Taking of Alta View, The Nanny, The Hunted, The Outer Limits, Harper’s Island, You Lucky Dog, and Army Wives.
"She wanted me to tell the truth, I think, more than anything and fess up to it. It was just too horrifying to me. It seemed like I had done something horrible because it was very secret."
Hamlin’s first book is entitled Full Frontal Nudity and is an uproarious memoir about growing up in 1960s suburban California in a regular American family. His mother, a housewife, who frequently indulged in one too many martinis and his father, a rocket scientist, gifted their 11-year-old son with a five-year subscription to Playboy for Christmas.
When Hamlin arrived at Berkeley in the fall of 1969, he was ready to fully immerse himself in architecture, but fate got in the way and ultimately he was expelled only to end up a graduate of Yale, a Rhodes scholar, and the lead in a little play called Equus, which required full frontal nudity.
Hamlin lives in Los Angeles with his wife, actress Lisa Rinna, and their children, all of whom appear in the new reality show Harry Loves Lisa, which debuted on TV Land in October of 2010.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Harry, I loved your book!
Harry Hamlin: Good, I’m glad you read it. I’m amazed every time anybody reads that book.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You don’t think people will like Full Frontal Nudity?
Harry Hamlin: No, it’s just that this is the first time I’ve written a book and it just amazes me. I fly all of the time, but every time we take off and I fly up in the air I’m amazed that I’m flying. I guess the same thing applies with this.
The first time I ever flew I was amazed by the fact that we were actually in the air. Now I hear that people have read my first book I go, “You actually read it? Cool!”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): In the beginning of the book you speak about your troubles in Canada. That must have been a nightmare to live through.
Harry Hamlin: Well, it was unpleasant. It wasn’t a nightmare exactly, but it was not expected. I’ve been to Canada hundreds of times because I have a house there and I’ve worked there many times and no one has ever questioned my criminal background before (laughs). I was pretty surprised.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did it feel to have your past life flash before your eyes?
Harry Hamlin: I hadn’t thought about it because it had been almost 40 years since I had been at Berkeley and since any of those things had happened. That’s a long time and I have a whole life that has developed beyond that.
I’ve even considered running for political office a few times. Now that I’ve gone back and revisited those times I know that that’s not going to happen (laughs). That’s actually a great relief. But, that was quite a cathartic moment to relieve all of that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why is the photo of yourself as a small boy (on the cover of the book) the only picture of you that your dad carried in his wallet?
Harry Hamlin: He’s not alive anymore so I can’t ask him that question. But I was having lunch with somebody yesterday and I showed her the cover of the book and told her the story of how I found the picture, which was, of course, a wallet-sized photo.
The woman (who is a grandmother) said that the only picture she carries of her son who is now in his 30s) is a photo of him when he was seven years old. So I guess it’s not that uncommon that people carry around photos of their kids as toddlers or youngsters. The pictures I have of my kids in my wallet now are at least four years old and I guess I’ll change them at some point, but those are the pictures I carry of my daughters.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Perhaps people aren’t that conscious of changing wallet photos.
Harry Hamlin: Or maybe my dad just loved that picture of me. It was very moving when I opened up his wallet and there was that photo.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why did your family dine on pickled pigs feet and calves brains every Christmas morning?
Harry Hamlin: The pickled pigs feet was something that was ever present in the refrigerator and that was mainly my dad’s post hangover treat along with dog food. But, for Christmas mornings it was the calves brains and he called them brains “au beurre noisette.” It was served on a platter as one whole brain that was covered with capers and burned butter. He boiled it for a few hours in some kind of a sauce that had bay leaves and vinegar or something.
After the first four or five years that we did it when I was a kid, I became actually somewhat enamored of the meal. I liked it and would look forward to having that on Christmas morning. We only had it on Christmas morning. That was it, one time a year, brains “au beurre noisette” (laughs).
Harry Hamlin: I always wanted to and always thought that I would and then they died. In the beginning I didn’t want to question it, just sort of went with it. It may have been speculating, but maybe they thought I was going in the other direction and maybe thought I’d want very light loafers at some point in my life. They may have believed that and this would be a way to bend me in the other direction. I don’t know what they were thinking.
Maybe my father secretly wanted a subscription himself, though as far as I know he never snuck into my room and looked at them. That was 1962 or 1963 when I got that subscription and I think Playboy had only been out since maybe 1957 or 58 so it was a very new and provocative magazine. You talked about it in hushed tones. My parents were very conservative republicans. They told a spicy joke from time to time but for them to do that was very out of character.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, you say in the book that they were conservative. That’s why I thought the gift was so odd.
Harry Hamlin: It was odd and remains odd to this day, but I didn’t complain at all about it (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That’s certainly understandable for an 11-year-old boy (laughs). Small boys also love to pee outdoors. But your mom got so angry when she accused you of urinating in the dog bowl. Was she mad because you ruined the bowl?
Harry Hamlin: No, it was an old bowl that wasn’t being used by the dog anymore. She wanted me to tell the truth, I think, more than anything and fess up to it. It was just too horrifying to me. It seemed like I had done something horrible because it was very secret.
It affected me deeply because those things come and go in your life when you’re three, four, and five years old and you never think about them again. Who remembers stuff that happened when they were three, four, and five years old? But this is something that I’ve never forgotten and will think about on a monthly basis and have since that time. I wince and go, “God that really happened!”
It deeply affected my relationship with my mother because I didn’t tell her the truth and I stuck to my lie. She probably forgot all about it within a week, but for me it was a huge thing between the two of us that lasted her entire life. I’m sure she forgave me for it but I never forgave myself.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Later in life your college roommates were using LSD and hallucinogens around you, but you basically just smoked marijuana.
Harry Hamlin: And I really didn’t even like marijuana. I never was much of a pot smoker. It puts me to sleep. I think back then when someone was passing around a joint you took it and smoked it, but I never actually bought any myself. I just went along with whatever was going on at the time. Then I stopped and haven’t smoked any marijuana in so many years I can’t even remember.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you ever see Tim again later in life before he died from all of those years of drug abuse?
Harry Hamlin: I saw him from time to time. I would go to New York and we’d meet up with a couple of friends, but I finally realized during that trip to Mexico in the 70s that I didn’t really want that energy in my life.
Tim burned so brightly and was so attractive on so many levels that I just knew that was a very destructive energy and I didn’t want to have that in my life. I deliberately didn’t look him up. If he knew I was coming to New York to do a publicity thing he would find me.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Equus is a very popular play even today. Are people fascinated with it because of the young man who had a sexual fascination with horses?
Harry Hamlin: It’s interesting that you ask that question because from a deep dramatic prospective there’s not a lot to it. It’s not that deep a play. I think the way Peter Shaffer wrote it the play engages the audience very quickly. It has a mystery to it and that gets solved at the end when you find out why the boy punched out the horse’s eyes, but all through the play you want to find out what happened to this boy.
The device Peter used to engage the audience was very clever, but when you get down to the actual “what the play is about” and how deep it goes into the human experience, there’s not a lot there. It is, however, a very entertaining piece of work.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you done a nude scene since that time either in a play or a film?
Harry Hamlin: No, not full frontal nudity. That was the only one.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): This book only covers half of your life. Are you planning on writing a sequel?
Harry Hamlin: I have no immediate plans to write a sequel. They asked me for a certain number of words for this book. If I had told more stories I would have gone so far over the number … I was already over by 20 or 30 thousand. They made the print rather small and I would have rather it had been a slightly larger book with larger print, but I guess they were constrained.
There are obviously other stories. I ended this one at age 25 and certainly a lot has happened since then. I really enjoyed the experience of writing. I’d never written anything before this so this has opened up a kind of new passion for me. I love to do this. It was just lots of fun to do, whether I sit down and write more of this kind of thing (personal stories) or whether I write a fictional story that somehow resonates with me in some way.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m sure people would be interested to read about your life with Nicolette Sheridan and stories about L.A. Law.
Harry Hamlin: I don’t read those Hollywood tell-all books. I think they’re stupid. If I wrote something I’d be inclined to leave that kind of thing out. It wouldn’t be about the kinds of things people want to read about (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Lisa has written a Hollywood novel called Starlit. Is that based on some of her real personal experiences?
Harry Hamlin: It’s a roman a clef so there are factual incidents and there are people who she knows and stories that actually happened that have been somewhat twisted and then regurgitated into this story. It’s always good to write from experience and to create characters from what you know in real life. She has done that with these characters. There are people in her book that have behaved that way and done those things.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did the two of you become interested in doing a reality show?
Harry Hamlin: We were talking about it years ago when we had a couple of retail stores. We have one now.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, I heard it had been robbed.
Harry Hamlin: Right, and that one store was robbed twice in one week.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Any leads in the case?
Harry Hamlin: He’s the most famous robber in LA right now. His picture is all over the place. He keeps robbing stores anyway. Apparently the robber doesn’t read the newspaper or watch television because he doesn’t know how famous he is. He was spotted driving down the street a few days ago in the same car that drove up to our place when it was robbed.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’d think the noose would tighten a bit.
Harry Hamlin: Well, I don’t know, maybe it’s not that sharp of a knife. But, yeah, we got robbed a couple of times. Anyway, we were thinking about doing a reality show years ago about my building these shops. I design and build the stores. I go to Home Depot, get all the lumber, nails, screws, and paint, and haul everything back, then put it all together myself.
We thought that was kind of interesting because there were always delays and problems. I always gave myself a deadline because there was always an opening night party where we’d have valet and guests. I’d give myself like 35 days to build the stores. We’d have big openings with the press there and everything. But 35 days to build a 2,000 square foot store is not very much time so I would always be under the gun, racing back and forth to get things fixed and so forth. We just thought, “We should have this on film because it’s just too crazy.”
We actually sold that idea for a show to another producer four years ago. Then the place where we were building our second store (which we no longer have) refused to let us use cameras there. It was a mall and they refused to let us film on the premises. One of the other stores there thought it would create too much competition for them so they threatened to sue the owner of the mall. We were not allowed to shoot that show so that died.
We then went off and did all kinds of other things and then revisited the idea of doing a show two years ago. We decided to do one that was kind of a family comedy along the lines of the shows I loved when I was a kid like Father Knows Best, Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, The Brady Bunch, and I Love Lucy, so we took that and mixed it all together and came up with Harry Loves Lisa.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What can we expect in each episode?
Harry Hamlin: It’s all stuff that was going on in our lives at that time. We said, “Okay, we’ll take this and make it our story.” It is our story. It’s a comedy more than anything else. There is no blood on the walls, we don’t throw things at each other, and we don’t scream four letter words at each other.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What do your kids (Delilah Belle, born 1998, and Amelia Gray, born 2001) think about the show?
Harry Hamlin: They love it. They would rather be above the title (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have either of them shown an interest in show business?
Harry Hamlin: Well sure they have. They both do musicals and plays every year. That seems to be in their blood.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I have read that you’re the quiet one and Lisa is the not so quiet one. Do opposites attract and make for a happy marriage?
Harry Hamlin: People do say that all of the time about us. We’re opposites in that we don’t eat the same things, don’t drink the same things, don’t watch the same television shows, don’t go to the same movies, don’t read the same books, and we tolerate each other’s vacation choices (laughs).
It’s a lot of give and take and some negotiation, but we communicate with each other, we respect each other, and we listen. I think if you listen to your partner and hear what they’re saying … and often times that doesn’t just mean the words … then I think that’s what creates a great relationship.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): In addition to the show and book, what’s next for you Harry?
Harry Hamlin: I keep working on things and I get offers all the time. I just finished a project a few days ago, but I can’t tell you what it is.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’d be surprised how many times I hear that (laughs).
Harry Hamlin: Yeah (laughs). I’m always busy. I’m sitting here right now contemplating on a possible novel … it’s percolating inside of me right now.
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