The Brettish Empire
Vol. I #11

September 1, 1995
(Revised February 19, 2000)

TALL, THIN AND TORTURED

Graphic from "JOD's B/W Clip Art" page

Hello everyone! You're just in time for our field trip to TBE University, the Empire's ivy-covered institution of higher learning. We're gathering in Adler Hall to hear an intriguing theory about why we ladies may be so drawn to characters like Sherlock Holmes and actors like Jeremy Brett. OOPS! Er, um, the gentlemen present may want to attend a different lecture--a Dr. John Watson is giving a talk entitled "The Fair Sex is My Department" in Holmes Hall. Or, you may wish to stick around and find out why this newsletter is called The Brettish Empire instead of The Fabio File. ;->

And now, your editor steps up to the lectern to deliver the following essay written by Jayne M. Blanchard and first published in The Washington Post on February 9, 1992:

"TALL, THIN, TORTURED AND ADORED: WHAT MAKES WOMEN GO FOR THE GAUNT? (c) 1995 The Washington Post

On Sunday nights, we gather in front of the ascetic glow of Masterpiece Theatre, gazing intently at the television set for a glimpse of one.

Our reward comes not long after Alistair Cooke adjusts his tweeds and introduces tonight's episode. As the classical music swells, we move in closer, lips parted. And in due time one fills the screen (well, maybe not fills--rests delicately on, more accurately): an actor who is leaner than a shaved moon, with eyes like fresh wounds, his mouth as thin as a Communion wafer.

Then he speaks, in a voice soft as fingertips, in an upper-crusty accent that hints of breakfasting daily at Fortnum-Mason, of shopping on Saville Row, of claret-steeped dinners in drafty country estates.

Rapturous sighs all around. Another successful spotting of a TTT--actors who are Tall, Thin and Tortured.

TTTs do not fit the conventional image of what turns women on. While much has been made of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Bavarian beefcake, Dennis Quaid's washboard abs and Kevin Costner's cornfed carnality, members of the TTT fan club prefer haggard over husky, gaunt before brawn. We want guys with hipbones like cheese graters and cheeks as hollow as a morning-after promise.

Think Leslie Howard, Gary Cooper, Terence Stamp, Dirk Bogarde, Rupert Everett, Pierce Brosnan and the ultimate TTT, Jeremy Irons, who crowns his career of portraying anguished souls by playing the sad-sack of all time, Franz Kafka, in the new moodstruck film Kafka. Think Daniel Day-Lewis, whose lanky frame as well as performances in A Room With a View and The Unbearable Lightness of Being embody the TTT ideal of a romantic Englishman.

What is it that makes women pine for a TTT? It's their vulnerability, their ineffable suffering, their, yes, sensitivity. It triggers maternal hormones, causing women to want to cradle these fragile creatures with quivering aquiline noses and shield them from all the hurts of the big, bad world.

Nothing else could explain why, in the movie Impromptu, hale George Sand (Judy Davis) chooses Chopin, described in the film as 'the Polish corpse', over [a] strapping tutor...By the way, Chopin (played by Hugh Grant) wins the rare TTTT distinction: Tall, Thin, Tortured and Tubercular.

'Women can identify with them because these types of characters struggle with the same issues,' says Robert Winer, a Bethesda psychiatrist who has actually considered the TTT topic as a board member of the Forum for the Psychoanalytical Study of Film. 'Although women have made great strides, often they consider themselves second-class citizens. And when they see men going through the same struggle with self-worth, they can find resonances in their own lives. Also, these actors are not ashamed to show their feminine sides.'

At the same time, TTT lovers blanch at the idea of navel-gazing along the lines of Alan Alda, who is another brand of 4-T: Tall, Thin, Tortured and Tedious.

'TTTs have to be aloof and unfathomable on some level. There has to be a feeling they are harboring some secret,' says Amy Ballard, a historic preservation specialist at the Smithsonian and confirmed Anglophile. (And, not surprisingly, a founding member of the local TTT fan club.)

One can find TTTs in music, too--Sting, Bryan Ferry, David Byrne, Morrisey and his-hairiness Lyle Lovett (the man actress Kathy Baker says 'is the only man I told my husband I'd leave him for').

They also abound in literature, from the works of the Bronte sisters to Anne Rice's vampire novels. 'Look at Rice's latest, The Witching Hour--why it's just riddled with TTTs,' says Ballard.

And who can forget Scarlett and Miss Melanie setting their bonnets for that sylph Ashley Wilkes over the hirsute Rhett Butler?

For some of us, membership in the TTT Club began with Poldark, others with Brideshead Revisited, both seminal PBS series. Patrice Jordan, executive producer of the The Fox Morning News, admires Roy Marsden, Inspector Dalgliesh on Mystery!, while Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes is said to raise the blue-blood pressure of [TV station] WETA president Sharon Rockefeller a few notches.

Others trace their love of the pinched and angst-ridden to The Jewel in the Crown, where the sight of actor Art Malik in white linen so inflamed two Washington women that they sat through the three-hour Meetings With Remarkable Men, a movie about the philosopher Gurdjieff, to catch a glimpse of the young Malik playing a monk.

Lest you think TTT's are for Anglophiliacs only, there is prime lean beef in Hollywood.

American TTTs fall into two categories: Urban Goofy (Jeff Goldblum, Peter Weller, James Woods, Nicholas Cage, John Torturro) or Cowboys (the Fondas, the Carradines, Scott Glenn, Peter Coyote, Gary Cooper, Sam Shepard).

Doug Gomery, mass media scholar at the University of Maryland, contends TTTs are an American tradition dating back to the dime novels of the 1880s: 'The aw-shucks, bashful heroes of the Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda variety are important cultural icons, as important as the classic macho man of action.'

The attractiveness of these rough-hewn heroes, according to Gomery, is 'that they are sensitive, mannerly and conflicted--the flip side of a John Wayne character who is boasting, loud and somewhat obnoxious.'

What sets a TTT apart from actors who merely look like they're trying to digest a spicy meal? TTT fan club members have assembled the following criteria:

Sexually Swiss: 'TTTs are not threatening or judgmental. They don't tend to be women-haters,' says Amy Ballard. Indeed, they seem to genuinely like women--and not just for sex. They seem to be better [lovers] than the typical movie stud, but that may be because most TTTs do love scenes that leave much to the imagination.

Winer theorizes that women gravitate toward TTTs because they 'feel ambivalent toward sexual stereotypes of macho guys and often they appreciate men who are unsure of themselves. Everybody has a fantasy about surrendering to a strong man or woman, but after a certain point a mature person craves a more emotionally complex hero.'

(Take that, Steven Seagal!)

The Human Hanger Factor: Their clothes have to flap in the breeze. All TTTs look great in raincoats, hats and evening dress.

Nervous Collapse: Daniel Day-Lewis fell victim to exhaustion during his West End run of Hamlet. You have to swoon and beg off a production due to exhaustion at some stage in your career to be a bona fide TTT. Skittish nerves and an air that life is just too, too much to bear add to the allure of Nigel Havers, Dirk Bogarde, Peter O'Toole and Terence Stamp, who has been through the mill, as his three-volume (so far) autobiography attests.

But the main reason women choose the sensitive over the strapping is intelligence. Ours--not theirs."

Hmmm! Interesting! Now, I wonder how that would look in a personal ad: "Am seeking TTT (Tall, Thin, Tortured)..." Er, on second thought--thank goodness for PBS and A & E! :->

A CLOSE ENCOUNTER OF THE BRETT KIND

If you haven't seen the latest addition to Kathy Li's famous "Granada 'Sherlock Holmes' Episode Guide" yet, I know you'll want to rush over to the Web and read it right away (but please finish reading "TBE" first). :-> Kathy has written an account of her 1988 visit to the stage play "The Secret of Sherlock Holmes" (starring J. Brett and E. Hardwicke) in London. Perhaps the most interesting part of Kathy's story comes after the play is over and she meets two familiar strangers in a dark alley.

YET MORE BRETT

Just before I started typing this month's issue of TBE I found the following writeup from Sonia Fetherston waiting in my e-mail in-box (thanks, Sonia!):

"I was recently in Seattle's MisterE bookshop, stocking up on vintage back issues of the Baker Street Journal. When I got home I noticed that the December 1985 issue contained an obituary for Joan Wilson, who was, of course, Jeremy Brett's wife. It was written by Sherry Rose-Bond. Since last month was the 10th anniversary of Ms. Wilson's untimely death, I thought Brett newsletter readers might be interested in the BSJ's tribute. The obituary says, in part:

'Hers may not be a household name, unless one's household includes Upstairs, Downstairs, Brideshead Revisited, I, Claudius, The Jewel in the Crown, and the long-running Mystery! series. Wilson was the producer at WGBH public television in Boston who defied conventional network wisdom to bring to U.S. audiences quality productions and memorable performances...This season's [1985] Mystery! series was special in a number of ways. It brought us the wonderful Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and it introduced us to the Holmes of our generation, Jeremy Brett, who was Wilson's husband...Wilson's legacy of quality, which set a standard for the industry, will endure.'

"It was sad to re-visit her obituary, and yes--that 1985 season was special, wasn't it?"

Yes, Sonia, that was a special season. And, thanks to the groundwork laid by Joan Wilson, all the following seasons have been special as well. Ms. Wilson's legacy has indeed endured...

Sonia also sent along another fascinating bit of Brettnews, this one from a 8/31/95 posting on the Hounds of the Internet:

"About a week ago Kara Lelinski suggested we all write to Jeremy Brett and wish him good health. I think this is a great idea, and one that reminded me of something everyone might want to know about...

"One of my Sherlockian friends from upstate New York, a lovely lady named Meg Moller Martin (whose favorite Sherlockian quote is, 'My collection of 'M's' is a fine one') has launched a campaign to get Mr. Brett knighted. She has appealed to the Queen, whose secretary courteously replied that the proper person to contact is the Prime Minister--and that he (the secretary) would see that this was done.

"So, Jeremy's name is now before the P.M.! Let's cross our fingers and see if Sir Jeremy appears on the next List. (But would he respond as Holmes himself did? Or as Sir Arthur did?)"

Hopefully the latter! :-> Hey, I like the sound of that--"Sir Jeremy"! I'll keep my magnifying glass poised for further details on this exciting story.

Well, I hope you've enjoyed Issue #11 of TBE. Remember, I'm always looking for news, reviews, articles, etc., about Sir (well maybe!) Jeremy Brett. Please send them along to my e-mail address--thank you!

Until next time,

Lisa :->


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