Today we had a mini discussion about actors of he past who represented not only the desirable looks but also incorporated praiseworthy traditional virtues (righteousness, sense of justice, readiness to sacrifice oneself for a higher cause, empathy, protection of the weaker, mental and physical strength, excellence in skills and leadership etc.) in the American heroes they portrayed in film. One could argue that American movies did successfully carry American culture to foreign countries, and after WWII a part of this was due to “monumental” actors like John Wayne, Gary Cooper, James Stewart, Charlton Heston, William Holden or Henry Fonda who became the icons of “The Great American Man” that the world should (and did!) look upon. On the other hand, there existed a group of very handsome actors that embodied the male beauty ideals of their times, and who tended to be cast as rebellious but somehow sensitive and fragile personalities in their films. Their popularity often surpassed – albeit for a limited period – those of the aforementioned veteran actors, and drew a new, young audience into the cinemas. Some of them had great acting skills, but faced great hardships to get deeper roles in Hollywood. James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, Marlon Brando and Tyrone Power, to name just a few. (Golden Age Hollywood actresses often represented exceptional beauty, but might never have gained recognition as “ambassadors” of American values through film.)
I was wondering in class if you could single out present day actors of the former type: The “Great American Man”, or “Great American Woman”, if you would be able to appoint one. We are so many and did not have enough time, so I would like to give you here an opportunity for additional input! (I feel that “Captain America” is rather the Marvel character who represents this ideal than the actor. I’m more looking for an actor that represents the ideal in a variety of roles, like Tom Hanks, Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington or Will Smith – you also could describe your feelings if you would believe it is one those mentioned here!) This is a question for Americans as well as foreigners who watch many American movies.