What would you do if you knew you only had a year left to live?
In one of my favorite episodes of the 1980s sitcom “Designing Women,” Julia Sugarbaker receives a call from an old high school classmate who, having found out that his days are numbered, asks her to spend the night with him. It seems that as a skinny, awkward, shy teenager he’d nursed a long-distance crush on her. Years later, the bad news from his doctor gave him the courage to call the object of his teenage affection. Understandably hesitant and suspicious, Julia nevertheless agrees to meet him for dinner in a restaurant. After much talk of old times and the turns their respective lives had taken over the years, though, Julia feels comfortable enough to invite him back to her home for a drink.
Now by today’s television standards (and I use the term very loosely) the next scenes would involve heavy breathing and Julia and her old school chum grunting and rolling around naked on any available surface. To their credit, however, the writers chose to take a different route. While admitting that she suddenly found this man quite attractive, Julia goes on to explain that she is in a committed long-term relationship, which she would not dishonor with a one-night stand. So the two of them do, indeed, spend the night together – slow dancing to old music from their high school days. – a scene made all the more erotic because it did not end in sex.
Backing up the clock fifty or so years, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced their way through over a dozen films and never so much as kissed until their last, “The Barkleys of Broadway.” Of course, in those days of screen censorship they were hardly likely to go much further. But many of their dance numbers were so erotic – such vertical expressions of clearly horizontal wishes – that any further physical contact between them would have seemed superfluous, even if it had been permissible.
The amazing Eleanor Powell didn’t have a partner – or need one – in the 1939 film “Honolulu” to be the sexiest woman in seemingly constant motion.
But forget movies and television. Words by themselves can be sexy. For example, from Act V, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s The Life of King Henry V:
By mine honour, in true English, I love thee, Kate.
By which honour I dare not swear thou lovest me;
yet my blood begins to flatter me that thou dost,
notwithstanding the poor and untempering effect of my visage . . . .
Therefore tell me, most fair Katharine, will you have me?
Put off your maiden blushes;
Avouch the thoughts of your heart with the looks of an empress;
Take me by the hand, and say ‘Harry of England I am thine,’
Which word thou shalt no sooner bless mine ear withal,
but I will tell thee aloud ‘England is thine, Ireland is thine,
France is thine, and HarryPlantagenet is thine,’
Who though I speak it before his face, if he be not fellow with the best king,
thou shalt find the best king of good fellows.
Come, your answer in broken music;
for thy voice is music and thy English broken;
therefore, queen of all, Katharine, break thy mind to me in broken English;
Wilt thou have me?
Just words – but erotic words, with only the most covert and subtle reference to sex.
You say you have trouble deciphering the Immortal Bard? Okay. Here’s something a bit more down to earth.
A few years before the people who make the James Bond films discovered what I have known for years, namely that Pierce Brosnan was born for the part,** Brosnan made a couple of commercials for (you won’t believe this) the Maidenform Company. Elegantly dressed in a tuxedo, he loosens the formal tie, folds his arms, looks into the camera, and casually tells the following microstory:
“It was our first time in Monte Carlo. We were heading out for the evening and she said, ‘I feel sure we’re going to win tonight. I’m wearing my lucky bra.’ So we headed downstairs and, sure enough, we lost our shirts.
At least one of us was dressed for it.”
Maidenform Bras? You bet your sweet life! He could have sold me swampland in Louisiana and the Brooklyn Bridge, too. That 15 or 20 seconds was sexier than any physical act that I have ever seen portrayed or read in any novel.
Albert Einstein said, Imagination is more important than knowledge.
As always, old Albert said a mouthful.
** I know. I know. Sean Connery is the favorite “Bond” among many. But you know the old saying: You pays your money and takes your choice, and for my money Brosnan was born to be “Bond.”