Victor Mature, the First Hollywood Hunk

Neatorama presents a guest post from actor, comedian, and voiceover artist Eddie Deezen. Visit Eddie at his website.

On August 4, 1999, Victor Mature died at age 86 in Rancho Santa Fe, California. He was the first male Hollywood star to be dubbed a "hunk." The term "hunk" was a direct response to the many years where actresses and starlets had been asked to display their charms. This was referred to as "showing some cheesecake." You can see this in many old films from the '30s and '40s, where the leading lady will be asked to lift up her skirts a little, so the reporters can see a "little cheesecake."

The term "cheesecake" referred to a woman (an actress or model) showing her legs off, much to the delight of male photographers and spectators present, who would whistle and make sly "guy comments." This practice is not used anymore, except in satire. Political correctness, of course, set in as well as the much more revealing clothing worn by countless women we see not only in movies and TV, but also in society at large.

After many years, it was realized that there was no male counterpart to "cheesecake." Hence, the "hunk" …of beefcake. In a much cruder comparison, the term "hunk" was also thought to counteract its feminine counterpart: a cute girl = a "piece." The term "hunk" probably is more a derivation of "piece" than anything else. Interestingly, the term "cheesecake" seems now to be dated and almost archaic, but both "hunk" and "piece" are still going strong in the vernacular for men and women, respectively.

Mature was famous for his rippling biceps and muscular physique. He starred in such movies as The Robe (1953) and its sequel Demitrius and the Gladiators (1954). He is also remembered for playing one half of the title role in Samson and Delilah (1949). Mature's co-star (the other half) in Samson and Delilah was Hedy Lamarr. It was at the premiere of Samson and Delilah that Groucho Marx made his famous quip, "I can't enjoy any picture where the leading man's chest is bigger than the leading lady's."

Mature also starred in The Egyptian (1954), another Biblical epic. When asked about his success in these Biblical movies, Mature said he always had the ability to "make with the holy look."

Mature was never highly regarded as an actor, but it never bothered him. He had a humorous, self-deprecating style, once quipping that his acting roles required he use every muscle in his body except his face.

After formally retiring from acting as age 45, Mature began golfing six days a week. He occasionally came out of retirement to appear in movie cameos that parodied his earlier image.  

As a point of interest, you can see Mature in a fascinating cameo in the Monkee's only film Head (1968). About Head, Mature even admitted he "didn't understand the script, but it makes me laugh."

He was once denied membership at an exclusive California country club on the grounds that they didn't admit actors. Mature formally -and famously- asked the club to reconsider, writing in his letter "I'm no actor, and I've got 64 pictures to prove it."

Asked about his acting career, Mature, in his typical self-effacing way, said, "Actually I'm a golfer. I never was an actor. Just ask anyone -particularly the critics."

Mature seems to have been a Clark Gable-esque type of an actor. His good looks obviously appealed to women, while his self-deprecating style made him likable to both men and women. This was always a factor in Gable's huge success. No one, including Victor Mature himself, would ever say he was anywhere near as popular, successful, or talented as the iconic Clark Gable. Gable was, after all, probably the most popular leading man in the history of world cinema. But one can, without too much effort, see the similarity.

Clark Gable is a true Hollywood immortal movie star, the quintessential legend. But his shadow self has a little piece of Hollywood immortality, too. After all, Victor Mature was Hollywood's first official "hunk."

**Many thanks to my pal, Mr. Phil Proctor, for much of this article.

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I love watching Samson and Delilah. I know in that era he was considering a hunk but I could never understand why. He just has a regular body and no defined muscle. But to each his own. I love the scene where he wrestles the fake lion because he refused to wrestle with the real tamed one. And I love when he pushes the pillars, it just seems so comical.
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After confessing on the Tonight Show that he'd partied a bit the night before and Carson mentioned that, despite it all, he looked good, Victor Mature quipped, "I'd rather look good than feel good."
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