We may finally be moving into spring, yet despite of the incoming warm weather, TV is entering a season of toasty man-furs. The upcoming wave of medieval dramas, fantasies, and historic soaps — HBO’s Game of Thrones (due mid-April), Showtime’s The Borgias (starting Sunday), Starz’s Camelot (premiering Friday) — brings British accents, swordfights, darkly-lit scheming and murder. And in these shows’ settings, the correct attire for such behavior requires mounds and mounds of fur pelts or, at the very least, a gaudy animal fringe. Though in the history of movies and TV, the manly donning of a fine mink or fur has hardly been relegated to ye olde days: Through the years, many actors who believe that building a role starts with the clothing have tossed PETA’s latest newsletter out the window to bedeck their current-day characters in animal hides as a furry grace note. Join us as we revisit some of our favorites through the years.
Context: The suits at Universal woke up one morning and thought, Wow, Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein made us a ton of money. How can we keep that gravy train rolling … ?
It’s tough being a monster, especially when the godforsaken European village that keeps reanimating you then also keeps getting all het up about how you’re, you know, monstrous. So we understand this monster wanting to have a little fun with it for a change: Man-made beasts don’t usually get to experience the joys of puberty, but this fur vest certainly approximates a sudden explosion of downy body hair. (Monsters take any amusements wherever they can find them.)
Context: England’s Henry II springs imprisoned wife Eleanor of Aquitaine from the tower in which he stuck her, just in time for an awkward family Christmas devoted to figuring out which of their sons should inherit the throne.
You can’t throw a farthing at the Historical Drama section without hitting some dude in a pelt. All anyone talks about from that era is the plague, but clearly the greater danger was freezing one’s nipples off without the luxury of central heating. For example, behold a young and hirsute Anthony Hopkins (playing Richard the Lionheart) fighting the war on two fronts, with both a well-tended silken chin hedge and a mullet-shaped, fur-lined poncho. Clearly he’s more afraid of frostbitten pecs than the Black Death.
Context: Much like in medieval times, it gets cold in New York during football season.
This is a master class in How to Make Sure People Are Watching You Even When You’re Not Playing. Joe Namath’s habit of wearing a full-length fur coat on the Jets’ sideline led first to an influx of other football players doing the exact same thing, and then to the NFL outlawing players from wearing anything but approved team gear. Somewhere, Chad Ochocinco is crying over this lost opportunity.
Context: Willie wheels and deals in an attempt to achieve everyone’s true life goal: being the top pimp in New York City.
Thanks to the medieval flicks, fur is an established cinematic trapping of royalty — and nothing screams King of the Lady Trade like Willie’s vibrantly hairy coat and matching turban. In fact, this might scream too loud. Wouldn’t a man be a better pimp if he were a tad more covert? It’s hard to pass for an innocent sanitation worker or a lowly heart-of-gold paralegal when you are dressed like Comrade Pimpengrad. (Fun fact: This same year, Dynamite star Roscoe Orman joined Sesame Street as Gordon. He really must like all things plush.)
Context: Ringo Starr had no idea what to do with himself post-Beatlemania, so he strapped on a loincloth. As you do.
The fur-clad caveman is the most obvious of tropes, but we appreciate how whole-hog Ringo went, swaddling himself in so many haphazardly yoked pelts that this could pass for an entry in a neanderthal Project Runway. Presumably, he decided a caveman’s virility is judged by the number of his worn kills — and maybe he was right, given that while lurching around in his moldering man-rug, he snagged co-star and future wife Barbara Bach. Still, don’t try this at home unless you too were a Beatle.
Context: Beastmaster — who has allegedly just become a man despite pecs suggesting he’s been a man for at least ten years — brings his fellow villagers to fight against evil marauders led by Rip Torn (who else?).
If Caveman and Willie Dynamite represent man-fur at its zenith thus far, then BeastMaster is its cinematic nadir. Because although the villagers are supposed to look like fur-tunic-clad rustics, a closer inspection reveals that they’re actually sporting cheap cloth printed with the image of fur. Frankly, this makes our hero look way less like a master of man and beast than a master of home ec. Then again, his best friends are a pair of ferrets who save him from death by quicksand, so maybe he’s just really sensitive to animal rights.
Context: A bet by his bosses knocks Louis Winthorpe (Dan Aykroyd) from Wall Street prince to pauper.
In high times, Louis’s fur collar was as well-groomed as a Westminster winner. In low times, it was as lopsided as one of William Shatner’s old Star Trek toupees. One might call that bracing realism, or a progressive egalitarian view of a fur collar for every caste. Others might wonder whether the subtext of this sartorial choice is that Jamie Lee Curtis’s hooker character was a hairy-neck fetishist. We may never know.
Context: John Travolta struts from Broadway audition to Broadway audition, eventually winding up in a Xanadu rip-off called Satan’s Alley (!) starring Finola Hughes (!!). During one strut, he runs into Stallone. Literally.
Sylvester Stallone wrote, directed, and produced this horrifying and amazingly cheesy multiple-Razzie-nominated follow-up to Saturday Night Fever, which means he must have meticulously chosen the jaunty fur half-cape for his (now rightly infamous) cameo and thus has no one but himself to blame. Words to the wise: If you must include a winky moment with yourself in a movie already bloated with Crazy, the preferred audience reaction is, “Yay! I love that dude,” and not, “Hang on, since when is Chewbacca so short?”
Context: Abandoned as a baby because he was a mutant, the Penguin plans revenge via a mayoral campaign, or something … zzzz.
Gotham and its sewers aren’t exactly Tahiti, but there’s more than weather motivating this particular man-fur: Penguin wants to look the part of a lawmaker. Perhaps you can judge a man’s evil ulterior motives by the size of his fur (to wit: Penguin, Henry VIII, Willie Dynamite) but frankly, we can find better reasons not to trust Oswald Cobblepot, like how his teeth are those of a man who drinks tar milkshakes, he sports the hair of a mad scientist who hasn’t seen light in 30 years, and he hasn’t changed his shirt since 1979.
Context: Men throwing other men around a ring for fun, and also to sell action figures.
Jose Gonzalez was already over seven feet tall by the time he was 16. But apparently that, plus some fur panties, was not sufficiently intimidating. No, the wizards at the WWF decided he also needed, gulp, back hair. Presumably this look was supposed to evoke a wild caveman aesthetic, but in the end his randomly applied tufts made him look more like a gorilla who fled his waxing appointment halfway through.
Context: Mr. Burns, celebrating his plan to turn puppies into a tuxedo, sings a song called “See My Vest,” a parody of Beauty and the Beast’s “Be My Guest,” about all the things he wears that are made of animals.
We always knew something was missing from our man-furs, and Mr. Burns zeroed in on what it is: nipples.
Context: Elaine discovers that her on-again, off-again boyfriend Puddy — fan of high-fives, face paint, ice hockey, and Arby’s — wears a fur coat.
The moral of this story apparently is that real-life man-furs beget nothing but trouble: Elaine becomes so enraged by the stupidity of Puddy’s opulent coat that she throws it out the window at a party (much as she did once before with George’s toupee; clearly, Elaine would hate this slideshow). The ensuing shenanigans lead to Jerry wearing the coat himself, to conceal an affair that Newman is having with their super’s wife. The other moral of the story, then: Man-fur can be funny on purpose. High five!
Context: Zoolander is a vain male model; Hansel (Owen Wilson) is a vain, New Agey male model who likes hallucinogenic drugs.
Obviously, any parody of the modeling industry will involve fur, but we especially appreciate how Owen Wilson’s choices match character type: Of course Hansel would wear fur jackets so ratty that you suspect they’re actually the hide of a yeti he encountered during, say, a Himalayan yoga retreat at a combination sweat lodge/acid farm. If King Arthur had ever hit a hash pipe, he’d look like this.
Context: Henry VIII has serious marital/on-the-job problems.
The Tudors must have spent its entire run atop PETA’s Most Wanted list, because as much as the show glossed over that whole “Henry VIII has a festering body wound and got super fat” angle, it cleaved obsessively to the era’s man-fur fondness. From the most disposable tertiary character to Jonathan Rhys Meyers’s Henry, it seemed like any man who arrived on set was handed both a script and something over-the-top fluffy to wear. Meyers, in particular, couldn’t go fifteen minutes without popping up in a fur vest, a fur coat, even a sleeveless fur bathrobe. Here’s hoping he didn’t have allergies.
Context: Future Spock has to pop by to tell his younger self something important.
Look, in Spock’s defense, everyone knows time-traveling is a chilly business — just look at Marty McFly and his puffer vest. It was more than a life preserver; it was good sense.
Context: When you’re riding through the wilderness looking for your father, sometimes you run into weird people.
This is clearly Man-Fur As Heralding a Man’s Mental Apocalypse. Not that we’re being judgmental — we’re sure not everyone wearing a bear has completely lost his mind; some of them are probably very polite sports-team mascots — but we suspect Rooster Cogburn and his young charge were right not to accept the medical help of a man so draped in fur he’s actually at one with it. He’s like the Dr. Leo Spacemen of the Wild West; it’s fun to see what he does to other people, but do you want his hands on your organs? Best not.
Context: People live on and are voted off of an island; no one wears any clothes if they can help it.
We’ve seen some odd luxury items on the islands over the years, but Ralph’s takes the cake: This season’s obligatory Good Ol’ Boy appears to have brought with him a full-body mink. His gleeful embrace of his hirsute halo — and the fact that he spent a memorable portion of his first few episodes wearing overalls sans shirt — may have led a few castmates to categorize him as a non-threatening rube. And then he masterminded getting rid of Über-villain Russell Hantz, proving that you cannot underestimate a man whose man-fur is homegrown.