Oi Polloi

In Praise Of... Elliott Gould

Published: Thu Sep 02 2021

There's a lot of under-appreciated (and occasionally misunderstood) people, places and inanimate objects out there. With these articles - we like to reset the balance a bit.

In this edition, wordsmith Tayler Willson waxes lyrical about the off and on-screen stylings of Phillip Marlowe himself, Elliott Gould...

It's high time Elliott Gould became inducted into pantheon of 'Most Stylish Actors'. Known by some for starring in M*A*S*H, The Long Goodbye, American History X and as Reuben Tishkoff in the Ocean's film series - or by others simply as Jack Gellar, father of Ross and Monica, the American sitcom Friends - wherever you became acquainted with Gould’s much-acclaimed on-screen work, you’ll have simultaneously stumbled upon his sensational sense of style.

Like many well-dressed actors before him, Gould’s on-screen looks were undoubtedly put together by a third party in the early days. But also like so many well-dressed actors, a style or look - especially one that works so well - is often then tinkered with and seen in many other roles said actor goes on to star in. Such was Gould’s effortlessness when it came to pulling off outlandish styles and patterns, it’s easy to see what was happening.

Gould’s most recognisable look arguably came as Trapper John McIntyre in M*A*S*H. With anachronistic sideburns and a prolific moustache, he was clad in a red floral-print Aloha shirt and Stan Ray-like pocket-heavy G.I. fatigues, complete with reinforced brow bar aviators, dog tags and a choker-like neckerchief.

Then in the 1969 film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (a sex comedy cited recently by Quentin Tarantino as a major influence on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) Gould played Ted Henderson, a married attorney with a wandering eye. His outfits were relaxed, yet smart, lazy but well thought-out. It was all unbuttoned terry shirts, short shorts and tortoise shell glasses - a cocktail of styles that Gould invited us to sip on.

When it came to more formal looks too, Gould did it right. His role as Philip Marlowe -- wise-cracking private investigator described as a “chain-smoking dark cloud in sunny Southern California”, in The Long Goodbye, would see him adorn a navy blue single-breasted jacket made from soft-napped flannel with a three-button front and whether worn to perfection or, well, hastily, Gould’s signature cigarette was always there for company.

Fast-forward to the 1990s, where Gould starred as Jack Gellar in Friends. A continuation of his style in The Long Goodbye, Gellar’s eye for smart-casual looks never went missing. Whether it was the Ralph Lauren two-piece in Season 9 Episode 1 “The One Where No One Proposes”, or his tan blazer over a blue button-down with grey trousers and navy-blue loafers in the series’ final episode, he remained in touch.

Off-screen too, Gould knew how to play. In a series of recently unearthed images of him and ex-wife Barbara Streisand, Gould’s extensive wardrobe was fully on display. From turtle necks and trench coats, to aviators and tuxedos, his only disastrous look came when he hosted Saturday Night Live in 1980, but we’re all allowed a few slip-ups, right?

Most importantly Gould was never pious. Whether the punchline, the goofy one or the endearing one of any given scene, he took the role a certain panache. This effortless versatility -- both on and off screen -- is undoubtedly one of his greatest gifts. And while others could often become pigeon-holed or sanctimonious, Gould’s ability to refuse was admirable. His looks are legendary and will go down in menswear folklore (if there is such a thing), but until then let’s rejoice, discuss and admire one of the world’s truly unlikely style icons.