In 2008, many Frank O’Hara fans were pleasantly surprised when his poetry was given a big cameo in the acclaimed television show Mad Men. But that wasn’t the last of O’Hara finding his way onto TV in recent years.
A couple weeks ago, the HBO series Looking — a new show about a group of gay friends in San Francisco — dropped O’Hara’s name prominently in its first episode. I haven’t seen the show, but here’s a description of the moment by Dan Callahan on New York magazine’s Vulture blog:
Patrick, who works as a video game designer, finds a potential roommate/date on OkCupid and tells a co-worker he is impressed that the guy’s profile has a Frank O’Hara quote. I officially fell in love with Looking when I heard the name “Frank O’Hara” actually said out loud by one of its characters, though my ardor was cooled by the show’s insistent realism: Patrick admits he had to look up Frank O’Hara online to find out exactly who he was (at least that info is readily available). And then he endures a truly gruesome date with this Frank O’Hara-quoting-profile guy, an oncology doctor named Benjamin (Matthew Wilkas).
You can watch the brief scene here (starting at about 9:16), along with the first episode in its entirety.
But this is not the only O’Hara reference on a recent TV show. Not long after Mad Men had its O’Hara moment, the HBO series Bored to Death — which focuses on a fictional version of the Brooklyn writer Jonathan Ames — featured a hilarious mini-plot that involved Ames being asked by the director Jim Jarmusch (playing himself) to re-write a screenplay he’d just completed about “the New York poet Frank O’Hara.”
The very funny exchange about O’Hara can be seen here, from 2:36-2:44, but the whole clip is worth watching:
In this clip, Ames, played by Jason Schwartzman, finds out that he’s lost out on the chance to work on the script because Jarmusch has gotten Charlie Kaufman to do it instead.
It’s only fitting that the show depicts Jarmusch, of all people, working on a movie about Frank O’Hara. Jarmusch studied with Kenneth Koch at Columbia University, and he has often referred to how formative this experience was for him and his work: for example, in 2009, he told an interviewer “You gotta realize my poetry teachers were Kenneth Koch and David Shapiro and the New York School is very close to my heart” (62). The Criterion Collection’s DVD for Jarmusch’s Down by Law features a list of the director’s favorite books which includes: “New York school of poets, such as Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, James Schuyler, Kenneth Koch, David Shapiro, Ron Padgett and Frank Lima,” along with other New York School favorites like Arthur Rimbaud, Raymond Roussel, Pierre Reverdy, and Samuel Beckett.
Now if only Jim Jarmusch would make a movie about O’Hara in real life…
* the line in my title above comes from O’Hara’s poem “Ballade Number 4” (“where is the kismet of this TV night?”).