I. Beta Dempsey
He will tell you he is a lucky man, that as he stands there in this soundstage parking lot, twirling car keys around manicured fingers, he never believed he would be back here again as a featured product of the entertainment industry. He flashes that heartbreaking smile that makes you feel as if you and he are in this together. That he is here because of you—because of your patience, sufferance, tolerance. Because you gave him another chance.
“Let’s go,” Patrick Dempsey says. We squeeze into the bucket seats of his aqua 1973 E-type convertible Jaguar and he backs onto Fuller Drive, and then we’re rolling through Hollywood, past little stucco bungalows and the tennis courts in Plummer Park where fat ladies in denim skirts volley flat-footed and then south toward Beverly Drive. Dempsey slouches in the black leather seat wearing a nylon jacket pulled over a Steven Alan shirt, new jeans, and a pair of blue-and-black ASICS trainers that are tapping clutch and gas. This look—the wind-whipped brown locks, the photo-shoot-perfect stubble, the convertible English sports car—it’s like, hey, would you like some lemon sauce with that dish of hot thespian?
Dude, are you enjoying this? The Dr. McDreamy slot on the hit show Grey’s Anatomy, being named second-sexiest man alive by People magazine, the Golden Globe nomination, this whole unlikely second shot at leading-mandom? Are you enjoying this? Because you look like you are.
“Loving it,” he says, smiling. “Loving it.”
He should. He’s earned it. He suffered. He sucked. And we suffered. He can’t even watch those old movies, those teen comedies that in their infinite cable-superstation loops have nursed a generation through hungover weekend afternoons—Can’t Buy Me Love, In the Mood, Loverboy—each a cinematic tribute to hair mousse and sleeveless shirts.
Let me remind you: You are half awake, prostrate on a leather sofa, and during a lull in the football game you start flipping, and there he is: the barely postpubescent Dempsey, let’s call him Beta Dempsey, bony as an Olsen twin, frantically mugging as he rides the tractor mower in Can’t Buy Me Love or slings pizzas in Loverboy, manic like Screech’s better-looking brother. Beta Dempsey, he was trying so hard, his desperation to please oozing off the screen and coating you in needy, sticky insecurity. In your crapulous state you almost hear a quiet, imprecating whisper: likemelikemelikeme. It comforts you, perhaps, that there is someone out there who needs to be loved and nurtured as much as you do. But there is also something a little gross about all that neediness.
And Dempsey’s like, “Dude, I know, I know. Believe me, I know.”
Because if watching those movies is bad, think about how he felt making them. Instead of enjoying life at the top of the brat pack’s second tier—below Andrew McCarthy but a rung above, say, Jon Cryer—Beta Dempsey was a mass of insecurities and neuroses, the most obvious symptom of which was his decision in 1987 to marry Rocky Parker, his manager, who was, get this, 48.