You know Dan Hedaya. Okay, maybe you don’t know his name off the top of your head. Maybe you’ve never heard it said out loud. But you know him. Bette Midler’s cheating ex in The First Wives Club. Frances McDormand’s husband in Blood Simple. A cop in The Usual Suspects. A cop in Freeway. A cop in The Hunger. A cop in Shaft. He also made appearances in Hill Street Blues, Kojak, LA Law, Law & Order, Miami Vice, NYPD Blue, and Chicago Pigs (okay I made that last one up). My personal favorite Hedaya role is Nick Tortelli on Cheers. He only appeared in six episodes, but his portrayal of Carla’s charming sleazebag ex-husband is one of the show’s most memorable guest roles, due in large part to his electric chemistry with Rhea Perlman. The two later reunited on The Mindy Project as Danny Castellano’s estranged parents, a casting choice that will forever take my breath away. But if you still don’t know Dan Hedaya from any of these movies or shows, you definitely know him as Cher Horowitz’s father in Clueless.
There’s hardly a line or outfit from Clueless that some 90s nostalgia instagram account hasn’t deemed “iconic.” Etsy and Redbubble offer a plethora of cards and stickers featuring every beloved character and quote, from Cher’s succinct, “Ugh, as if!” to Tai’s way harsh dig; “You’re a virgin who can’t drive.” And yet merchandise featuring Mel Horowitz, Cher’s gruff yet loving lawyer father is offensively hard to obtain. Although he has some of the funniest lines in the movie, I could not locate a single T shirt nor laptop decal featuring his precious face. I find this particularly egregious because, even with many adorable competitors, it is an absolute fact that Dan Hedaya is the hottest man in Clueless.
For full transparency, I have written a breakdown of my definitive ranking of the Clueless men, all of whom I will concede are very handsome -- which only makes it all the more impressive that Mr. Hedaya leaves them in the dust.
A HIERARCHY OF THE MEN OF CLUELESS*
6. Justin Walker as CHRISTIAN
I recognize that this is a very beautiful man with the face of a baby angel in a 50s malt shop, but that’s simply not enough when you’re in a cast of this caliber.
5. Breckin Meyer as TRAVIS
Breckin Meyer is super hot. I have seen him in very little (if I watch Franklin & Bash I also have to watch The Glades, and it’s like, where does it end?) but still I absorbed the knowledge of his continued hotness over the past few decades through the same cultural osmosis that clued me in on every Grey’s Anatomy death without having seen a single episode. He’s cute and sweet and the nicest boy in the whole movie. But he also has gross stringy hair, so four it is.
4. Donald Faison as MURRAY
He’s cute as hell in this, but of all the Clueless teens, he plays the most convincing high school boy: charming, dripping with immaturity, and blessed with an incredible knack for irritating high school girls. Even though I adore Donald Faison, this is not his heyday. That is obviously Scrubs.
3. Paul Rudd as JOSH
That’s right, Paul Rudd is the THIRD hottest guy in Clueless. Is that a surprise to you? Well that’s because you’ve been duped by Big Paul Rudd™. I don’t know what he has on Buzzfeed that has led to a barrage of Paul Rudd Doesn’t Age content over the last five years, but the man has an agenda and I refuse to be complicit. That being said, he’s super hot and funny and I love him. But this is not his heyday either. That’s now. And we have to stop him before he attains his full power.
2. Jeremy Sisto as ELTON
I kind of forgot just how gorgeous Jeremy Sisto is. Before googling cast photos, I was pretty sure he was way hotter in Suburgatory, and I don’t think that’s wrong exactly, but in this, man…….what a babe. An asshole, but a babe. He has sweet puppy dog eyes, pouty lips, and dimples that are frankly just regular dimples, but that’s good enough for me! If only he had a less pedestrian chin.
1. THE MAN HIMSELF (HENCEFORTH REFERRED TO AS “MR. HEDAYA”)
Now, despite the fact that I am only considering how all the other actors look in this one movie, we will be taking a more holistic view of Mr. Hedaya. This is not great rhetorical practice, but this is not a courtroom (yet! Just wait til the process server I hired manages to track down Paul Rudd) so I’m gonna do it anyway. My main motivation for this approach is that despite how handsome he is in this movie, there are almost zero shots of his chest hair, which is a crucial element of Mr. Hedaya’s sexiness. The other would be that beautiful cleft chin, which is fortunately very visible (eat your heart out, Kirk Douglas!).
The only way I know to truly convey the sex appeal of Mr. Hedaya is to simply list his various physical characteristics. The aforementioned chest and chin. His eyebrows. His brow more generally, particularly when furrowed or lifted. Every facial expression he makes. Like Carla Tortelli, I am powerless in the face of this man. I find him totally and completely irresistible.
It’s hard to say what initially spawned this passion of mine, especially because in consulting his filmography I realized Mr. Hedaya almost always plays a skeez, if not an outright villain. Perhaps I caught an episode of ER before I had fully developed language skills and was thus unperturbed by his character’s shameless ambulance chasing. Whatever it was, I know I just loved that face. His expressions are so elastic, expanding beyond the boundaries of his physical features and taking over the whole scene. You can’t look away. And yet he has such control of his presence, his charisma. No matter how corrupt or seedy the role, Mr. Hedaya’s inherent good humor and magnetism shine through. As Mel Horowitz, the actor doesn’t even have to jump the hurdle of a repulsive or vulgar character. He gets to be a doting father, heaping equal amounts of blunt advice and loving wisecracks on Cher and Josh, his ex-stepson. I always laugh the hardest when he meets Tai at the dinner table and immediately barks, “Get out of my chair!” by way of greeting. Only Mr. Hedaya could so perfectly toe that line of reasonably scary and obviously harmless. His gentle grumpiness serves as much needed relief from the unrelenting gloss of the Beverly Hills setting. He knows how to make the periphery compelling. Also that chin really sings to me.
Nobody could synthesize my reverence for Dan Hedaya’s enduring, enigmatic allure better than Carla Tortelli, so I leave you with this Cheers excerpt:
DIANE: It really stirred my ire just watching that bait bucket.
CARLA: I know. He’s still got it, doesn’t he?
*Please note I did not include Wallace Shawn on this ranking because I refuse to objectify him that way. I have too much respect for him (and his wife, Eleanor Waldorf).