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The Closet Door is Open - Lavender Ladies & Gents of the Golden Age of Hollywood

Discussion in 'The Moving Picture' started by Lily Powers, Jun 30, 2011.

  1. A thread in the Powder Room, "Comments You Get When You Dress Vintage,” veered into a lively and interesting discussion about gays in the Golden Age of Hollywood. So before the original thread got hijacked, I thought we could move the conversation over here.

    I love to read books on old Hollywood and the topic of how same-gender relationships of characters were portrayed in those old films (both pre-code and after), documented bacchanalia of silent screen stars when they weren't on the screen, and the extremes the studios went to keep their top money earners closeted from the adoring (and ticket purchasing) public is a fascinating peek at another side of the silver screen. Thought it would be worthwhile to give the subject it’s own thread.
  2. Rock Hudson was a good example of someone who was such a box office hit that studios did everything they could to keep his image as a ladies' man intact. Most people know about his marriage to Phyllis Gates, the secretary of his agent. But before that, Confidential magazine was ready to put Rock and his boys on the cover of their magazine. The studio got word of it and offered up a lesser star (and friend of Rock's), George Nader, to Confidential instead. The expose ruined Nader's career in the US, but he went on to do well in Europe. Rock knew that Nader's downfall in Hollywood was because of his star power being protected, so Rock made provisions for Nader in his will.
  3. I'd never heard that before - how awful for Nader but it shows Hudson in a very good light.
  4. scotrace

    scotrace Head Bartender Staff Member

    There is a grand story about Barbara Stanwyck, gathering blooms on both sides of the fence, poker games at Robert Taylor's house, John Wayne... ah well. Another time. ;-)

    There are interesting whispers about the close neighbors Katharine Hepburn and Greta Garbo.

    And then there's Billy Haines, who, after being ruined as a silent film star by being outed, went on to a greater career as Interior Designer to the Stars.
  5. In Loving Garbo, Hugo Vickers claims that Mercedes De Acosta had affairs with both Garbo and Dietrich.....
  6. Don't forget golden era movie directors - George Curkor, James Whale, and Mitchell Leisen immediately come to mind.

    (I'm sure there were many others, but I didn't want to start Wiki-ing dozens of names.)
  7. Ona Munson (her best known role was probably as Belle Watling in Gone with the Wind) was rumoured to be gay however was married three times. She sadly committed suicide at the age of 55.
  8. The unjustly-forgotten comedienne Patsy Kelly is my favorite other-side-of-the-fence-walker, and unlike most of her contemporaries she was out in the open about it. She was very successful as a second-lead comic relief figure in films of the thirties, but she got a bit too rowdy in the forties, and by the postwar era she was pretty much unemployable in Hollywood. So she moved in with Tallulah Bankhead -- who was very well known for swinging from both sides of the plate -- and became her *maid,* as well as filling in in other capacities as needed. There's an HBO miniseries in that story somewhere.

    La Bankhead, meanwhile, seems to have been insatiable. A late friend of mine was in a show on Broadway with her in the mid-thirties, and was propositioned almost immediately. Being an innocent Southern girl, my friend had absolutely no idea what Tallu was getting at, and it didn't dawn on her until years later....
  9. bunnyb.gal

    bunnyb.gal Practically Family

    What? The Duke?

    I believe the beautiful Richard Barthelmess was rumoured to swing both ways; Nazimova, Clifton Webb and the Sal Mineo/James Dean/Natalie Wood stories spring to mind...

    Funnily enough, as I write this my copy of "Wonder Bar" is staring at me; I seem to recall some pretty racy lavender behaviour in that film...

    I find this whole subject fascinating too and I'm glad it's been started!
  10. scotrace

    scotrace Head Bartender Staff Member

    NOT The Duke. T'was he who told the story, years later. Punctuated with one of the best lines ever: "I used t'feel s'bad.... fer Bob..."
  11. Grant and Scott owned a beach house together thru the mid-30s, and the fan magazines were filled with beefy photos of them relaxing together at poolside. Conclusions were drawn.
  12. djd

    djd Practically Family

    The story of Cary and randolph circulated at the time and they just laughed it off then. There no evidence that he was gay, bisexual or anything else. You will not find a less homophobic person than me. I have many gay friends and a number of heroes who are or were gay. I really really object though to stories being made up where there is not one SHRED of evidence to back it up. I work in evidence.... 22 years in criminal investigation and a degree in history before that. Evidence is not some hack author quoting 'a close friend' (unnamed) saying 'oh yes, Cary/Errol/Clark was a complete queen!'. Charles Higham and more recently David Bret have made careers in making lies up about dead people. Annoys the he'll out of me (as you can tell!)
  13. They say that despite his prissy, nancing screen persona, Franklin Pangborn was actually one of the toughest men in Hollywood -- who enjoyed smoking black rope cigars, swilling Everclear straight from the bottle, once beat Wallace Beery senseless in the parking lot behind Ciro's, and bragged the length and breadth of Hollywood about the women he'd conquered. But when they say that, they're wrong.
  14. TCMfan25

    TCMfan25 Practically Family

    I retract my statement then :)
  15. "Gathering blooms on both sides of the fence." Never heard that before; that cracks me up! Barbara Stanwyck was married to Frank Fay, a not so beloved vaudeville-to-film actor who was also believed to gay. His other love was alcohol, and many folks believe the original "A Star Was Born" was based on their relationship. Fay's style of comedy was very similar to Jack Benny's and if TCM ever shows "Matrimonial Bed" (1930) again, I recommend it for it's enjoyable comic timing.
  16. The greatest comment ever made about Frank Fay came from Fred Allen: "The last time I ever saw Fay, he was walking down Lover's Lane holding his own hand."
  17. djd

    djd Practically Family

    Lol :)
  18. And the rumours about Oscar Wilde being gay. The truth came out in Blackadder Goes Forth: Corporal Punishment. It turns out, the prosecutor was just THAT good:

    Blackadder: I remember Massingbird's most famous case: the Case of the Bloody Knife. A man was found next to a murdered body. He had the knife in his hand. 13 witnesses had seen him stab the victim. And when the police arrived, he said "I'm glad I killed the bastard." Massingbird not only got him off; he got him knighted in the New Year's Honours List. And the relatives of the victim had to pay to wash the blood out of his jacket!Perkins: Yeah, he's a dab hand at the prosecution as well, sir.Blackadder: Yes, well, look at Oscar Wilde.Perkins: Oh yes, butch ol' Oscar.Blackadder: Big, bearded, bonking, butch Oscar. The terror of the ladies. 114 illegitimate children, world heavyweight boxing champion and author of the best-selling pamphlet "Why I Like To Do It With Girls." And Massingbird had him sent down for being a woopsie.
  19. Mahagonny Bill

    Mahagonny Bill Practically Family

    I recently learned that Raymond Burr was in a 35 year romantic relationship with Robert Benevides who worked on Perry Mason in the mid '50s and now runs the Raymond Burr Vineyards’ in California. It just goes to show that anyone can have a happy, quiet, life and not everyone who is gay causes a scandal.
  20. During a night tour of Hearst Castle a couple of years ago, the docents were engaging and playful, dressed in period clothing, trying to take us back to the 1930's. There are photos of Cary Grant when he was a guest at the castle, and one of the docents pulled a note out from under a vase near the photo and said, "It says, 'meet me at the indoor pool at midnight... Cary,' Now what do you think that means?" he mysteriously asked. Obviously it meant that the indoor pool was our next spot to visit, but one chucklehead in the group opined, "That Randolph Scott is busy that night?"

    People draw conclusions based on appearances, and I think that's how some of the implied same-gender relationships between characters were shown on screen. We bought the boxed DVD set of Hollywood Hoodlums Collection, and one of the movies is a film noir, 1955's "The Big Combo." Two tough guy thugs, Fante (Lee Van Cleef) and Mingo (Earl Holliman) are together all the time and even though they are henchmen, their relationship with each other is very kind, almost tender, as Fante calls Mingo honey at one point. They sleep in the same room and in one scene they are handed a box of money in a payoff, and Fante says, “The police will be looking for us in every closet in town.” It's really subtle, and arguably not concrete proof the two are gay, but just the fact that it's toyed with (the cops looking for them in closets) makes for an intricate weave in the storyline.

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