Open Secret: Gay Hollywood--1928-2000

Open Secret: Gay Hollywood--1928-2000

by David Ehrenstein

Paperback(1ST PERENN)



Part social history and part exposé, this revealing, entertaining, and provocative book spans nearly seventy years as it explores the lives and careers of some of the silver screen's foremost gays and lesbians and the effect of their high-profile lifestyles on the general public. From Charles Laughton and Greta Garbo to Nathan Lane and Ellen DeGeneres, David Ehrenstein traces the gradual transformation of Hollywood from a time when it was box-office poison to be publicly gay to the modern era when many top entertainment figures are celebrating their gay sexuality—and are in turn celebrated for it. Updated, Open Secret reveals what has happened to the key players in gay Hollywood since the original hardcover publication.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780688175856
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/16/2000
Edition description: 1ST PERENN
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.93(d)

About the Author

David Ehrenstein is a journalist who has covered the entertainment industry for numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Daily Variety, Los Angeles Magazine, and Cabiers du Cinema. He lives in Los Angeles.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Gay All Of The Sudden

I found out about Rock Hudson in 1957.I was ten years old. The girl who told me was nine."Do you know what a ho-mo-sex-u-al is?"Susan and I were playing Monopoly on an old card table in herbasement rec room when she lobbed that one at me from out of nowhere. I looked up from Park Place into the biggest cat-that-swallowed-the-canary grin I'd ever seen. Obviously she wasn't expecting a reply.

"There are these men," she giggle-gushed excitedly. "They think they're girls. But they don't like girls." Breaking into peals of laughter, Susan began to wriggle her body about, flip-flopping her hands in the air in a manner I'd later learn was "effeminate."

"You know," she said, as if in answer to my stunned silence. "Liberace. Johnnie Ray. Oh, and Rock Hudson! He's one of them too! They're all over Hollywood! They all know each other! They had this pajama party, and the police raided it! Tab Hunter was arrested!" And then-after pausing for dramatic effect-the coup de grâce: "It was in Confidential!"

Clearly this otherwise ordinary schoolgirl had stumbled on to something big. But what, exactly, was it? Weren't pajama parties for teenage girls only? If these men think they're girls, wouldn't they be wearing nightgowns instead of pajamas? And if you think you're a girl, why wouldn't you like girls? I wanted to ask Susan all these questions, but was dumbstruck. I had just begun to discover in myself what the "adult original" paperbacks I'd find at the drugstore a few years later would call "strange twilighturges": I was attracted to other boys. I had no idea what this meant, though it was obvious from everything around me that this wouldn't meet with widespread peer approval. I needed more information. And Susan-of all people seemed to have it. But in the last analysis she wasn't much help. I liked girls. I didn't think that I was one. And I had no interest in wearing their clothes or going to pajama parties.

My parents had never said a word to me about "ho-mo-sex-uals." Neither had any other adult authority or "role model" (that incessant fin-de-siècle buzzword evoking Barbie and G.I. Joe dolls magically rendered life-size and mortal). There was nothing taught about "ho-mo-sex-u-als" in school. The priest never mentioned them in church. There were no programs about them on television. And no one took me to see Tea and Sympathy, one of the few films around to deal ever-so-obliquely with the subject. But then, any information about sexuality was in scarce supply. The big parent/child "talk" that hallowed charade in which the ill-informed lecture the presumed-to-be-ignorant on a subject neither can speak of coherently-was still several years away. And that wouldn't include anything about "homo-sex-u-als" either. Thank the lord we at least had Confidential!

If it was in Confidential, then it had to be scandalous. And if it was scandalous, then it had to be true. Or at least true enough. "Oh, they make all those things up," my mother would say of the monthly's latest outrage. "That's why they're being sued!" Indeed, the papers that year were filled with tales of Confidential editors being hauled into court over something called libel. Never reading much past the headlines, Susan and I had only the vaguest idea of what this meant. All we knew was gossip's unwritten law: where there's smoke, there's fire. We'd long suspected the pristine facades the studios had so carefully constructed around their stars hid darker truths. Occasionally a shade of gray might leak through via the gossip columns of a Hedda Hopper or Louella Parsons. But while they served up plenty of dish on divorce, these decorous sob sisters were near beer next to the hundred-proof Scotch of Confidential.

It goes without saying that neither Susan nor I had ever actually read a copy of Confidential. Our parents didn't buy it. None of our schoolmates (or their parents) did, either. We knew of only one local newsstand that carried it, and it wasn't about to sell Confidential to minors. The best we could manage was to steal a glance at a cover or two when we went to buy our Mad magazines. Confidential seemed to wink lewdly at us from the overhead rack-like those candy-proffering strangers our parents had warned us so much against. With its stark primary colors, unflatteringly cropped pictures, and lurid headlines promising the "lowdown" on the rich and famous, it seemed a sinister harbinger of a grown-up world we awaited with a mixture of anticipation and dread. The evil twin of the sycophantic Photoplay, Confidential countered Hollywood's carefully crafted visions of beautiful clothes, lavish parties, even teeth, and creamy complexions with leeringly detailed accounts of drunken brawls, teenage prostitutes, interracial sex (an especial Confidential obsession), and now (gasp! shudder!) ho-mo-sex-u-als!

Susan and I had only a passing acquaintance with the so-called facts of life. The nuts-and-bolts on reproduction could be found in any encyclopedia, but you needed a college-level science teacher to make sense of the text. Moreover, it had nothing to say about the physical pleasure we were beginning to learn was part of the package. Back-fence gossip thrived on innuendo, but the neighbors never got around to explaining exactly why they snarled "slut" under their breath every time the garishly dressed woman who lived down the street passed by. More helpful were the teenagers who parked their cars near Susan's home, always prattling about the love lives of celebrities. Though she never said so outright, it was clear these motormouthed high-schoolers were her source for teaming of Hollywood's pajama-partying ways.

Susan may not have known much about sex, but she was well versed in gender roles. Boys played ball, girls played with dolls. Men liked sports, women liked dresses. Male was strong, female was submissive. Men and women fell in love, married one another, and had children. That was the law. Breaking it, as these "ho-mo-sex-u-als" apparently had, suggested that the assigned roles we'd been taught so carefully were in fact arbitrary and subject to change. No wonder Susan surmised these pajama-partyers must "think they're girls," yet "don't like girls." Still, one of them would have to "be the girl" somehow, to do whatever it was they did, as two sexes were required for every adult activity she knew of outside of sports. But which man would do what? How would he go about being the girl he didn't like? And what was the point of all this, since men couldn't get pregnant or marry one another?

With his toothy grin and conspicuous candelabra, Liberace was too ridiculous for Susan to take seriously-the Richard Simmons of his day. Johnnie Ray's overwrought singing style she likewise found off-putting. By contrast, Tab Hunter's blandly earnest, boy-next-door demeanor were so familiar they seemed downright calculated. Rock Hudson was someone else entirely. Well over six feet tall, wavy-haired, and possessed of the deepest, most mellifluous voice sheever heard, he seemed an idealized, youthful version of her girlfriends' fathers. What was going on here?

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