Saturday, January 2, 2010

Today in Gay History

H/T to Band of Thebes

Haines (January 1, 1900-1973)

In 1925, MGM's leading male actor was the charming William Haines and he remained a top-five grossing star from 1928 to 1932. Handsome and funny, his typical character was a clever, athletic young narcissist whose giant ego was deflated before he finally won the day. As for that self-adoring trait, Haines fell in love with his double, Jimmy Shields, whom the studio had hired as his stand-in, and starting in 1926 they lived together openly for nearly fifty years, causing their friend Joan Crawford to declare them "the happiest married couple in Hollywood."

Perhaps, but their happiness came at a high price. In 1933, seven years into their relationship and still at the height of his fame, Haines cruised a sailor in Pershing Square and they went back to the YMCA to have sex, only to be busted by the police. Louis B. Mayer, the genius tyrant running MGM, insisted Haines enter into a fake marriage, and when he refused, choosing to stay with Shields, Mayer canceled his contract, virtually ending his career. As plucky as his characters, Haines and Shields opened an interior design studio which was an immediate success. Two years later, a neighbor claimed they propositioned his son and as a result members of the Ku Klux Klan broke into their house, hauled them outside, and savagely attacked them. Once again, rather than shunning the gay couple, their famous friends and colleagues rallied to support them: Haines' co-star Marion Davies begged her lover William Randolph Hearst to get the neighbor arrested and many others, including Claudette Colbert, Joan Crawford, Kay Francis, Charles Boyer, and even George Burns, implored them to tell the police about the attack, but given their past experience they did not.

Their design studio flourished for decades. They created interiors and furniture for a top tier of international clientele beyond the Hollywood luminaries, George Cukor, Jack Warner, the Annenbergs, the Reagans, and Gloria Swanson, who urged Haines to accept a part in her own comeback movie, Sunset Boulevard, which he declined. Although Haines died on Boxing Day 1973 and Shields killed himself with an overdose of pills soon after, in their shared bed, wearing Haines pajamas, their design studio was recently revived. Look at their lovely work here. And say a prayer of thanks to William J. Mann for rescuing Haines from obscurity with his excellent biography, Wisecracker.