Today it's common knowledge that Rock Hudson was gay, but in the 1950s a lot of effort went into maintaining his straight leading man image. Now a new documentary, "Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood"—featuring 94-year-old Scotty Bowers, who was an unabashed pimp to the stars—sheds new light on that pre-Stonewall world. Here, to mark Hudson's birthday, are 20 gay and bisexual actors who became movie legends.
Tab Hunter was arrested at a gay party in 1950. Five years later, his agent leaked that information to Confidential to prevent the magazine from running an exposé about his top client, Rock Hudson. Scandal sheets had it in for Hunter. When he "dated" his friend Natalie Wood, it prompted the headline "Natalie Wood, Tab Wouldn't." Still, he remained a big star well into the '60s, had a long-term relationship with Anthony Perkins, and revealed all in a gutsy 2005 memoir, "Tab Hunter Confidential."
Not long after his agent sacrificed Tab Hunter to keep Hudson's sex life out of the press, the leading man in "Giant" (seen here with co-star Elizabeth Taylor) married his agent's secretary. As he saw it, coming out equaled career suicide. But he did open up in 1985, acknowledging shortly before he died that he had AIDS. The announcement brought worldwide attention to the disease.
In the '50s, Anthony Perkins tried not to be seen in public with his romantic partner. In a documentary follow-up to his memoir, Tab Hunter recalls being photographed dancing with Natalie Wood, after which "she'd have a date with Dennis Hopper and I'd go see Tony." Perkins, who once fended off the advances of Brigitte Bardot, later went to a shrink who maintained that homosexuality could be "cured," and in 1973 he married photographer Berry Berenson. He died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1992.
Scott Bowers called him "Vinny." When they met, Price was a newlywed, "but Vinny was decidedly gay and the marriage would not last," Bowers writes in "Full Service," the memoir that inspired the new documentary. As Bowers tells it, "I tricked Vinny for years. Sex with him was pleasant, unhurried, gentle ... High-class stuff all the way."
After the 1948 release of the Kinsey Reports, Tallulah Bankhead declared them "old hat," adding, "I've had many momentary love affairs." That included affairs with men, but the witty and outrageous actress (seen here in 1944's "Lifeboat") also hooked up with women, from Greta Garbo to Billie Holiday. Bankhead liked to describe herself as "ambisextrous."
One of the first Hollywood stars to openly refer to himself as bisexual, Sal Mineo began his acting career as Plato, an apparently gay teenager in 1955's "Rebel Without a Cause." Mineo was stabbed to death by a pizza delivery man in 1976. At the time, he was in a six-year relationship with a fellow actor Courtney Burr.
"I am at heart a gentleman," said Marlene Dietrich, who began defying conventional gender roles in 1920s Berlin, where she attended drag balls, took up boxing and often wore a tuxedo. Her countless lovers included male stars like Gary Cooper and James Stewart, as well as women like Greta Garbo and (maybe) Claudette Colbert. Even though she herself was outspoken, Dietrich was part of a secret society of Hollywood lesbians and bisexual women that she called her "sewing circle."
A matinee idol in the 1950s, Dirk Bogarde was sometimes called the British Rock Hudson. He never came out, but Bogarde wasn't afraid to play gay men on the big screen, including the title character in "Victim," a 1961 film said to be the first English-language movie to use the word "homosexual." Bogarde lived with his business manager, Anthony Forwood, for 40 years.
Cary Grant and Randolph Scott
This portrait of Cary Grant and Randolph Scott was taken at their Santa Monica beach house in the 1930s. The "merry bachelors," as the press called them, lived together off and on, between marriages, for 12 years. When Scotty Bowers got to know them, both actors were married, "but that didn't stop the three of us from becoming very closely acquainted."
Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich had a fling while making a film together in 1925, and they later had affairs with some of the same women. But Garbo was famously fierce about her privacy. Asked in the early '30s about the German actress, she said, "But who is this Marlene Dietrich?" Another of Garbo's conquests was Louise Brooks, who generally preferred men but described the Swedish-born star as a "charming and tender lover."
Known in the '60s as the Joker on "Batman," Cesar Romero played a series of Latin lovers in the '30s and '40s. He also starred as the Cisco Kid in films like "The Gay Caballero." Back then, the adjective had a different meaning and Romero was described as a "confirmed bachelor." But he was surprisingly candid in the 1996 book "Hollywood Gays," in which he recalled, among other things, having sex once with inveterate womanizer Desi Arnaz.
MGM chief Louis B. Mayer reportedly pressured Ramon Novarro (seen here with Greta Garbo in 1931's "Mata Hari") to maintain his Latin lover image by getting married. The Mexican star refused. By the mid-'30s, his career had peaked, and in 1968 he was gruesomely murdered in his L.A. home after hiring two young men as prostitutes. Cesar Romero remembered him as "a gentle, sweet man."
Although he describes Spencer Tracy as bisexual (as opposed to gay), Scotty Bowers calls the legendary actor's relationship with Katharine Hepburn a "pseudo-romance." Of course, that's just an impression. What Bowers recalls firsthand is that he had a series of trysts with Tracy beginning one night in the early '50s. In the morning, Scotty writes in his memoir, "he didn't say a word about it. It was as though none of it ever happened."
Scotty Bowers also claims to have had a "great friendship" with Katharine Hepburn. As he tells it, "Kate preferred the company of women, and I always found her the young brunettes she liked best."
"I love men in bed, but I really love women," Montgomery Clift is quoted as saying in a 1978 biography. But the troubled star (seen here with Donna Reed in 1953's "From Here to Eternity") kept that conflict a secret until his death in 1966 at the age of 45. One sign of how much Hollywood has changed: Clift's close friend Elizabeth Taylor matter-of-factly identified him as gay while accepting a 2000 award from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Winner of the first-ever Academy Award for Best Actress, Janet Gaynor (seen here with Frederic March in the 1937 version of "A Star Is Born") was married to the openly gay costume designer Adrian for 20 years. She was also linked to Broadway star Mary Martin, according to "Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood." As actor Bob Cummings noted, "Janet Gaynor's husband was Adrian, but her wife was Mary Martin."
He projected sexual ambiguity as the tennis pro in 1951's "Strangers on a Train" and went on to become a gay icon. But Farley Granger kept his personal life private until 2007 when, at 81, he released the tell-all "Include Me Out." Among its revelations were his liaisons with Ava Gardner and Leonard Bernstein. The book was co-written by Robert Calhoun, Granger's partner at the time of his death in 2011.
Clark Gabel and Claudette Colbert
A tabloid outed Claudette Colbert soon after her death in 1996. Although married twice, Colbert barely lived with either husband and was rumored to have had an affair with Marlene Dietrich. But according to Vanity Fair, the women in her life weren't lovers so much as "ladies-in-waiting." As for Clark Gable, her co-star in 1934's "It Happened One Night," biographer David Brett describes the macho star as homophobic but, in his early years, "gay for pay."
"Women swooned over him, and he bedded quite a few of them, but he much preferred men," Scotty Bowers writes. Without getting too specific, Bowers adds that he and "Ty" would "get up to quite a few sexual shenanigans together." Cesar Romero confirmed that the twice-married actor was "bisexual."
Scotty Bowers remembers introducing Raymond Burr (seen here with Montgomery Clift in 1951's "A Place in the Sun") to Robert Benevides, then a young actor, in 1959. That sparked a 33-year relationship, which began while Burr was starring on "Perry Mason" and lasted until his death in 1993. Asked about the story two decades later, Benevides—now in his 80s—told L.A. Weekly, "Scotty Bowers is the most honest person I've known."
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