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The Hollywood Closet: The LGBT screen stars forced to live in secrecy

From Rock Hudson to James Dean, these are the LGBT stars who defined an era.

By Will Stroude

During Hollywood’s glittering golden age, you couldn’t move for hyper-heterosexual heartthrobs whose broad, cashmere-clad shoulders were built specifically for faint-hearted females to cry on.

Movie men were manly. They simply weren’t fitted with tear ducts. Instead, they expressed emotion with clenched fists, gritted teeth or a quizzically furrowed brow.

So how strange that, decades later, we’d discover that Rock liked cock, and that Cary and Jimmy lusted after guys as well as gals.

What’s more, if a slew of salacious biographies are to be believed, the Hollywood closet wasn’t just overcrowded, it was practically bursting at the hinges.

These macho young bucks, who shared chaste kisses with the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day and Katherine Hepburn on screen, were – behind closed doors – busy banging blokes.

Screen stars Tab Hunter and Anthony Perkins kep their long-term relationship hidden from the public

While many begrudge today’s mainstream gay stars for staying closeted, it’s easy to understand why actors of the ‘40s lived in fear of being exposed.

Even though gay bars were legalised in California in 1951, the LAPD’s notorious vice squad ensured that their clientele’s lives were made as difficult, and fearful, as possible.

Unsurprisingly, most gay actors sought the safety of the closet. While it was an open secret in the industry that a clutch of stars liked men (and Rock Hudson really, really liked men!) as far as moviegoers were concerned, these hunks were nothing less than purely hetero husband material.

So how tantalising to learn that, off camera, so many were leading lives of delicious debauchery…

James Dean

Like his gay or bisexual peers, Dean – who was described by some in Hollywood as a “prissy little queen” – was paired with a succession of attractive wannabes in a bid to depict him as a straight tearaway.

The reality was, in fact, somewhat different. In 2007 the fabulously indiscreet Noreen Nash, who co-starred alongside Dean, Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor in the 1956 classic Giant, told how Rock and Liz actually “took bets on who could get James Dean into bed first”. According to Nash, Rock triumphed just days into filming.

“I had an idea Rock would win, but Elizabeth wasn’t so sure,” she quipped.

Dean showed a liking for fellas way before Rock had his wicked way with him. While studying drama in New York in the ‘50s, the actor shared a flat with gay screenwriter William Bast. Their relationship, Bast claimed later, became sexual.

 Rumours also abound that Dean had a fling with that other brooding bad boy, Marlon Brando. The Godfather star is quoted in 1976 biog The Only Contender as saying that he did enjoy “homosexual experiences”, while in 2006’s Brando Unzipped, author Darwin Porter claims that “James Dean was one of Brando’s most lasting yet troubled gay relationships.”

Pretty-but-damaged Jimmy, who met his untimely end in a horrific car crash in 1955, was briefly engaged to Italian starlet Pier Angeli, but this is now thought to have been little more than a PR smokescreen to protect his careeer.

Needless to say, the myriad questions surrounding his sexuality still – nearly 60 years on – ensure an ongoing frisson of fascination with the mythical star.

Montgomery Clift

Liz Taylor fell hopelessly in love with the intense star of classics like From Here To Eternity and The Misfits, who struggled terribly with his sexuality and eventually drank himself into an early grave at just 45.

Unlike many of his gay or bi contemporaries, Clift never married to keep up appearances. But his career was derailed spectacularly in 1956 when he was involved in a car crash that resulted in terrible facial injuries.

Following reconstructive surgery, his dependency on painkillers and booze escalated, so much so that his eventual death in 1966 (his partner Lorenzo James found him dead in bed following a heart attack) has been described as a “the longest suicide in Hollywood”.

In Full Service, Scotty Bowers remembers Clift as “a temperamental, moody queen with a surprisingly vicious tongue”. And when it came to sourcing his sexual partners, Bowers says the actor was “painfully fussy”.

He writes: “‘His prick was an inch too long,’ he once said to me after I had gone out of my way to find the perfect trick for him.

Tyrone Power

A former Marine buddy of Bowers, Tyrone Power may have enjoyed plenty of between the sheets action with women, but he much preferred men.

There were rumoured affairs with Judy Garland and Lana Turner, but he also enjoyed liaisons with “lowly” workers at the 20th Century Fox studio lot and with stars including Cesar Romero and, according to one dirt-dishing biog, Errol Flynn.

Even our very own Bob Monkhouse – we kid you not – claimed that Power came on to him!

Bowers describes how “[Tyrone] would often call me up and ask me to send over a young guy. He was always meticulously careful about who he saw. He fiercely guarded his reputation… so few outside of a very tight circle could point a finger at him and accuse him of indiscreet behaviour.”

Power’s private life bore a marked contrast to his ultra-macho onscreen persona, cultivated in box office hits such as The Mark Of Zorro and Jesse James.

The star, who died aged 44 after suffering a heart attack on set, may have married three times and fathered three children, but during a threesome in a “rather grimy little hotel room” in the mid-50s, Scotty Powers says the actor was definitely “more focused” on him than the girl.

Cary Grant and Randolph Scott

North By Northwest star Cary was suave, sophisticated and a legendary lothario (he married five times), but it’s now believed his close friendship with Western star Randolph Scott extended way beyond the boundaries of bromance.

Grant lived with Scott for several years both before, and after, one ill-fated 13-month marriage in the mid-30s, and former prostitute and “fixer” Scotty Bowers says the actors were “more than mere friends”.

Recounting one hedonistic weekend at Grant’s beach house, Bowers says, “The three of us got into a lot of sexual mischief together. Aside from the usual sucking – neither of them were into fucking, at least not fucking guys, or at least not me – what I remember most about that first encounter was that Scott really liked to cuddle, and was very gentle.”

And it wasn’t just Randolph Scott who got cosy with Cary. According to the Marlon Brando biography Brando Unzipped, the Streetcar Named Desire dreamboat “had a bit of a fling” with Grant while spending “a weekend with him in San Francisco.”

Despite his heterosexual façade, the British-born actor did little to douse the flames of suspicion when he posed with Scott for a series of telling photographs.

Printed in movie mag Modern Screen, one depicts the pair reading and relaxing together, Grant lying submissively at Scott’s feet in a scene of domestic bliss. Another shows the handsome duo perched on a diving board together, Scott’s hand outstretched as if moments away from brushing Grant’s bare shoulder.

A third shot shows them working out in the gym, naked aside from two pairs of snug, high-waisted shorts. That they were ever taken in the first place is nothing short of astonishing.

Another juicy anecdote comes from Bert Granet, a script supervisor on their 1940 movie My Favorite Wife.

According to Granet, Grant and Scott raised eyebrows when, on location in Pasadena, they decided to jettison their respective suites in favour of a shared room – to the “total astonishment” of the cast and crew. “It hardly seemed believable.”

It’s almost as if they were trying to tell us something…

Rock Hudson

Dreamy Rock embodied every post-war housewife’s fantasy. But behind the scenes, Hudson – we now know – was getting his thrills from guys, not gals.

Hudson’s fans were none the wiser, but alarm bells started to ring in 1955 when Life magazine ran a shot of Rock above the headline ‘Hollywood’s Most Handsome Bachelor’.

Inoffensive as it seemed, the subtext was clear: why was a virile stud like Rock still on the shelf at the ripe old age of 29? Why indeed. Things took a much darker turn when, that same year, scandal rag Confidential got wind that Rock had been busy humping Hollywood’s hottest homos and claimed they had photographic evidence to prove it.

Panicking, Hudson’s agent engineered a trade-off – he’d exchange dirt on other stars in return for his exploits being kept off their front page.

The morally dubious plan worked, but the issue of Rock’s lack of a wife still needed to be addressed, so following a whirlwind romance with his agent’s secretary, he tied the knot.

In her book My Husband, Rock Hudson, Gates claims they did have sex, but that it was “brief and hurried” – a little like their three-year marriage.

Despite maintaining a heterosexual facade for decades, in 1985 Rock announced he had AIDS. He died three months later, searing the disease onto the global consciousness like nothing before.

Tab Hunter

The definitive ’50s screen heartthrob, Tab Hunter’s sexuality was kept under wraps by Hollywood studio bosses who created staged romances with leading ladies like Debbie Reynolds and Natalie Wood.

Rumours abounded about Tab’s sexuality, however, with industry gossip leading to the long-standing joke: “Natalie Wood and Tab Wouldn’t.

In 1956 he began a longstanding relationship with Pyscho star Anthony Perkins, but studio bosses were keen to keep two of their biggest box office draws apart.

“It was difficult; we couldn’t just go out for dinner together or go see a movie because we were both getting so popular back then,” he revealed to us last year.

“Warner Brothers never said a word about my sexuality, and that’s just the way I wanted it. However, Paramount did have something to say about my relationship with Tony, and they told him they didn’t want him to see me anymore.

“Every studio was run by an executive who had their own policies and their own ways of doing things. And Paramount ran a really tight ship.”

The pair eventually separated, and Tab embarked on a relationship with champion figure skater Ronnie Robertson, before settling down with film producer Allan Glaser.

He eventually came out publicly in his 2005 autobiography Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star, and as one of the last surviving stars of the era, he used his later years to shed light on his experiences in a way which many of his contemporaries were denied.

He sadly died in July at the age of 86, having been able live life in the spotlight as an openly gay man for over a decade. He is survived by his husband and partner of 35 years, Allan.

Anthony Perkins

Another actor who played straight to appease the Hollywood system, Perkins married and fathered two children – despite countless affairs with men and a long-term relationship with 50s teen idol Tab Hunter.

Like many gay actors, the star of Psycho used someone as a fixer and was apparently very fussy about the men procured for his pleasure.

Perkins’ fussiness paid off, if Paul Newman biog, The Man Behind The Baby Blues, is to be believed. According to gossip hound Darwin Porter, Perkins and Newman had a passionate fling while both were living at LA’s legendary Chateau Marmont in the mid-50s.

Perkins died of AIDS in 1992, aged 60. His wife, photographer Berry Berenson, said the actor had been desperate to keep his illness secret.

“He simply never wanted anyone to know,” she said shortly after his death. “He figured if anyone knew they’d never give him work again.”

Words: Leo Roberts