After a week away holed up in a dusty library slaving away at more research I am pleased to report the blog is back.
Last week’s research delved into the work of the studio teams who developed sophisticated methods of damage limitation. Homosexuality was one of the peccadilloes that every major Hollywood publicist had to keep out of the public eye. It still is.
In the early 1930’s it was vital to promote gay or bisexual stars in one of two ways – as family men or womanizing bachelors. Countless stars, of whom Rock Hudson is merely the most famous, benefited from this approach. Many would marry – Cary Grant married five times – to disguise their true tendencies, in some cases with actresses of a similar persuasion.
In that way they could llive a public lifestyle of decency and family values, while enjoying unrestrained intimacy in private. If ever the barriers should be crossed, the resulting headlines would have ended their careers overnight.
The Paramount Publicity department worked proactively to protect its roster of stars with a number of publicity initiatives. The boldest was evidenced in an ‘at home’ interview with Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, who shared a house below the Hollywood sign.
In a photo-driven item – heavily edited before it was distributed free of charge to the mags – Grant ‘revealed’: ” Here we are living as we want as bachelors with a nice home at a comparatively low cost”.
What remained unsaid was that the two actors had first moved in together in 1932, rooming in a small building in North Sweetzer Avenue in West Hollywood. They were lovers for 12 years and later upgraded to a house in Santa Monica.
With the careful guidance of a set of studio PRs, various stories were boldly leaked, indicating a confidence when promoting the stars, rather than displaying a defensive attitude to the countless rumours surrounding their exotic lifestyle.
The strategy worked and for years the publicist managed the image of the flamboyant men. Showing no need for girlfriends, Grant and Randolph were a frequent couple at Randolph Heart’s castle up the coast at San Simeon, delighting other guests with their quaint habit of wearing identical outfits to the magnate’s costume parties.
The carefully constructed façade did not always cover the truth and there were, of course, occasions when the press would find out enough to run a story. But they would always put it to the studio first, giving the PR men time to step into the fray with their crisis management skills.
In such instances, they would often offer up By such scheming, Grant evaded detection and remained in the bi-sexual closet for 40 years, his career as the screen’s most dashing romantic lead unthreatened by the revelation that his onscreen sexual chemistry was a sham.
Much of the credit must go to Henry Willson, the Hollywood reporter turned Hollywood agent (and himself homosexual), whose speciality was ‘butching up’ the gay stars on his books – including Grant – for the sake of their careers.
Looking back 70 years later, one still has to marvel at the skill and power of these men as they kept their stars on the straight and narrow – in the public eye, at least.