Following the destruction of the career of MGM actor William Haines, who refused to end his relationship with his gay lover Jimmy Shields and enter into a “lavender marriage” on the request of MGM, a spate of such marriages occurred so gay and lesbian couples could seek refuge in this institution.
A lavender marriage is a term used to describe a marriage between a man and woman in which one or both parties are homosexual / lesbian. Usually both parties are complicit in a public deception to hide their homosexuality. It became very common in Hollywood in the 1910’s and 1920’s, encouraged by the Studios.
The William Haines business was a tricky one as he refused to enter into one of these marriages and studio publicists worked night and day to keep his homosexuality from the press. By 1925 Haines was MGM’s most important male star and his films were very profitable for the studio including The Midnight Express (1924), Sally Irene and Mary (1926) and Brown of Harvard (1926).
The studios had managed to keep Haines sexuality away from the press for a number of years, assuring bosses that all was well. But in 1933, Haines was arrested in a YMCA with a sailor he had picked up in Pershing Square LA. Louis B Mayer, the studio head at MGM, had had enough. He delivered Haines an ultimatum- he had to choose between a lavender marriage or his relationship with Shields.
Haines chose Sheilds and Mayer subsequently fired Haines and terminated his contract within the week. Mayer recast Robert Montgomery in roles that had been planned for Haines. Haines never really found acting work again in Hollywood.