Millions of viewers tuned into the Golden Globe awards earlier this year and witnessed a rambling coming out speech from actress Jodie Foster that set the nation abuzz. Two Palm Beach men, both major names in the industry, know firsthand what a big deal Foster’s public admission turned out to be.
Alan Shayne and Norman Sunshine met more than 50 years ago in New York and shared both a romance and careers that would take them from the lights of Broadway to the glitz of Hollywood.
They recently told their story in a book, Double Life, A Love Story from Broadway to Hollywood.
Shayne climbed the ranks to become president of Warner Bros. Television, while his partner Sunshine was an internationally acclaimed artist, illustrator and sculptor. They lived together openly, but followed the strict code that guided life for gay couples in the entertainment industry.
Ironically, Sunshine wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in 2011 titled Before the Emmys were Gay, which first described his own experience at a major awards show at the podium. Foster had been there many times over her career, but for Sunshine, only several glasses of California chardonnay could prepare him for this event.
At Shayne’s insistence, Sunshine created graphics for one of his shows, a Valentine’s Day special, Addie and the King of Hearts. Shayne secretly submitted it for an Emmy and it won! But who would he take to the awards ceremony?
Warner Bros. had been hesitant to appoint Shayne because of his orientation and friends advised them not to attend together. They were already used to attending business functions separately, often with a female friend or associate on their arms.
“I was up against one of Alan’s other shows, Wonder Woman, which had wonderful graphics, and I just didn’t dream I might win,” Sunshine recalled.
When his name was announced, “there was no Alan,” Sunshine said. “He was in Palm Springs and we didn’t get to share that moment. I was so angry and hurt and confused.”
Practically finishing Sunshine’s sentence, Shayne added, “I vowed it will never happen again. Later, when I was nominated for an Emmy for The Bourne Identity (a television spin-off of the motion picture), which I produced, fortunately, I didn’t win. Everything is changing, they all kiss and thank their lovers.”
Shayne insists the couple managed to successfully live “relatively” openly:
“We never hid the fact, we just didn’t throw it in their faces.”
For some gay actors and executives, their sexuality was an open secret in Hollywood, even if they were married to an opposite sex partner.
“There was a list of actors that the studios watched out for….Cary Grant, Randolph Scott, Rock Hudson….in those days, they married to cover it up.”
For a time, the couple lived across the street from Hudson. They didn’t know him well, but he did have male “friends,” as was the term at the time, who lived with him, too. When their house burned, Hudson insisted the couple stay in his home until they rebuilt.
They would eventually leave Hollywood behind and retire to Connecticut.
And, while more and more celebrities have come out publicly, the couple insists, there are still many more in the closet.
“Rumors still swirl,” Sunshine admitted, “but we respect the entertainers who still choose to keep their lives private.”
“When Norman and I started, I was an actor, and if people knew you were gay, you would never get sent out (to audition) for a part unless it was a character role. Even today, you don’t see many ‘romantic leading men’ coming out,” Shayne said. “If somebody like a Hugh Jackman came out, it might seriously hurt their career.”
The book also includes anecdotes about the couple’s encounters with Marlon Brando, Katharine Hepburn, Barbra Streisand, Bette Davis, Robert Redford and more, and revealed a few dark days in the relationship before coming to a surprising and romantic event in the couple’s life.
The couple tackled the opening chapter together, but made the conscious decision to alternate the remaining chapters chronicling their half-century relationship. Some were easy for them to write, but not all. Determined to make the book a “non-fiction” account, Sunshine included the story of a wayward romantic encounter while on a business trip to New York City.
“It was hard to face Alan,” Sunshine sheepishly admitted of the period years ago when he was dogged with self-esteem issues, “and it was made even harder after the book came out and all our neighbors knew our dirty laundry, so to speak.”
Like every relationship, they hit snags along the way, but they agree on one high point. In 2004, the couple finally made it official and wed in Massachusetts, the only state at the time to legalize same-sex marriage.
Despite the public’s fascination with celebrity lives, the couple had a difficult time getting major publishing houses to consider their manuscript.
“One publisher told us gays don’t read books,” Sunshine said with a laugh.
“Major publishing houses really don’t know how to market a story like ours and thought it would be a losing proposition,” Shayne added, again finishing Sunshine’s thought.
But they did find a publisher and the response has been overwhelming for the couple, who have received hundreds and hundreds of letters from readers. Many have gay or lesbian family members or relate to aspects of the couple’s love story and long relationship.
“We never proselytize or push gay rights. We’ve never been standard bearers, but that’s why the book works,” Shayne said.
But the couple also acknowledges that the book has made them role models—not only for long, loving relationships, but also surviving in a competitive industry.
“We wanted to show young people that there is a chance for happiness and a good life. In our day, there was no material out there. We started with nothing, living in a walk-up in Second Ave. in New York, and here we are looking out over the Intracoastal (waterway in Palm Beach),” Sunshine said.
One of the couple’s most memorable encounters since the book was released was at a recent signing event. A gay man stopped by and commented on how handsome the men in the photographs on the book cover appeared. Before they could thank him, he asked if they knew those men because he’d like to meet them.
“I’d have to agree with him,” laughed Shayne.