A small crowd of around a dozen people gathered at the GLBT History Museum in San Francisco's primarily gay Castro district last month for Hollywood's Bisexual Closet: Marilyn Monroe and More, a talk given by out gay Hollywood historian and author Boze Hadleigh. Hadleigh's books include Conversations With My Elders and Hollywood Lesbians.
Many Hollywood stars of the Golden Age were found to be gay after their time in the spotlight had faded. The most notable examples of this are William Haines, a top box office star who gave up his career in 1932 in order to live with his partner. Perhaps the best example is that of gay movie star Rock Hudson, whose homosexuality was common knowledge for decades — Hudson was officially outed by the press shortly before his death from AIDS in 1985.
While homosexuality in Hollywood has long been a topic of discussion, the topic of bisexuality has often been kept quiet.
"Indeed bisexuals are largely ignored in a polarized media and society that imagines everything is either-or instead of and-but," Hadleigh told SFGN after the talk. "Rock Hudson told me he didn't ‘believe in bisexuals.’ Same with most heteros and gays, I'd say."
Yet Hadleigh shared stories he's uncovered of stars who apparently were bisexual, even if they never came out as such. He notes that three of Liza Minnelli's four husbands were bisexual — including singer/songwriter Peter Allen, who died of AIDS. Allen wrote the song Quiet Please, There's A Lady On Stage, a heartfelt tribute to Minnelli's mom, gay icon Judy Garland.
One attendee at the talk was a fan of actor Farley Granger, who's best remembered as the star of Hitchcock's “Rope” (1948) and “Strangers on A Train” (1951).
There was a dark, homosexual undertone in both of Granger's films for Hitchcock. In both films he played men who were plotting murders with other men — both films imply a strong sexual attraction between the two pairs of men.
Decades later Granger consented to be interviewed for the 1995 documentary "The Celluloid Closet" in which he discussed the implications of homosexuality in classic Hollywood cinema. In his 2008 autobiography "Include Me Out," written with his longtime partner Robert Calhoun, Granger admitted to having affairs with both men and women.
Hadleigh's research indicates that Marilyn Monroe was not heterosexual, though she did have several marriages to men. "She had a close five-year relationship with lesbian drama close Natasha Lytess," Hadleigh said. "Whether they had sex, no one can know but them. Marilyn questioned her own sexuality. While she was filming in London she was analyzed by Dr. Anna Freud — Sigmund Freud's daughter — who concluded that Marilyn was not heterosexual."
Other actors named during the talk include Richard Gere and Marlon Brando, who loved many women but was quite open about being bisexual. Brando's son Cristian, according to Hadleigh, was named after actor Christian Marquand, Brando's male lover. Hadleigh noted that 1930s movie queen Marlene Dietrich, whose career continued into the 1970s, was perhaps the best known among Hollywood's female bisexuals.
Hadleigh told SFGN he prefers books to the internet when researching his subjects. "The internet is not edited and abounds with myths and fabrications," he said. "For a celeb-quotes book like my Marilyn Forever, it helps that I speak five languages and travel a lot. Often the media outside the US is more frank about sexual topics — I get quotes from books, magazines, newspapers, and from personal interviews."
This is a part of our Bisexual Visibility Week special package. Check out sfgn.com/2017biissue daily for new stories.