Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Friday, September 9, 2011

George Cukor, celebrated movie director

Born in NYC to Hungarian Jewish immigrants, fabled film director George Cukor (1899-1983), shown at right with a radiant Elizabeth Taylor, was known for his film work on witty comedies and dramatic literary adaptations. His Hollywood career began at the onset of “talkies” and flourished at RKO and later MGM studios, where he directed Dinner at Eight (1933), Little Women (1933), David Copperfield (1935), Romeo and Juliet (1936) and Camille (1936). He was notoriously replaced (by Victor Fleming) as the director of Gone with the Wind (1939), but he went on to direct The Philadelphia Story (1940), Adam's Rib (1949), Born Yesterday (1950), A Star Is Born (1954) and My Fair Lady (1964).

By the mid-1930s, Cukor was not only established as a prominent director but, socially, as an unofficial head of Hollywood’s gay subculture. His six-acre estate in Brentwood, famously decorated in 1935 by actor-turned interior designer William “Billy” Haines (see August 5 post), was the scene of many gatherings for the industry's homosexuals.

Cukor's celebrated "Oval Room" designed by William "Billy" Haines, with its copper clad fireplace surround and grid patterned floor.

The close-knit group included Haines and partner Jimmie Shields, Alan Ladd, writer Somerset Maugham, director James Vincent, screenwriter Rowland Leigh, and costume designers Orry-Kelly and Robert Le Maire. For years, Cukor and composer Cole Porter held competing soirees at their mansions on Sunday afternoons, earning them the nickname “the rival queens of Hollywood.” Cukor remained at his fabled Brentwood home for the last 50 years of his life, making few changes to the original Billy Haines interiors.

It’s now a long-held Academy Award tradition to award a great director for a so-so film, because he’d been passed over so many times before. The first known instance occurred in 1964, when George Cukor won the Best Director Oscar for My Fair Lady (a middling effort), after being snubbed for Born Yesterday, A Double Life, The Philadelphia Story, and Little Women.

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