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.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Farley Granger

Bisexual actor Farley Granger (1925-2011) made his mark in the Alfred Hitchcock psychological thrillers Rope (1948) and Strangers on a Train (1951), both movies with gay subtexts. Although he carried on a number of scandalous affairs with both men and women, unlike most other actors who were gay or bisexual, Granger refused to marry to keep his fans and studios off the scent of his male relationships. When studio bosses berated him for being seen having dinner with composer Aaron Copland, a known homosexual, he shot back, “(Copland is) one of the most important composers in America, a gentleman I met at this studio when you hired him to write the score for The North Star,” which was Granger’s debut film (1943). “I’m not going to be told...who I can or cannot see in my private life.” Granger turned on his heels and walked out of Sam Goldwyn’s office.

Granger had been scouted at age 17 by a studio rep for Goldwyn and had featured roles in the The North Star and The Purple Heart (1944) before going into the Navy a few days after he turned 18. Still a virgin at age 20, he found himself stationed in Honolulu. Determined to change his status, he enjoyed a lovely night of love-making with a hostess at a private club. Before he left the premises, however, he was seduced by a handsome, older Naval officer, thus losing his virginity “twice in one night.”

This is not wishful thinking on the part of a biographer repeating an unconfirmed rumor. The source is Farley Granger himself, who wrote a tell-all memoir titled “Include Me Out” in 2007 (available in e-reader formats).

After his discharge from the Navy, Granger moved back in with his parents in California. Soon thereafter, he fled their alcohol-fueled bickering to move in with openly gay screenwriter Arthur Laurents, with whom he had a four-year affair. "As striking as Farley's looks were," Laurents related in his autobiography, "he seemed unaware of them. Once you knew him, what you marveled at was his sweetness. He was generous with praise for his peers and with presents for friends, as though he himself wasn't enough to give."

Thus began a life-long pattern. Although Farley had multiple affairs with women – most notably Shelly Winters, whom he called “the love of my life and the bane of my existence” – he lived with men. One of them, writer and soap-opera producer Robert Calhoun, remained his partner for 45 years, until Calhoun’s death in 2008.



Jane Powell being ignored by Granger (left) and Roddy McDowall. 


















Granger’s memoir details his affairs with several women, including Ava Gardner and Patricia Neal, but he reveals that his only serious affair with a female was with Winters. Granger worked during the golden age of Hollywood and counted among his friends and colleagues Charlie Chaplin, Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, David Niven, Jimmy Stewart, Hedy Lamarr and Jerome Robbins. He danced and sang opposite Barbara Cook in a revival of The King and I. This memoir is a pleasure to read, as he shares tales of his love affair with Italy while delivering the inside scoop on major film and stage projects.

Granger made Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) shortly after his military service, on loan-out from Goldwyn. In his memoir he laments the casting of James Stewart. Granger thought the film would have worked better with an actor who could show a more sinister bent, such as James Mason.

Two years later, while shooting a film on location in Manhattan, Granger had a two-night fling with composer Leonard Bernstein, who was so smitten that he invited Granger to join him on his upcoming South American tour. The two men remained lifelong friends.

Granger met his long-term partner Robert Calhoun (on right in photo below) while working on a stage production in 1963. The two slept together for the first time in Philadelphia on the night of JFK's assassination. They remained together until Calhoun's death from lung cancer.



Unhappy with the direction his career was taking, Granger bought out his studio contract and traveled to Italy to star in Luchino Visconti's film Senso* (1954). In his memoir Granger calls this his favorite role and one of his three best movie-making experiences. He made more films after returning to Hollywood, but he was never happy with the studio system and its relentless pressure to conform to the supposed expectations of the audience. In 1955 he moved to New York to act on stage. Although Granger’s greatest legacy is as a movie actor portraying low-life film noir characters, he preferred the direct link to an audience that stage acting offered.

*Granger’s memoir Include Me Out contains scores of insider film anecdotes. While shooting Senso in Italy in 1953, Granger hosted a traditional American Thanksgiving meal in Venice. He invited the cast and director (Luchino Visconti) to have their first taste of cranberry sauce and mince pie (neither was a hit). But the conversation during a postprandial game of Truth or Dare kept things lively. The wife of Massimo Girotti (1918-2003; known as the Italian Paul Newman – see photo at left) teasingly asked Visconti when was the last time he had sex. Without missing a beat, Visconti replied, “Yesterday afternoon with your husband, my dear.”







Granger also appeared in the soap operas As the World Turns and Edge of Night, popular television hits that were produced by his partner Robert Calhoun.

Granger died of natural causes a year ago, on March 28, 2011, at the age of 85, five days after Elizabeth Taylor. Unfortunately, Miss Taylor’s demise stole all the thunder from the press, and Granger’s death was given less notice than it deserved.

A 25-year-old Farley Granger in a short romantic scene from Strangers on a Train:


The three films Granger said he was most proud of (in chronological order):

They Live by Night (1947 – Nicholas Ray) film noir: a tale of two doomed young lovers on the run in small-town middle America during the Depression. Hitchcock cast Granger in Rope (1948) based on his performance in this film. It was Granger who suggested Cathy O'Donnell as his co-star. Granger and O’Donnell had little acting experience between them, and this was Nicholas Ray’s first feature-length film. This movie has a 100% fresh rating on rottentomatoes.com.

Strangers on a Train (1951 – Alfred Hitchcock) a classic tale of suspense that returned Hitchcock, after a string of failures, to the forefront of film making. Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, perhaps best known for The Talented Mr. Ripley, this film stars Granger as amateur tennis player and aspiring politician Guy Haines. While traveling on a train he is introduced to psychopath Bruno Anthony, portrayed by Robert Walker, who suggests they swap murders, with Bruno killing Guy's wife and Guy disposing of Bruno's father. As with Hitchcock’s Rope, there was a homosexual subtext to the two men's relationship.

Senso (1954 – Luchino Visconti): a lush, sprawling Italian-language epic in which two lovers play out their fate against the backdrop of Italy’s struggle for independence and political unification. The film opens during a performance of Verdi’s Il Trovatore inside La Fenice opera house in Venice. Granger plays an officer of the Austrian occupying army. As Italian partisans who have infiltrated the audience of Austrian military men toss out leaflets announcing a public anti-Austrian demonstration, a story of betrayal unfolds involving lovers Franz (Granger) and Livia (actress Alida Valli*), an Italian countess whose own brother is an instigator of the protest. Franz and Livia are swept up in the Austrian empire's evacuation of Italy in 1866. Astonishingly, during the filming the multinational actors/actresses each spoke their lines in their respective native tongues – all of it later dubbed into Italian. Note: *Valli was herself a Baroness of Austro-Italian heritage, making her uniquely qualified to play this role.


The North Star (1943)
Granger makes his first film appearance at age 17 as he crawls out from under a tractor at the 3:11 timing mark. He was in first class company, however. The story and screenplay were by Lillian Hellman and co-stars were Anne Baxter, Walter Brennan, Erich von Stroheim, Walter Huston and Dana Andrews. The score was by Aaron Copland with lyrics by Ira Gershwin, and Lewis Milestone directed. Granger plays a Russian teenager fighting Nazi aggression in this infamous pro-Russian film. A few years after its release, the House Un-American Activities Committee attacked this movie as proof of the pro-communist forces working in Hollywood.

The entire film is available on YouTube (I particularly enjoyed Copland’s score):

6 comments:

  1. Hi Terry,
    I love your blog. I would only point out that Farley Granger's co-star in Senso, actress Alida Valli, was Italian, not French. Ciao

    ReplyDelete
  2. Zweigad: Thanks for catching this error. Although she made some twenty French language films between 1951 and 2001, Valli was known as an Italian actress. She was born in present-day Pula, Croatia, on the Adriatic coast, which had been part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Her given name was Baroness Alida Maria Laura Altenburger von Marckenstein u. Frauenberg, so she was in fact Austro-Italian.

    ReplyDelete
  3. i love farley granger, im going to buy the movie senso

    ReplyDelete
  4. I am always happy to find gay or bisexual men who aren't shy of calling their orientation what it is. Somehow the fellows that are trying to hide something always fall short of obscuring their true identity... RobtheElder

    ReplyDelete
  5. Well as quoted....being bi increases ur chance of a Sat nite date by 100%......did not know Granger was a fluffer

    ReplyDelete
  6. Personally, I thought his autobiography was the worst I have ever read in my life. He skirted around his sexuality from start to finish, and spent long pages talking about the great things he had seen, eaten, and done. Other than the parts about Shelly Winters, I found it a bore.

    ReplyDelete