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.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Dirk Bogarde

Handsome British film actor Dirk Bogarde’s lawyer, Laurence Harbottle, said, “I share the view of every friend of his whom I have ever known – that Dirk’s nature was entirely homosexual in orientation.

Well, there you have it.

Dirk Bogarde (1921-1999), who portrayed numerous gay and bisexual men on the screen, spent his entire career sublimating or denying his true sexual orientation. He wanted more than anything to be regarded as a straight leading man. He was called the British Rock Hudson for his good looks and appealing on-screen persona, but the two actors had more than beauty and acting style in common.   

English actor John Fraser wrote in his memoir, Close Up (2004):

“But (Dirk) could not accept, could not understand, and could not see when he watched his own performances, that he was effeminate.”

Bogarde aspired for an international film career, not one limited to British audiences. Yet he blamed the utter failure of his sole Hollywood film, Song Without End, in which he portrayed Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt, on anyone other than himself. He blamed his contract with the Rank Organization for limiting him to a long stream of British films, and he complained that he was grossly underpaid.

He was a gifted painter and art restorer, a talented interior decorator and a successful writer, authoring six novels and multiple volumes of autobiography in which not a word about his true sexual orientation appeared. His lover of 50 years, Anthony Forwood (left), was referred to as “Forwood”, in an attempt to portray their relationship as merely one of employer and employee (everyone else called him Tony). Forwood had left his actress wife, Glynis Johns, and their son to move in with Bogarde to become his “manager.” Rare photo of Forwood and Bogarde together (below):

Bogarde’s talent as a writer was often put to good use in embellishing screenplay dialogue.

From The Victim (1961):

In the film Dirk’s character, lawyer Melville Farr, is confronted by his beautiful wife, Laura (portrayed by Sylvia Syms*), who demands an explanation of who this boy Barrett was, how they knew each other, and why Mel stopped seeing him.

Dirk’s character responds:

Alright – alright, you want to know. I’ll tell you – you won’t be content until I tell you, will you? – until you’ve RIPPED it out of me. I stopped seeing him because I WANTED him. Can you understand – because I WANTED him. Now what good has that done you?”

The dialogue as it appeared in the original script went this way:

You won’t be content till I tell you. I put the boy outside the car because I wanted him. Now what good has that done you?

*Younger readers might recall Ms. Syms as the Queen Mother to Helen Mirren in “The Queen” (2006).

The powerful scene starts at the 4:39 timing mark, and the above bit of dialogue is at 8:35

Well, this was a film in which a real life gay man was portraying a gay character, a lawyer who tries to right an injustice involving blackmail for being gay. The Victim was the first movie in which the word "homosexual" was spoken on screen, and Bogarde later took credit for writing-in the scene that was the first instance of a man saying "I love you" to another man. Unfortunately, this film all but ended his career as a leading man, yet it opened the door to later brilliant film portrayals as a character actor. Bogarde was knighted in 1992 for his contributions to acting.

The impact of this film cannot be overstated. As American film makers were struggling to make homosexual material acceptable to the Hays Code** and the Legion of Decency***, this British film appeared in which an explicitly gay character actually stood up to fight a system that oppressed homosexuals. In "Victim," Dirk Bogarde was the screen's first gay hero.

**Hays Code (1930-1968): film censorship standards named after Presbyterian elder Will Hays of Indiana, who served as Postmaster General in the cabinet of President Warren Harding. Hays had also served as head of the Republican National Committee. The Supreme Court had already decided unanimously in 1915 that free speech did not extend to motion pictures, and the Hays Office codified objectionable material. Enforcement began in 1934, when the release of any film was held up until the movie studio acquired a certificate of approval from the Hays Office. If a gay character was allowed in a film, that character was open to scorn and ridicule, and most often died by the end of the movie. It was not until after the Hays Code was replaced by the current rating system in 1968 (G, PG, R, N17) that a movie appeared in which gays celebrated their sexual orientation, not to mention that all the gay characters were still living when the end credits rolled – Boys in the Band (1970).

***Legion of Decency was established by the American Catholic Church in 1933, with even stricter standards. Their clout was the constant threat of massive boycotts against films that did not meet their moral standards.

The entire film can be seen on YouTube in 10 installments:

Three stages of Dirk Bogarde: early, middle and late:


  1. ''Victim' was released in Brazil in 1962 - I was 17 - and can remember as it had been yesterday how unpleasant it was for me and the whole audience when the session ended and the lights were turned on. Nobody would say the film was a bad one but certainly people would rather be at home that night for the subject of the movie and Mr. Bogarde playing a homo were quite disturbing.

  2. "Victim" was a ground-breaking movie in every way - and so was his masterful portrayal of the doomed von Aschenbach in "Death in Venice" (another obviously gay character). His role as Barrett in "The Servant" was tensely homoerotic, too. As early as 1947, he played one of the gay lovers in a production of "Rope". I think his potential "matinee idol" good looks were seized upon more by the industry than Mr Bogarde himself as a reason for apparently remaining "in the closet", although I don't think his sexuality was that much of a secret in the showbiz world. As Philip Hensher wrote of him: "A missing link between the repression of the 1950s and the Gay Liberation of the 1970s".

  3. Fascinating piece of Bogarde whom I liked since I saw him in one of his adventure movies Campbell's Kingdom, when I was a kid. It was filmed in Italy in 1957 and Rock Hudson was also filming there at the same time, on A Farewell to Arms. The 2 closeted stars met, I wonder what they discussed, presumably the size of their respect closets.
    I met Dirk in 1970 (I was 24) when he was promoting Death in Venice in London, where he did a good Q&A session at the National Film Theatre, he was very amusing and witty and signed the programme for me. I particularly like his run in the 60s: The Servant, Modesty Blaise, Accident, Justine etc. His books are fascinating too, particularly "Snakes & Ladders" on his Rank Organisation years and his chums like Judy Garland, Kay Kendall, Capucine, Ava Gardner, Ingrid Bergman etc. Dirk knew them all.

  4. Movies like The Servant and Accident relish sexuql ambiguity. I'm straight and didn't know what I was exactly watching back when I saw the movies but knew that they were somehow deeper than I could grasp. Then I thpught it was the cosmopolitan Euro sophistication, something vague like that, but it was the subtext of homosexuality, what Pinter plays with al, the time (though in American he was lumped in as vaguely absurdist). However gay Bogard was in life, he also seemed hetero enlugh in roles where sexua.ity was equated with power.

  5. As an American movie-goer, I never thought of Dirk Bogarde as being "gay." However, I think it's just accepted, or expected, that an English actor will appear more "soft" than an American actor. Plus, it probably SHOULD have been obvious to me once I had seen him in "I Could Go On Singing." Anyone married to Judy Garland ... even playing an EX-husband ... could not convincingly be straight.

    1. love the Judy Garland comment!!! Same for Lisa Minnelli?

  6. Could you please enter me (and any comments) as coming from GoodOne .... and my CORRECT email address now is (same picture.)

  7. Always known as Dirty Bogarde, but then he was a great actor; can't think how anyone thought he was straight .

  8. He was an incredibly handsome and sexy actor.....and exceptionally talented, as well. Here in America, we all assumed that British actors were all at least bi-sexual, even if it wasn't true, and we were mostly right, too.

  9. That still from 'A Tale of Two Cities' is ravishing; I never had thought of as quite that exquisite. Loved 'The Servant' (and Wendy Craig too), and also his novel 'West of Sunset'. Extraordinary talent.