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.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Clifton Webb

Born in Indianapolis as Webb Parmelee Hollenbeck, Clifton Webb (1889-1966) was an unlikely movie star. He began his career as a professional ballroom dancer at age nineteen, and by 1924 he was appearing on Broadway, eventually working his way into a few roles in silent films. During the 1930s Webb was under contract to MGM, but was little used. He continued to work mostly as a stage actor, notably in operettas, musical reviews and Noel Coward’s comedies Blithe Spirit and Present Laughter.

It was not until he was fifty-five years old that he had a chance at movie stardom. Webb found himself cast by Otto Preminger as columnist Waldo Lydecker in Laura (1944), over the objections of Darryl F. Zanuck, the head of 20th Century Fox. The film was a huge success, and Webb received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. A scant two years later he received his second Oscar nomination for his role in The Razor’s Edge (1946).

According to Scotty Bowers (Full Service, 2012), Webb was “obsessively proper, correct and well-mannered...polite to the point of being irritating.” Webb lived with his overbearing mother Mabelle his entire life. “Even though she knew he was gay, she would never discuss the fact with anyone. He took his mother everywhere: to movie sets, dinner parties, and even on vacation. They were inseparable.” Bowers writes that “Cliff was so outlandishly camp that he advertised his sexuality to all and sundry merely by walking into a room.” When asked if he were gay by director Jean Negulesco in 1952, Webb drew himself to full height and replied, “Devout, my boy, devout.”

Webb played the cantankerous and snide babysitter Lynn Belvedere in the huge hit comedy film Sitting Pretty (1948), for which he received yet another Academy Award nomination, this time for Best Actor. He appeared in two sequels as Mr. Belvedere, a role that was not far off from his personal life.

According to Jerry Frebowitz, “Clifton’s public social life...was legendary, as the star and his omnipresent mother Mabelle threw lavish Hollywood parties. He was inseparable from Mabelle, who called her son “Little Webb” his entire life. He lived with his mother until she died at age ninety-one in 1960. When she passed, Webb withdrew into relative seclusion, causing his good friend, noted playwright Noel Coward, to remark, as only he could, ‘It must be difficult to be orphaned at seventy.’ ” Clifton was not able to recover from his mother’s death, and when he died six years later, he was buried next to her in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles. Their graves remain a popular tourist destination in star-obsessed Hollywood.

Clifton Webb (in tub) with Dana Andrews in Laura (1944):

Webb appeared in twenty films after his success in Laura. His only film role after his mother’s death was Satan Never Sleeps (1962), in which he played Father Bovard, a self-sacrificing priest. Webb continued to mourn the loss of his mother until his own death from a heart attack in 1966.


Jerry Frebowitz at

Scotty Bowers – Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood (2012)


  1. Yikes ! Being that connected to *mommy*, amazing ! I thought his priest portrayal in Satan Never Sleeps was spot on, talented individual,

  2. I'm always a bit disappointed when actors who specialize in fey roles turn out to be gay in real life (i.e., Sean Hayes on Will & Grace). Takes a bit of the shine off of what I'd hoped was exceptional Acting.

  3. Crazy. One of the "approved" movies shown in Catholic school hall was Belevedere. Did the nuns know or just supporting large families versus birth control ? 😀

  4. I just watched him in The Razor's Edge and thought, my god, he's more camp than a row of pink tents, as the Brits say.