Friday, December 31, 2010

December 31

Closeted Gays in Hollywood
Rock Hudson’s “Castle”

9402 Beverly Crest Dr. (Hudson in residence, photo below)

Looking down over Beverly Hills, “The Castle” was the 3.5 acre estate of actor Rock Hudson (1925-1985), where he lived from 1962 until his death. At the height of his career, Universal Studios purchased it for him as part of his contract renewal. Constructed with a stucco finish and red tile roof, the house was protected by a massive gate in the front (always left open) and steep cliffs on three sides, which ensured the closeted actor’s privacy.

Hudson gave a detailed description of the house to his authorized biographer. He loved his home and spent 23 years meticulously restoring it. The interior boasted two living rooms, four fireplaces, a steam room and gym, and a theater with stage and footlights. Anyone who entered became aware of his sexual orientation, even though he led a closeted public life. His bed was carved with a large male figure and on the pool deck stood large slightly abstract sculptures of naked boys; one depicts a boy throwing a smaller lad into the pool (photo below).

One of his favorite spots was the home theater, which had originally been a garage. It housed a vast collection of films and up-to-date projection equipment, while a collection of rare records filled one wall. He rehearsed upcoming roles on the wooden stage. Also on the grounds was a greenhouse overflowing with orchids.

The Castle was decorated in what one of Hudson‘s friends termed “early butch” – dark wood, pewter candlesticks, zebra skins, and heavy doses of wrought iron. The patio led to a 40-foot pool with jacuzzi and lion’s head fountain. A 20-foot barbecue that could cook enough meat to feed a hundred people. Hudson liked to give large pool parties, to which he’d invite a hand-picked assortment of handsome youthful males. He cruised Melrose Ave. in Hollywood in the vicinity of the Spike and the Eagle (gay bar), riding around in a chauffeured limo with black out windows, pulling over when someone young and handsome caught his eye. Invariably, they returned to Rock’s “Castle” in Beverly Hills.

Rock Hudson did what most other gay movie stars did at the time. He agreed to a studio sanctioned smoke-screen marriage to Phyllis Gates (now a Beverly Hills based interior designer); the studio also promoted the wedding and the honeymoon. Three years later it was all over. Shortly thereafter Rock Hudson bought his favorite house on Beverly Crest Drive. However, everyone he worked with in Hollywood knew his story. Hudson found an acceptance and compassion among show people that he feared he would never find among his fans. His greatest accolade was an Academy Award nomination for his performance in Giant (1956), co-starring Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean, although his fans most fondly remember his many romantic comedy films with co-star Doris Day.

Hudson lived most of his years at his “castle” with just his female housekeeper and seven dogs. But occasionally, he had a live-in male lover. When he did, he was careful to maintain two separate phone lines for “appearances,” and to make sure he was never photographed with the other man. His years of diverting the truth about his sexual orientation from the general public came to an end in 1985. He died in seclusion at his “castle” from complications of AIDS on October 2 of that year.

Photo below: Rock Hudson and co-star Elizabeth Taylor in Giant (1956).

Now back to the tan lines.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

December 29

Closeted Gays in Hollywood
George Cukor (1899-1983)

Born in NYC to Hungarian Jewish immigrants, fabled film director George Cukor (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 Dec. 4 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.

Sunday, December 26, 2010