Tuesday, June 21, 2016

In Honor Of Gay Pride Week - Remembering Hollywood's First Out Actor

His name was William "Billy" Haines. He was the number one box-office star in 1930. Just a few years later and he was blacklisted from ever working in Hollywood again. His rise and fall began at the age of a 14 when he had his first sexual experience, a homosexual encounter. From then on there was no denying his sexual persuasion. At the age of 15 he ran off with a boyfriend. By 16 he was in New York City and was "kept" by multiple men and women. He was discovered at the age of 22, in 1922 and was offered a contract with MGM. In 1926 he first began receiving attention and praise for his work. This was also the year that he would meet the love of his life, James "Jimmy" Shields. Then the unthinkable happened. With the depression came a turn in public opinion. Homosexuality was no longer tolerated, not even for a masculine gay guy like Billy.  Billy was given an ultimatum. Either break it off with Jimmy and then marry a woman to give the impression to the world that he was a  "normal" straight man or never work in Hollywood again. Billy said no deal as nothing was worth losing Jimmy. As a result he was blacklisted from working with a big Hollywood studio ever again. His acting career was finished but Billy wasn't. He simply reinvented himself and became the number one interior designer to the stars. Billy's faithfulness to living a truly authentic life shone like a rare jewel. In a sea of illusion Billy was remarkably real. The love between Billy and Jimmy was so strong and passionate that when Billy died of lung cancer at the age of 73, Jimmy couldn't live without him. Jimmy killed himself just three months later. The couple had been together nearly 50 years.

To read more about the first "out" actor in Hollywood, read Wisecracker: The Life And Times Of William Haines, Hollywood's First Openly Gay Star by William J. Mann. 

The following documentary, Out Of The Closet, Off The Screen: The Life Of William Haines (2001), is based in part on the above biography.

To listen to a podcast about William Haines, click the link below.

You Must Remember This - William Haines: Hollywood's First Openly Gay Marriage 

William Haines' interior design company is still in operation today. Check out the website below.


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