In another excerpt from Karina Longworth's outstanding podcast You Must Remember This (featured previously at Neatorama), about "the secret and forgotten history of 20th-century Hollywood," the story of actor William Haines is discussed.
Widely regarded as the first openly gay movie star in Hollywood, the article explores truth and fiction surrounding the legend that Haines was fired by Louis B. Mayer for refusing to abandon his male partner and marry a studio-suggested female ingénue. From the article:
"From 1926 to 1931, thanks to hits like Brown of Harvard and Tell It to the Marines, Billy Haines was ranked as one of the Top 10 box office stars in Hollywood. By 1929, his studio boss, MGM’s Irving Thalberg, was holding up Haines as both the prototypical symbol of male youth of his day, and also the new model of a male romantic star. “The idealistic love of a decade ago is not true today,” Thalberg said. “William Haines, with his modern salesman attitude to go and get it, is more typical.”
By the time Thalberg made that speech, he and everyone else in the Hollywood community knew that Haines was, for all intents and purposes, married to a man. In 1926, on a trip to New York while on the cusp of his superstardom, Haines had a whirlwind fling with a 21-year-old former sailor names Jimmy Shields. When Haines returned to L.A., he brought Shields with him, and moved his new boyfriend into his house and got him work as an extra at MGM. Following the example of his friends from his days in New York’s Greenwich Village, Billy was intent on living with Jimmy without embarrassment or apology.
That Haines was living openly with another man, thereby destroying any possibility that he might not be gay, initially did absolutely nothing to impact Haines’ popularity around town or at his home studio. They were one of the few couples to make it into Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst’s inner circle, meriting invitations to San Simeon nearly weekly. And the local movie press knew, too, but nobody had any incentive to publish an exposé about it or anything. If any journalist had, he would have been frozen out of MGM for the rest of time. And at this point in time, as long as they weren’t hurting anybody, which they weren’t, nobody cared. Sometimes Billy would get asked a softball question about his love life, which he was always able to deflect with a wisecrack. Journalist and subject would wink at each other, the actor would be classified in print as an eligible or confirmed bachelor, and everyone would move on."