The billboard outside the Odeon cinema, Leicester Square, said: "Michael Redgrave & Dirk Bogarde in The Sea Shall Not Have Them". Passing by, Noel Coward said: "I don't see why not. Everyone else has."
Dirk Bogarde was romantically linked to line of beautiful young actresses, but his interest was with men. Bogarde had first met fellow actor Anthony Forwood when they worked together in 1940. In the 1950s, Forwood divorced his wife- actress Glynis Johns, with whom he had a son, to move in with Bogarde & become his ‘manager’. The pair were inseparable until Forwood’s death from cancer in 1988. “They were closer than most married couples” recounts openly gay actor- John Fraser, who was working in the same era. “It was abundantly clear that their relationship was deep & strong, but there never the slightest inappropriate gesture between them. No brush of a hand, no touch of a shoulder. Even their conversation was guarded”. In the 1950s, when homosexuality was still a criminal offence, Bogarde & Forwood had good reason to be reticent about their relationship. Many homosexuals of the time were blackmailed, & Bogarde’s outing would undoubtedly have meant the end of his career.
John Frasier tells in his memoir- Close Up: An Actor Telling Tales: “I visited Bogarde at his loft where he greeted me on a high-revving static Harley-Davidson motorcycle while gazing at a poster of himself clad in crotch-hugging leather trousers as a Spanish bandit in the 1961 film- The Singer Not The Song. Bogarde said : 'This is my playroom' & he rode for 10 minutes & his expression was like the rapture on the face of a medieval saint. Afterwards, he slumped over the handlebars. Dismounting, wiping sweat from his forehead, he said: 'Now you know'. It looked like a Narcissus fantasy come to life. Bogarde lived in a wonderland sustained by doting fans."
He played an embittered working class manservant in the homoerotic screen version of Harold Pinter's The Servant; a former Nazi SS officer caught up in a sado-masochistic relationship with a former inmate of his prison camp in The Night Porter; & a man dying of cholera who becomes obsessed with a beautiful youth in Death in Venice.
In a 1961 film- Victim. Bogarde plays a respectable married lawyer, who also happens to be gay. His character, Melville Farr, is being blackmailed & stands to lose everything. The film highlighted the pressures that gay men faced, including ruin, violence, self-hatred & suicide, because of the criminalisation of homosexual acts. Victim became an important vehicle for changing the attitudes towards gay people in Britain in the 1960s, & is one the first films where the word homosexual was uttered.
Even after the threat of imprisonment was long over, Bogarde still refused to admit his relationship with Forwood. He claimed in interviews to be straight & to have had affairs with the French actress Capucine, & Judy Garland.
Bogarde wrote 7 volumes of memoirs without mentioning that he was gay or of Forwood. As a gay man who lived in the fear filled period when homosexuality was illegal & as a matinee idol whose adoring fans probably could not deal with their favorite actor being a poofster, Bogarde kept his private life very private. Nevertheless, by accepting roles in films like Victim, Death in Venice, & The Night Porter, Bogarde pushed the boundaries of what a star could be far further than many of his generation. & my, oh my…he sure was handsome!
In September 1996, he sufferd a pulmonary embolism following heart surgery. At the end of his life, Bogarde was paralyzed on one side of his body, which affected his speech & left him wheelchair bound. Still, he would finish a final volume of memoirs, that explored the stroke & its effect on him. He spent some time the day before he died with his good friend- Lauren Bacall. Bogarde died in London from a heart attack at 78 years old. He never came out of the closet, even after Lawrence Harvey & John Gielgud did reluctantly, & John Frasier & Ian McKellen did blazingly.