Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Born On This Day- January 2nd... William Haines

Check out the great biography- Wisecracker: The Life of William Haines, Hollywood’s First Openly Gay Star by William Mann. This book is a favorite at Post Apocalyptic Bohemia & Haines’ story is simply delicious.

William Haines was one of MGM's biggest stars in the late 1920s, playing cocky but sympathetic wise guys in movies such as Brown Of Harvard. In the early 1930s, William Haines was the #1 box office male star, a talented, handsome, romantic lead. Offscreen, he was openly gay.

Wisecracker offers a look at the rich gay subculture of Hollywood before the Production Code, before studio intimidation led to the establishment of the Hollywood closet. Alone among his contemporaries, Billy Haines refused to compromise & was ultimately dismissed by Louis B. Mayer in 1933 because he refused to hide his homosexuality, Forced to give up acting, Haines went on to become a top interior designer to the stars & to clients such as those nasty Reagans, & a force in the world’s design world.

Self-taught as a decorator, Haines offered an alternative to the fashionable art deco interiors (made ever trendier by the films of the era), & giving birth to the California style still celebrated in the 21st century. The look became known as Hollywood Regency & represented a contrast to that decade’s stark minimal looks found in the modernist movement. With its roots in 19th century England, the style combined English, French Regency & Greek Revival with the glamour of Old Hollywood. It is just the very definition of the opposite of Post Apocalyptic Bohemia, which owes mostly to squatter shacks, camp cabins, beach cottages, & boys’ forts.

Still, I admire that beginning in 1926, Haines lived openly as a couple with Jimmy Shields (a former movie stand-in). The public relations "solution" for most acknowledged gay actors in the studios was the conspiratorial sham marriage affecting an outwardly "respectable" & straight facade. Haines, however, refused to give up Shields for the sake of his film career & the relationship endured until Haines' death in 1973, 50 years, together through it all. Their best friend, Joan Crawford, called them the "happiest married couple in Hollywood".

Wisecracker is an astounding piece of gay history, a chronicle of high Hollywood, & at its heart, a deep & enduring love story. You can borrow my copy, if you promise to get it back.


  1. William Haines is yet another of my Hollywood favorites. Two of his best silent films are "Show People" (with Marion Davies) and "Tell It to the Marines" (with Lon Chaney).

    I haven't read "Wisecracker" but I plan to.

  2. I want to borrow your book!

    I love Billy Haines - read my own humble tribute. Jx

  3. Holy Doodle. I checked and a used copy is $38...... I would LOVE to read it BUT.....

    Yes, please... LOL

  4. Love this book' have read it several times. What pioneer in living authentically.

  5. Loved "West Point" with his best pal, JC. He was very good.

  6. One of my favorite books ever.


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