Episode 5: Stars from a Bi-Gone Era

In this very special episode, hosts Leigh & Gretchen travel to the red carpet and the silver screen to hear stories about queer actors from the golden age of Hollywood. Along for the ride is a room full of queer women who came to listen to the podcast being recorded live at TGIFemslash, a convention dedicated to the queer ladies of media, the ladies who love them, and the fans who love them. Join us and a room full of big gay nerds as we discuss the early years of film and the sexploits of the rich and famous! Who was gay for pay? Who was Hollywood’s favorite lesbian? Who wore violets on the crotch of her dress to advertise her queerness? Tune in to find out, plus listen to our friends at TGIFemslash discuss their favorite queermos from history!

 Your totally gay and totally nerdy hosts wearing their matching Sappho "Our Lady of Lesbos & Poetry" gear that they totally didn't just buy for the express purpose of showing them off in their panel nope

Your totally gay and totally nerdy hosts wearing their matching Sappho "Our Lady of Lesbos & Poetry" gear that they totally didn't just buy for the express purpose of showing them off in their panel nope

 

Special Shoutout

Special thanks are due to Beth Hommel, our friend and fellow attendee of TGIFemslash. Beth generously offered to help us out by designing and ordering T-shirt samples that we both wore and sold at TGIFemslash. She's an amazing and gifted designer of nerdy queer swag, so check out her store on Etsy: Glorious Wierdo

 Beth did such a great job with our shirts! Our tagline is on the back and everything!

Beth did such a great job with our shirts! Our tagline is on the back and everything!

And that means...we're going to have merch soon! Stay tuned for details about pins, magnets, shirts and more from your local big gay nerds at History is Gay podcast!

Our Cast of Stars for Silver Screen Sexploits

As people were coming into the room for our panel at TGIFemslash we had them play a game called "Silver Screen Sexploits." We had images of ten silver screen actors up on the wall; people were each given the same set of ten facts about these actors and asked to guess which fact went with which actor. Below are the actors, the facts, and some fun stats about the guesses people made!

Clark Gable

Clark Gable.jpg

The Fact:

"Was allegedly “gay for pay” and for career advancement. Had a string of older clients who paid their bills and helped them get jobs, but cheated on them constantly. Had close, personal, possibly sexual relationships with several openly queer actors."

Number of correct guesses: 2

Fact most frequently assigned to them:

"A quintessential sex symbol, this actor had strong preferences for partners of the same gender and is rumored to have had affairs with two of the actors on this list. Claimed one of their partners “had a gigantic orgasm and shrieked like a maniac” but then turned spiteful when the actor turned them down after being asked for another round."---6 guesses

Cary Grant

Cary Grant.jpg

The Fact: 

“Married 5 times and had 1 daughter. Lived with a fellow actor for 12 years and then with a different actor later in life. Prior to becoming famous, dated a fashion designer on and off for 9 years.”

Number of correct guesses: 1

Fact most frequently assigned to them: 

“One lover described sex with them as ‘pleasant, unhurried, gentle. There was what I can only refer to as a kind of refinement about it. It was erotic, tantalizing, fulfilling. High class stuff all the way.’”---5 guesses

Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich 2.jpg

The Fact:

“Came of age in post-war Berlin where the LGBT culture thrived and came to the US with a more open view of sexuality. At the premiere of a film, this actor walked on stage with a bunch of violets pinned to their crotch, a symbol of homosexuality in Germany. Was married but had several passionate gay affairs, one with another actor on this list!”

Number of correct guesses: 17

Fact most frequently assigned to them: 

The right one!  In fact, everyone who played got her right!

Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo.jpg

The Fact: 

“For a time in the 1920s, they lived openly with a partner of a different gender; later, they conducted their relationship with a playwright and poet of the same gender with similar directness and lack of pretense. The poet was a ‘best friend’ and lived with this actor for 30 years. Called their love affairs with same gender partners ‘exciting secrets.’”

Number of correct guesses: 6

Fact most frequently assigned to them: 

The right one!

Katharine Hepburn

Katharine Hepburn.jpg

The Fact: 

“25 year relationship with differently gendered acting co-star was more about friendship than romance or sex, and their public relationship was likely a publicity stunt by studios as both of them were gay. Was allegedly set up by known Hollywood pimp Scotty Bowers with 150 sexual partners of the same gender. Had a particular attraction for one partner, whom they saw off and on for 49 years.”

Number of correct guesses: 8

Fact most frequently assigned to them: 

The right one!

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe.jpeg

The Fact:

“A quintessential sex symbol, this actor had strong preferences for partners of the same gender and is rumored to have had affairs with two of the actors on this list. Claimed one of their partners “had a gigantic orgasm and shrieked like a maniac” but then turned spiteful when the actor turned them down after being asked for another round.”

Number of correct guesses: 7

Fact most frequently assigned to them: 

The right one!

Marlon Brando

marlon-brando.jpg

The Fact: 

“Had multiple affairs with famous actors in Hollywood and once told a French journalist, ‘Homosexuality is so much in fashion, it no longer makes news. Like a large number of [actors], I, too, have had homosexual experiences, and I am not ashamed. I have never paid much attention to what people think about me.”

Number of correct guesses: 3

Fact most frequently assigned to them: 

"Was allegedly “gay for pay” and for career advancement. Had a string of older clients who paid their bills and helped them get jobs, but cheated on them constantly. Had close, personal, possibly sexual relationships with several openly queer actors."---8 guesses

Vincent Price

Vincent Price.jpg

The Fact: 

“One lover described sex with them as ‘pleasant, unhurried, gentle. There was what I can only refer to as a kind of refinement about it. It was erotic, tantalizing, fulfilling. High class stuff all the way.’”

Number of correct guesses: 0

Fact most frequently assigned to them: 

"Was allegedly “gay for pay” and for career advancement. Had a string of older clients who paid their bills and helped them get jobs, but cheated on them constantly. Had close, personal, possibly sexual relationships with several openly queer actors."---5 guesses

Raymond Burr

Raymond Burr.jpg

The Fact:

“Was married to an opposite gender partner once but it only lasted a couple months. Met a same gender actor on the set of an iconic TV show in 1960 and they remained together until 1993, when our famous queer actor died. The fellow actor is often named as a “business partner” and still owns and operates the joint vineyard they founded together in Sonoma.”

Number of correct guesses: 8

Fact most frequently assigned to them: 

The right one!

Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford.JPG

The Fact: 

“Known for having an “insatiable appetite for sex with men and women,” who may even have slept their way into becoming a screen legend. Also linked with another actor on this list!”

Number of correct guesses: 0

Fact most frequently assigned to them: 

“Married 5 times and had 1 daughter. Lived with a fellow actor for 12 years and then with a different actor later in life. Prior to becoming famous, dated a fashion designer on and off for 9 years.”---8 times

 

How do we know about these folks?

 Bowers (center), at a party in Hollywood during the 40s. Image courtesy of Altimeter Films.

Bowers (center), at a party in Hollywood during the 40s. Image courtesy of Altimeter Films.

Most of the stories that we discussed came from one guy: Scotty Bowers, a Hollywood pimp of the queer silver screen actors of the 1940s and beyond. He was also associated with Alfred Kinsey in his famous study of human sexuality in the 1950s by providing many of the interview subjects.

A former marine, Bowers kept quiet for many years about these stories, as he did not want to adversely affect the lives of any of the actors who were still around. Many of the stories were actively hushed up using fixers paid by the studios at the time, and several of the actors were in "lavender marriages"---marriages arranged by the studio, frequently with another queer actor. At the time, studios especially would not have wanted the queer attractions of their headlining actors to be widely known, as that would have damaged the 'wholesome family image' of many of the films they wanted to market.

After all of the actors died, Bowers finally decided that his experiences and stories couldn't harm their image or beloved status---plus the world was a more open place to queer attraction---so he wrote about it. His memoir, Full Service, records many of the tidbits that we talked about. What makes his book so special is his refusal to be embarrassed by sex, meaning that he handles these stories with a distinct lack of judgment. Good job, dude! 

If you want to learn more about these folks, as well as other queer silver screen stars, check out our full list of sources and further reading below!

Online Articles:

Books:

  • Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Live of the Stars by Scotty Bowers
  • James Dean: Tomorrow Never Comes by Darwin Porter and Damforth Prince
  • Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood by William J. Mann
  • Clark Gable: Tormented Star by David Bret
  • Kate: The Woman Who Was Katharine Hepburn by William J. Mann
  • The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling And The MGM Publicity Machine by EJ Flemming

Until next time, stay queer and stay curious!