The brilliant, heavy, Yorkshire star who appeared in 38 plays, 52 films, countless television shows and reading tours, directed the creepy gem The Night of the Hunter, and was the first Brit to win the Oscar for best actor, Charles Laughton's longest performance was that of husband to Elsa Lanchester. For 33 years they supported, attacked, ignored, admired, and undermined each other, while sharing two great passions, flowers and sex with other men. So successful were they in projecting marital harmony (or so cynical was the Hollywood media) that the press named them "the screen's happiest couple" in 1962, the year Laughton died of cancer. Elsa says she learned he was gay in 1931, two years after their wedding, when they came home one night to find a policeman at their door with a young tough loitering to get money from Laughton who had cruised him earlier that day in Hyde Park. She didn't care. (A free spirit, she had formerly earned money by pretending in court to be the adulterous other woman for couples who needed a legal reason to divorce.) Laughton did care, and would always live in a stew of self-doubt and self-loathing, about his talent, his weight, and his sexuality. Though he perpetually feared exposure, he brought his handsome young lovers on set with him as his masseur or assistant. When Laughton was directing a play in 1954, his star Henry Fonda snapped at him, "What do you know about men, you fat faggot?" In 1960, he and Elsa bought a Santa Monica house next door to pioneering gays Isherwood and Bachardy and the four became friends, somewhat easing Laughton's own homophobia. His final film role was a Southern senator in the gay blackmail suicide drama Advise and Consent.
According to his autobiography, Include Me Out, midcentury movie star Farley Granger joined the Navy at 19 and on his first voyage, from San Francisco to Honolulu, was seasick the whole way, losing 23 pounds and needing to be hospitalized when they reached land. Thus it was that the almost too pretty Granger spent the war onshore in Hawaii, working the enlisted men's club on Waikiki Beach or helping entertain the troops under the command of the never-married Shakespearean actor Maurice Evans best known as Samantha's campy warlock father on Bewitched. Granger claims that while in Honolulu, in one memorable night, he had his first sexual experiences with a woman (a "hostess" a private club) then with a man (an enlisted officer who picked him up at that club). Obviously a star, within four years he had a lead role in Alfred Hitchcock's gay film Rope, based on the Leopold - Loeb murder and written by awesome Arthur Laurents, whom he dated for the year during filming and after. Later Granger had affairs with Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein, and filmed his biggest hit,
again with Hitchcock, Strangers on a Train, from the novel by Patricia Highsmith, the lesbian author of the Mr. Ripley novels.
Granger's career faltered through the 50s, including a disastrous Broadway musical version of Pride & Prejudice in which he played Mr. Darcy. Early in the 60s he joined the National Repertory Theatre and fell in love with its production manager, Robert Calhoun. They were together 45 years and wrote Granger's memoir together. Granger discussed Rope in the documentary based on Vito Russo's stunning book, The Celluloid Closet, but please don't call him a gay hero. Speaking with Granger in a bizarre 2007 interview, Calhoun said, “And ‘gay’ — in itself, destruction of a perfectly good word — is just another way of saying faggot.” During the same exchange, Granger confirmed the interviewer's ludicrous statement that "you’ve never actually been in the closet" with, “No, I never was.” Calhoun died in 2009, Granger died in March 2011. For another look at that era, you might consider Arthur Laurents' excellent memoir, Original Story By.