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Gay in Hollywood; William Haines, The First Gay Movie Star

Updated on April 25, 2015

The Dashing and Handsome William Haines

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William Haines, Interior Decorator

Williams Haines, Silent Movie Actor

Born just a few minutes after midnight on January 1, 1900, and named, Charles, William Haines

Williams Haines attended a military academy where he studied drama during his mid teens. Haines then managed to find a job on Wall Street pushing papers around, and out of sheer boredom he entered himself in a "New Faces" contest that was sponsored by Samuel Goldwyn in 1922. It was this publicity stunt that resulted in the discovery of both Haines and Clara Bow . Out of thousands of applicants Bill Haines was selected as the male "find" that the studio was looking for. He was 6 foot tall with a well proportioned physique and black hair. Billy photographed well and fit the image of the well dressed handsome man of the 1920s.

Soon after the Goldwyn company and Metro merged, MGM inherited William Haines and although Haines was beautiful in pictures, it is clearly obvious to modern audiences that he is gay. His persona was one of a lovable jokester with handsome good looks, but he appears very awkward in his scenes as a starlets boyfriend and in lovemaking scenes with leading ladies. Billy had character, charm, and charisma, but, he was not a very good actor. These traits can only take one so far, and Billy Haines took it as far as humanly possible.

Because he had gained so much popularity, he was given lead roles, and the lead roles often have a love interest. Because audiences liked him so much he was busy turning out film after film; in 1924 alone, he was the star of over 10 smash hit films.

Since homosexuality was not routinely presented in movies, people accepted him as kind of a "fun little brother" or male "flapper" character. He was definitely a likeable guy who's charisma leaps off the screen, but the scenes in which he is to appear as having the same feelings as a straight man make the Dick Sargent with Elizabeth Montgomery duo from Bewitched look almost believable. He was so obviously lavender and light in the loafers, its viewable from 10 miles away. The 1920s audiences did not let it bother them, but as time marched on, it would be more of an issue, as how could he reinvent himself. The only way to last over a decade in Hollywood is to reinvent oneself.

Joan Crawford admitted that when she was just starting out, long before the heavy eyebrows and padded shoulders, she worked with him in a few silents, and developed a massive crush on him. His easy personality and good looks were irresistible, but Haines who nicknamed Joan, "cranberry" said, "its no use cranberry, I am just not interested. "

Bill had charm and enthusiasm and besides being stunningly handsome, he was so down to earth and likeable that many girls besides Joan, fell for him, only to be devastated and confused. The Popular and social guy at the hot Hollywood parties and social events was not the least bit interested in women except for companionship. Haines made no attempt to fit in with the social norm and straight out told starlets as well as Crawford to "give it up, not interested."

The innocent times of the 20's did not assume an effeminate man was gay as it does today. This allowed Haines to play various parts in the comedy genre, whereas these days he would be typecast as gay. He was just boyish and cute in the wise cracking way. His exaggerated expressions, and frivolous characters were very much a sign of the times as he donned his gear as a polo player in, The Smart Set."

The wise cracking and prankish antics that Haines performed on screen mirrored his own personality. He was maturing physically but his personality was still the boy of the silent screen. Haines was not going to age well, as Clark Gable did, and he had nothing left to offer Hollywood.

With his career on the skids by the early 1930s, Haines had a steady boyfriend named Jimmy Shields, but during a frustrating time he stepped out on Jimmy and decided to cheer himself up by carousing in Los Angeles only to find himself busted for picking up a male prostitute.

MGM boss Louis B. Mayor, advised Haines to marry a woman and stay away from his boyfriend if he wanted to recover his career. Haines would not give up Jimmy and besides, he was no dummy. Unlike many stars who think they have more talent than they actually have, Billy had no illusions about himself and he knew his limitations. Haines was well aware that he was slipping at the box office, was not a terrific actor, and at 33, he was quickly becoming the oldest college boy in the United States. The parts that he was suited for were no longer suited for him, nor were they popular with audiences any more. The carefree,rich, and dashing 20s had vanished, and now the depression of the 1930s was under way. FDR and the democrats would keep the depression going way too long for Haines to wait it out. Nothing lasts forever!

In recent years there have been books written and documentary's made that elude to the fact that Haines was fired for being gay, however, when viewing his work from the twenties it is easy to see that the well dressed, polo playing prodigals he played were not in vogue during the grim post stock market crash depression. All the great stars who represented extreme wealth, extravagance and lightheartedness, were out, while the down to earth James Cagney, Joan Blondell, and Barbara Stanwyck were gaining favor. Even if he were straight, he would not have made it, and would have simply become another has been. But, William Haines had some solid business sense. He did not think that the movies were the only way to make a living, and never felt sorry for himself. Billy, was an entrepreneur who used his looks and personality to jump start his career, and now was ready to take his talents and move on.

Haines used his connections with the Hollywood elite to promote himself as a top notch interior decorator. Having spent more than 10 years around rich and famous celebrities, he had certainly gained taste and style, and was willing to use his cultured expertise to brew a new career. One in which he could comfortably stay out of the road of makeup, photographers, and regular hours. Not everyone wants to be a star, and Billy craved independence. He wanted to rise and retire on his own schedule, and be his own boss. Joan Crawford, Carole Lombard, and Marion Davies all gave their good friend help in launching his second career. Lombard gave Haines his first big job of decorating her new home. Bill had a flare for decorating to the clients personality, and Lombard's home was given the full treatment of feminine, yet quirky elegance, and the news soon spread around Tinseltown that Bill Haines was the "in" decorator to hire.

Billy had his name on numerous homes and restaurants for style, flare, and daring color. He was never afraid to go against the grain, and his creations featured a design of lighting especially for the Hollywood hot spots that was arranged to flatter the aging actors and show them in the best possible light. Who wouldn't want to go there?

After years of designing and decorating homes and nightclubs for celebrities, Haines decorated the residence of the American Ambassador of Britain's home, "Winifred House." It cost the owner over one million dollars, a fortune in 1969, and took over one year to complete. Billy Haines had a good life and a happy second career. In fact, Haines enjoyed his life after Hollywood much more than his Hollywood career as an actor. He stands out today because unlike modern actors who take every opportunity to victimize themselves for being the wrong type, wrong race, and wrong sexual orientation, Haines had true American entrepreneurial spirit and saw his opportunities rather than what could hold him down. Rather than place blame and relish victimhood he took the ball and ran with it.

In 1973 Haines died of cancer and left almost everything to Jimmy Shields, who committed suicide one year later leaving a note stating his unhappiness of being without William Haines by his side

Hains Movies on Amazon

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    • Skarlet profile image
      Author

      Skarlet 5 years ago from California

      Thank you dghrh,

      Glad you liked it..

    • dghbrh profile image

      deergha 5 years ago from ...... a place beyond now and beyond here !!!

      very good hub....loved it....really handsome and talented this actor and interior decorator was. nice to know about him...good work..voted up.

    • Skarlet profile image
      Author

      Skarlet 5 years ago from California

      Thank you fphrej48 and Sis.

      I guess he was before your time:)

      I love history and spent many years studying the history of Hollywood, otherwise there is no way to know some of these stars of the 20's, since television stopped playing silent movies in the 50's, and so many of the old silents are lost.

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 5 years ago from Central Texas

      I've not heard of William Haines before this Hub but appears he was a talented man and loyal to those he loved. How wonderful he had a second successful shot at life. Interesting Hub and thanks so much! Best/Sis

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Very intriguing. Don't believe I've ever heard of this fella.....Definitely handsome. Good for him that he went on to be a highly-regarded and talented Interior Designor!! UP++