LOS ANGELES: Sometimes, Hollywood's secrets spill out in the most surprising ways. Back in October, two of the stars on Grey's Anatomy, the hottest hospital drama show on television, had a raging fight on the set.
Isaiah Washington was ready to go with a scene, but some of the other actors were not. He and Patrick Dempsey - who both play surgical residents in a fictional Seattle hospital - started exchanging words and, at one point, Washington grabbed Dempsey by the throat. According to news reports at the time, Washington said: "I'm not your little faggot like that guy." Or something along those lines.
The remark was probably meant as no more than a rebuke of Dempsey and his apparent expectation that Washington would work to his schedule.
But the gossipmongers on the internet quickly started asking who exactly the faggot might be. "Was one of the cast members on the show gay?" So far, so trivial.
But then something thoroughly unexpected happened. TR Knight, a |33-year-old actor on the show who plays an emphatically heterosexual doctor called George O'Malley, issued a statement to US People magazine.
"I guess there have been a few questions about my sexuality, and I'd like to quiet any unnecessary rumours that may be out there," he said.
"While I prefer to keep my personal life private, I hope the fact that I'm gay isn't the most interesting part of me."
In the showbusiness world, this was little short of a bombshell.
Hollywood may fancy itself as a politically progressive sort of place, where gay people are not only accepted but are employed in large numbers.
But the unwritten rule - unchanged in many decades - is that no actor ever admits he is homosexual.
Especially not a young, good-looking actor whose character, like Dr O'Malley, conducts on-screen relationships with one attractive woman after another.
Actors who have spent any time working in the Hollywood system are little short of stunned.
It's not that there is anything faintly unusual or shocking about the existence of gay actors. Going public, though, is something that simply is not done.
"It's a death sentence for your career", said Eve Gordon, a (heterosexual) film and television actress. "All my friends who are gay keep it secret. They don't even know where to draw the line socially ...
"It's like being a Communist in the McCarthy era. It's a gigantic terror. So coming out is an incredibly brave thing to do."
That hard truth is itself a taboo topic of conversation in 2006.
This, after all, was touted as the year of the gay movie, thanks to the success and multiple awards showered on Brokeback Mountain, Capote and other titles featuring openly gay …