Secrets and Bios: If You Think You're Frustrated by Celebrity Biographies That Gloss over Gay Lives, Listen to How the Books' Authors Feel, Blocked at Every Turn. Henry Willson Biographer Robert Hofler Shares His Fellow Snoops' Secrets

By Hofler, Robert | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), October 11, 2005 | Go to article overview

Secrets and Bios: If You Think You're Frustrated by Celebrity Biographies That Gloss over Gay Lives, Listen to How the Books' Authors Feel, Blocked at Every Turn. Henry Willson Biographer Robert Hofler Shares His Fellow Snoops' Secrets


Hofler, Robert, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


Nazis and gays. In the biography sweepstakes, one can be a cakewalk. The other almost always requires a delicate dance through a minefield of potential libel, antediluvian prejudice, and post-publication recriminations.

"Oh, there's no question," says Steven Bach, author of both the Moss Hart biography Dazzler and an upcoming Leni Riefenstahl bio due in fall 2006. "It is so much more difficult to delve into a gay past. The Nazi past always has a paper trail, and a gay past does not. Confirmation is terribly difficult."

In one respect, time is on the side of the biographer, whichever outre subject he chooses to write about. "Fortunately, Riefenstahl is no longer with us," Bach adds, "so it is easier now, not having to worry about litigious-type issues."

I can sympathize. Having written the recently published biography The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson, I know firsthand how truly liberating someone else's death can be. After a long bout with lawyers, in which the most frequently asked question was "Is this person dead or alive?" I found that my own book had been lee relatively intact. "I lost only one queer," I told friends. Calling someone a homosexual, I discovered, was every bit as libelous as calling Riefenstahl a Nazi. If she or he is alive.

To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, straight people are different from you and me. Vanity Fair, in its 2003 Hollywood issue, had no problem profiling the late superagent Charles K. Feldman and detailing his affairs with sisters Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, who are very much still with us. But try revealing agent Henry Willson's sexual liaisons with his many male starlets, and it's as if Stonewall were merely a twinkle in some drag queen's eye.

After writing The Celluloid Closet, Vito Russo was asked the question all writers most ponder post-publication: "What's your next book?" Since he had just delivered the seminal critical study of homosexual characters and themes in the movies, most admirers assumed that his next tome would be the real thing: a historical study of the homosexual movers and shakers in the entertainment world. But it was not to be.

"That," said Russo, "is the book that can never be written."

For much of Russo's life (1946-1990), it was true. But since then, scads of gay bios have been published to help salvage several nearly lost life histories. It is a race against time in which death is both the storytellers friend and chief adversary. The dead can't be libeled; on the other hand, the longer people have been dead, the less likely that any of their contemporaries are still around to be interviewed. And all too often, the older they are, the more unwilling people are to talk about homosexuality or, for that matter, fellow homosexuals.

Shortly before his death in 2002, Jacque Mapes insisted that his lover, Ross Hunter, had no relationship, business or other wise, with Henry Willson. It was an absurd defense, because the agent repped Rock Hudson on six films produced by Hunter, including Pillow Talk and Magnificent Obsession, the 1954 film that took the actor from Universal contract player to major star. Since Willson had enjoyed the reputation of maintaining the longest-running gay casting couch in Hollywood, Mapes, at age 88, preferred to keep his distance. Too much distance, it turned out, to be credible. "Ross had nothing whatsoever to do with Willson," insisted Mapes. "Rock was under contract to Universal, so Ross didn't have to deal with Henry Willson."

Katharine Hepburn proved much more helpful to Emanuel Levy in researching his biography George Cukor: Master of Elegance. When it came to that most delicate of questions, however, he hit a brick wall with her. "Don't forget," Hepburn told Levy. "I'm from New England. We have a lot of sex and good sex, but we don't talk about it."

Hepburn's own sexuality comes under scrutiny in two upcoming biographies, James R. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Secrets and Bios: If You Think You're Frustrated by Celebrity Biographies That Gloss over Gay Lives, Listen to How the Books' Authors Feel, Blocked at Every Turn. Henry Willson Biographer Robert Hofler Shares His Fellow Snoops' Secrets
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.