Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Lavender Lads Bartone Babes: Long before "Outing," Confidential Magazine Was Printing Gay Rumors about the Stars-Without Wrecking Careers. in Writing about the Tabloid, Samuel Bernstein Wonders: Was '50S America More Tolerant Than We Think?

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Lavender Lads Bartone Babes: Long before "Outing," Confidential Magazine Was Printing Gay Rumors about the Stars-Without Wrecking Careers. in Writing about the Tabloid, Samuel Bernstein Wonders: Was '50S America More Tolerant Than We Think?

Article excerpt

I've got a giddy crush on Neil Patrick Harris--not in that way exactly. I'm more thrilled that spilling the beans hasn't affected his success as a roguish womanizer on network television. Millions of Americans now know he's gay and don't seem to care. It's a revolution, miraculous and unprecedented.

Except it isn't.

Van Johnson, the A-list MGM star who appeared in The Caine Mutiny with Humphrey Bogart mad The Last Time I Saw Paris with Elizabeth Taylor, was outed with little or no ill effect--not in 2006, but in 1954.

Credit Confidential magazine for the dirty work. Published by Robert Harrison, Confidential was a pioneering tabloid without Hollywood studio ties that freely explored the private lives of celebrities. A Paramount exec couldn't say, "We're throwing you off the lot if you print that." Confidential was never invited on to the lot. Harrison was independent, and he could do whatever the hell he wanted.

Confidential: The name alone promised so much. It was the place to go to get the real lowdown on the lowbrow habits of Hollywood icons: Desi Arnaz was a boozer, Rita Hayworth was a horrible mother, and Marilyn Monroe liked sex.

The subject of homosexuality was a Confidential mainstay. In Johnson's case the magazine claimed homosexuality had made him 4-F (unacceptable for miliary service) during World War II. According to the article, a car crash's aftermath and the love of a wholesome adulteress later turned him hetero.

According to my research, Confidential had 5 million readers by the mid '50s, yet Johnson remained under studio contract. There were no protests, no boycotts. He would have 38 more years of film and TV work. Even with the mitigating "ex-gay" angle, how could this be? Everyone knows that 1950s America was a hotbed of homophobia, right?

Before writing my new book, Mr. Confidential (Walford, $22.95), I thought I knew everything about the business. Starting at age 11, I acted in six shows a week for months on end; I was a preteen piece of chicken puffing on cigarettes and laughing hollowly. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.