Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


BEHIND THE SCREEN: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood 1910 - 1969. William J. Mann. Viking; 2001.

A very interesting look at the gay influence on films -- especially the look of films -- during the first half of the 20th century. It's difficult even today to know who's gay or who isn't due to the closet, sham marriages, and the fact that most gays are non-stereotypical, so undoubtedly many influential individuals were left out of the book. Since open, more flamboyant gays tended to go in for costuming and interior design over say, camera work or directing (although there were certainly gays in those fields, as Mann notes and uncovers) the book has what seems like a disproportionate number of pages devoted to the more "feminine" fields and at times gets a little tiresome because of it. Mann also examines how fan magazines dealt with various actors' gay persuasion. Some of the names whose lives and work Mann examines include Mitchell Leisen, Charles Brackett, Charles Waters, Kay Francis, Dorothy Arzner, Cary Grant, J. Warren Kerrigan (one of the first big stars), Ross Hunter, Irving Rapper, etc. He also looks into marriages between gay men and lesbians (Edmund Lowe and Lilyan Tashman) who formed a kind of loving bond while getting their thrills outside the marital bed (although Mann takes these faux relationships perhaps more seriously than he should). There are odd omissions in the book, however. Still, some readers may find it an eye-opener. Well-researched.

Verdict: A worthwhile read, if hardly the last word on the subject. ***.

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