Hollywood is considered a bastion of liberalism and progressive thinking in the modern era. Not only is it ok to be up front and public with your sexuality, LGBTQ+ roles are now a major part of casting, writing, and production. So one might assume that this was always the case with Tinseltown. That even in the eras before it was safe to come out of the closet, Hollywood was a safe place for everyone. And while that was perhaps true in certain circles, where the ‘open secrets’ of celebs who weren’t traditionally straight were well known and accepted, it wasn’t true in many larger ways. While the town itself might have been accepting of LGBTQ+ folks, the country wasn’t. And as such, the products that Hollywood churned out in the first several decades had to be tailored to the conservative values of the country. Otherwise they would never have gotten off the ground. So most people who were LGBTQ+ had to be closeted, for fear that if their true sexual orientation came out, the general population wouldn’t approve, and they’d lose their livelihood. In this video, we’re taking a look at several gay actors of yesteryear who had to stay in the closet. Facts Verse presents: Gay Actors of Old Hollywood Who Had to Live in Secret.
Cary Grant and Randolph Scott
Cary Grant was one of the top leading men of his era. His suave persona and charm made him a favorite of fans all over the world. And yet, it is generally presumed that he was not traditionally straight. While he did have relationships with women, including being married five times over the course of his life, he also lived with actor Randolph Scott for the better part of 12 years. And while the two claimed that they were just buddies, and referred to their apartment as a bachelor pad, it was a well known open secret in Hollywood that the two were also lovers. Grant bisexuality was written about in many publications later on, including the 2004 book, “Cary Grant: Grant’s Secret Sixth Marriage”, which went into detail about his time with Randolph Scott.
A photographer named Jerome Zerbe also spend several months taking photos of the pair, and later talking about the fact that they were involved in the gay scene in Hollywood.
While Grant would always deny the rumors, while Scott would admit them to be true to his close friends. But neither admitted anything to the general public or the press, for fear that it would ruin their careers.
At one point in Montgomery Clift’s stellar career as a Hollywood actor, he was asked by a journalist if he had any hobbies. Clift’s answer was simply, “Yes, women.” But that cheeky response didn’t really line up with Clift’s general behavior. He was rarely seen as a womanizer, and rarely was spotted with any Hollywood eye candy, or even a serious relationship with a woman. Early on, he would always claim that it was a matter of him being super picky about the women he dated. But eventually, when he was questioned about it, he would respond that he simply liked being alone rather than being in the company of a lover. He even wrote an article in a local paper called “I Like It Lonely.”
However, after Clift died, it was posthumously revealed that he was, in fact, gay. This information didn’t officially come out until the 1970’s when biographers of Clift revealed it. They were granted permission from close friends of Clift, who felt that it couldn’t hurt him after his death. And in fact, he quickly became a gay icon.
But while he was alive, Clift was intensely worried that it would be revealed. Reportedly, he was paranoid about even seeming effeminate, for fear that it would ruin his career. There was even a moment early on when he was in the movie, The Search, where he randomly added in the word ‘dear’ when talking to a boy in the scene. Clift became so flustered by that choice, he demanded the that director let him reshoot the scene.
TV legend Merv Griffin was another person who felt that he needed to stay in the closet during his entire lifetime. But it was a fairly well known secret that Griffin was gay. It certainly made sense why Merv would choose to hide this part of him in the early days of his career, when it was not an accepted thing on a national and global scale. But it was surprising to many people that he chose to keep up the façade in his later years. Because at that point it was far more acceptable to be openly gay. Plus, he had already made his permanent mark on Hollywood, as a legendary producer, game show producer, and executive. It seems unlikely that Merv’s legacy would have been changed all that much by his later years. According to journalist Ray Richmond, who worked on The Merv Griffin Show in the mid 1980’s, it was a fairly well known fact at the show that Merv was gay. But Richmond said that while it was understood, it wasn’t discussed. And it certainly wasn’t brought up with Merv himself. Then in 1991, Merv was sued for sexual harassment by Denny Terrio, the host of ‘Dance Fever.’ He was similarly sued for palimony money from his assistant, Brent Plott. While both suits were tossed out by judges, it did send a message to the larger public that perhaps Merv was involved with these men. Whenever Merv would be asked point blank about his sexuality, he would always remark that his private life was his own, and that it was no one’s business. And of course, he was right about that. Yet it’s a shame that Merv wasn’t able to live openly at any point in his illustrious career.
Jim Nabors had a long and successful career as an actor, and was perhaps best known for his portrayal of Gomer Pyle on the Andy Griffith Show, and later on Gomer Pyle, USMC. And throughout his time on screen, he stayed in the closet. He feared that it would have negative repercussions on his career. But in 2013, he married his long time companion, Stan Cadwallader. The two had been together at that point for nearly four decades. And while he never made his homosexuality a public thing, Nabors says that he was always open with all the people he worked with and was friends with. He said he was never ashamed of who he was, but he didn’t necessarily see the good of telling the general public. However, once gay marriage became legal, and society was more accepting of gay unions, Nabors was quick to show his love for his husband. He also said that he knew he was gay since he was a child, and never made a huge secret about it.
Romero was a Cuban-American actor who had many women swooning with his debonair look, tall frame, and handsome face. He was perhaps most famous for portraying The Joker in the original Batman movie. But he also appeared as a suave leading man in movies opposite starlets like Carole Lombard and Marlene Dietrich. But reportedly Romero was secretly gay. Like Jim Nabors, he was apparently out of the closet to his friends and coworkers in Hollywood. As we mentioned earlier, the town of Hollywood was a lot more friendly to LGBTQ+ people, even if they might not grant them long careers if they were out of the closet. But many stars, like Romero, found a balance where they could be themselves in town and on set, but pretend they were straight to the general public.
Rock Hudson is perhaps the most famous icon from Hollywood who had to live his life in the closet before ultimately coming out. Hudson was the ultimate hunky male star in the Golden Age of Hollywood, a persona that was certainly predicated upon his supposed heterosexuality. And yet, Hudson was secretly gay. Because he was such a big star, the press and tabloids were always after any info they could get on him, so he fought tooth and nail to make sure they couldn’t find out anything about his personal life. Unfortunately, a tabloid called “Confidential” eventually discovered his secret. They were prepared to print an article, exposing him, but Rock countered this move by hastily marrying his assistant, Phyllis Gates. Everyone in Hollywood knew it wasn’t a legit union, but it helped keep the general public from finding out. Gates fully knew that Rock was gay, and the marriage soon fell apart. Hudson then was in a relationship for years with a stockbroker named Lee Garlington. But perhaps the silver lining to Hudson’s sad story was that when he was tragically diagnosed with AIDS, he was able to come out and be an advocate for AIDS research. He was monumental in destigmatizing the horrible disease, and his legacy will remain both as a powerful actor, but as a vital figure in both gay culture, as well as the fight against AIDS.
Obviously this list only touches the surface of the many stars back in the day who had to hide who they were. Thankfully we live in an era where there isn’t such a stigma about being a member of the LGBTQ+ community. And yet, there are likely still many people who feel as if they have a better shot a Hollywood success if they pretend to be straight. Hopefully we will soon reach an age where none of that matters at all, and everyone can be who they truly are!
Now it’s time to hear from you. Did you know about these stars being gay? Do you think it was the right move for them to stay in the closet publicly for as long as they did? Let us know in the comments section below.