Thursday, November 17, 2005

And now for something that's not a big fat whinge

two posts in one night? Christmas in November!

On my way home today, I got off the bus at the Pacific Design Center to see the exhibition of William Haines furniture. Really beautiful stuff- Billy Haines practically created the whole Hollywood Moderne thing, but his undeniable talent and 50 year career as a decorator is only part of the story.

Movie star Billy Haines was to the 20's what, well I don't know who is to the present. He was huge. He was one of MGM's biggest male stars, specialising in roles that played up his boyish. althletic, all-American image. During one of his movies, he fell in love with his stand-in, Jimmy Shelds. They moved in together in 1923. Despite pressure from the studio, he refused to cover up his homosexuality by getting married, even though his friend Joan Crawford offered. Finally, in the early 30's. Studio boss Louis Mayer gave Haines an ultimatum: he could give up Jimmy, or give up Metro. Billy told him in no uncertian terms: "I'll leave Jimmy if you leave your wife"

Can you imagine the stones? Never mind doing it in 2004, with at least some semblance of civil rights, equal protection under the law (at least for now), and some states allowing gay marriage- this was seventy years ago. Being killed for this "sin" was not exactly looked upon as a bad thing.

Imagine a big Hollywood star today walking away from that....

Luckily, Billy had his side business. He and Jimmy had bought an antique shop in 1930 and had made some money; their customers went from just buying the furniture to asking advice on how to decorate. His friend Joan Crawford was one of the first to hire him to decorate her Brentwood house. He redecorated it over the years and they remained the best of friends; she was known to quip "the happiest marriage I've seen in Hollywood is Billy Haines and Jimmy Shields".

Billy designed homes for Crawford, Claudette Colbert, Marion Davies, Bette Davis, George Cukor, Lionel Barrymore, Carole Lombard, Ronald Reagan, and Jack Warner (if not Louis Mayer). They also designed the London home of the US ambassador Walter Annenberg, Winfield House.

Haines died in 1973 of cancer, Jimmy, unable to live without him, took his own life a few months later.

Sometimes in these days when people are able to pretty much (at least here in the US {for now}, as opposed to Iran) able to live our lives with a some sense of freedom from persecution, we forget that some people made the simple act of being true to themselves a courageous act.

1 comment:

Lily said...

I think that was a beautiful story. I can think of a few courageous people, but not many. I love stories where love trumps all. You should start penning "Love Chronicles"! You sap. I love ya already.
Maybe it would remind people that deny the legitimacy of the 'right to love' FOR ALL that they are so pathetically misguided in their thinking.