MGM Stories Part Five: William Haines and Hollywood's First Openly Gay Marriage by Karina Longworth

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The rare silent star who made a relatively smooth transition to sound films, William “Billy” Haines was one of the top box office stars of the late 1920s-early 1930s. Beginning in 1926, Haines started living with Jimmie Shields, and the two men became one of the most popular couples on the Hollywood social scene, facing little if any homophobia among the industry’s elite. But as times changed and the heat from the censors began to get hotter, MGM began to put pressure on Haines to pretend to be someone he wasn’t.

Very special thanks to Wil Wheaton, who played William Haines, and Craig Mazin, who reprised his role as Louis B. Mayer.

This episode was edited by Henry Molofsky.

The primary source for this episode was William J. Mann’s biography of Haines, Wisecracker. Other sources consulted include:

Bret, David. Greta Garbo: A Divine Star. London: The Robson Press, 2012. Kindle Edition.

Bowers, Scotty. Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars. Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 2013. Kindle Edition.

Chandler, Charlotte. Not The Girl Next Door: Joan Crawford. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008. Kindle Edition.

Eyman, Scott Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer. Simon & Schuster, 2008 Kindle Edition.

Eyman, Scott The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930 Simon & Schuster, 1997. Kindle Edition.

E. J. Fleming. The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine McFarland & Co Inc, 2004. Kindle Edition.

Golden, Eve. John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2013. Kindle Edition.

Photoplay, Jan-Jun 1927

YMRT #17 Theda Bara, Hollywood's First Sex Symbol by Karina Longworth

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Theda Bara might be the most significant celebrity pioneer whose movies you’ve never seen. She was the movie industry’s first sex symbol; the first femme fatale; the first silent film actress to have a fictional identity invented for her by publicists and sold through a receptive media to a public who was happy to be conned; and she might have been America’s first homegrown goth.  She was one of the three biggest stars in Hollywood during her heyday — the other two being Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford — but by the early 1920s, the Victorian sexual panic she represented was way passé, thanks to the rise of the flapper, and Bara couldn’t get a job. Today most of her films are lost, and culturally she’s all but been forgotten. In this episode, we’ll trace her life and brief, bright career, and talk about what it was like to be a working actress, one of the most famous women in the world, and the embodiment of an intentionally scary fantasy during the very first days of Hollywood.

Show Notes!

There are two biographies on ThedaBara. Both of them (kind of weirdly) were published in 1996. Eve Golden’s Vamp is the livelier read, and it seems to pop up in a lot of bibliographies. But there is also ThedaBara: A Biography of the Silent Screen Vamp, with a Filmographyby Ronald Ginini. Vamp has one of the most famous photos of Bara on its cover; I believe that photo was one of the ones taken by Jack Freundlich, as discussed in this episode. A great source on Fruendlich’s work, with Bara and beyond, is Still: American Silent Motion Picture Photography by David S. Shields. Still was an important background resource for my own book on Hollywood still photography, Hollywood Frame by Frame

Here is a link to all of the Richard Avedon photos of Marilyn Monroe as former Hollywood sex symbols, and this is the Theda shot:

Other sources I consulted while working on this episode include Kevin Brownlow’s The Parade’s Gone By; Louise Brooks’Lulu in Hollywood; and Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon.

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“Preludes for Piano 2” by George Gershwin

“You Could Never Tell” by The Horrors

“Atmosphere” by Joy Division

“Untitled” by Body/Head

“Undercover Vampire Policeman” by Chris Zabriskie

“Readers! Do You Read?” by Chris Zabriskie

“Ball and Biscuit” by The White Stripes

“Surprise Ending” by Helium

“Baby Vampire Made Me” by Helium

“Rub ’Til It Bleeds” by PJ Harvey

“Benbient” by canton

“Ceremony” by New Order, covered by Galaxie 500

“Damned if She Do” by The Kills

“Gymnopedie No. 3” by Eric Satie, performed by Kevin MacLeod

“Rock My Boat” by DNTEL