Friday, October 28

Farley Granger

Celebrity was an unfortunate circumstance of his profession. He spent too much of his time trying to avoid the glare. He loved acting and there is no question that movie cameras loved him. He never thought very much of his abilities as an actor and eschewed playing the Hollywood game. One could have suspected that maybe a handsome, single man who kept out of the limelight as much as possible was hiding his gayness.  But Farley Granger wasn't hiding it at all.

He didn't come out, as such, but he did live rather openly with men. I certainly salute him for doing so in those sexually naive, career-demolishing times.  There is a viable point of view that his lifestyle did, in fact, hamper his screen career. He made only 18 American films in the 1940s-50s and two of those were episodic movies where he was just in one part.  

But Granger also intimated that it was he who was not comfortable with Hollywood instead of the other way around.  When he did actually come out, he did so as a bisexual rather than gay which is often done in Hollywood to soften the blow, if you will. If we elect to give him the benefit of the doubt, we certainly realize that his known relationships were with men and they, particularly his last one, were of long durations. 

Whatever.  Good for him.  He was brave enough to play a gay character in one film and in another the plot line certainly hovered around gay.  Interestingly both films were directed by Alfred Hitchcock and are arguably Granger's best.

Let's go back to 1925.  Picture it.  San Jose, California.  (Do your best.)  A man who runs an auto dealership named Granger and his wife have a son whom they actually name Farley.  I think it suited him... kinda cute but different.  His folks were well-to-do and the family especially enjoyed life at their second home at the beach. Farley was an only child and when one adds to that his beauty and the many compliments it engendered, it was pretty hard to not take it all a bit too seriously.  After his debut in the school Christmas play and the accolades it accorded, his down-to-earth folks had to remind him to be remain down-to-earth.  And in many ways he did just that.  Another thing that happened at the school play was that the youngster determined that one day he would become an actor.

Over the dinner table one night Mr. Granger was telling his wife and son about a play that was trying to get a foothold at a Hollywood playhouse and needed a young actor.  He got Farley excited and the next day Mrs. Granger delivered her handsome son at the foot of the stage, he auditioned and was hired.  A few nights later a talent scout from Samuel Goldwyn Studios saw Granger and suggested he present himself to Mr. Goldwyn.  He was again hired. Just what Goldwyn was looking for, and he told everyone that. Let's consider I'm not leaving anything out about his ascent to Hollywood super-stardom.  It was that easy.  It would be infinitely harder staying.

Let's understand a few things about Samuel Goldwyn.  Possessed of an inordinate amount of vanity, he looked good, smelled good, dressed immaculately, was bad-tempered, famous for his malapropisms and capable of generating a lot of publicity for his Samuel Goldwyn Studios.  The dingy little gray-stucco compound on a Hollywood side street is responsible for a great many acclaimed films but it was only a production studio.  Goldwyn produced films but there was no distribution arm.  That was handled for years by United Artists and later RKO.

And because of this situation, Goldwyn Studios usually made just one film a year. How odd that he would put people under contract (Dana Andrews, Danny Kaye, Virginia Mayo, Teresa Wright, David Niven, Walter Brennan to name a few) and have so little work for them. So he loaned them out to other studios as much as possible and he, of course, got a bigger fee than the performer did. Into this story we can now inject Farley Granger who, at seventeen and with parents seated next to him, entered into a seven-year contract with Goldwyn.  Granger was thrilled beyond belief but in time he and Goldwyn would come to blows heard all over those Hollywood hills.

The film Granger was signed for was The North Star (1943), his first of four pairings with Andrews.  It was considered a prestigious entry into the giant machine that produced war epics at every studio.  Granger was a young Ukrainian who gets caught up in the war when the Nazis invade his village. He impressed everyone with his talent and his manners and the publicity machines went into overdrive.  He appeared with the film's star, Anne Baxter, on the cover of Look Magazine.  Pretty impressive for a greenhorn, although a very pretty green. 

One day, shortly after the film's release, Goldwyn called Granger into his office for a little chat.  The young actor had been spotted somewhere in Hollywood having dinner with the film's composer, Aaron Copland. Goldwyn admonished the youngster for doing so with a known homosexual, telling him he now had his reputation and a career to protect.  Granger bravely told him he'd have dinner with anyone he wanted.  They'd had their first skirmish.

He was loaned to 20th Century Fox and a larger part in The Purple Heart (1944), another war film with Dana Andrews, also well-received. From there old Uncle Sam told Granger is was time to stop acting like a soldier and become one for real.  He joined the Navy, his contract was put on a shelf and he would not make another film until 1948.

His first post-war project was one of his two favorite movies, They Live by Night (1948), an edgy film noir about an escaped convict who is injured in a robbery and nursed back to health by an innocent young woman. Cathy O'Donnell, most famous as double amputee Harold Russell's girlfriend in The Best Years of Our Lives (thanks again, Sam Goldwyn) plays the woman and the director was crazy man, Nick Ray, one of Granger's favorite directors. Granger was more handsome than ever, sexy as a bad boy, and the fame looked assured.

Hitchcock saw his performance in They Live by Night and thought he would be perfect for one of the lead roles in his upcoming Rope (1948).  Granger met the screenwriter, Arthur Laurents.  Over the years Laurents would write screenplays for Anastasia (1956), my adored Bonjour Tristesse (1958), West Side Story (1961), Gypsy (1962), The Way We Were (1973) and The Turning Point (1977). Actor and writer began living together and formed a romantic relationship. The pair, while not free of straying, was never much a part of the Tinseltown gay scene. They were dedicated homebodies and much of their relationship was happy, although Laurents, seven years older, was often a little too paternal for Granger's tastes.  

The two gay stars of Hitchcock's Rope

Rope, while top-lined by Jimmy Stewart, concerned two gay roommates, Granger and John Dall, who perform a thrill killing and then brazenly dare to be caught. Gay, of course, was never once mentioned but one would have to have been lobotomized to not get it.  And the fun part was that both actors were actually gay. Granger said he and Dall never had an affair and never discussed their own gayness although they discussed it as part of the screenplay. The subject was never brought up by Hitchcock either. The film was not a success at the time but has gained more of a following in later years. 

Goldwyn took a liking to someone he marked for stardom... Joan Evans.  She made only a handful of films (three with Granger) and she was not a very good actress.  I'm not sure if she went to acting school but she must have been valedictorian at the School of Pouting. If I had a dime for every time she laughed in a movie, I'd have sixty cents now.  Their first outing was 1949s Roseanna McCoy, a romanticized version of the infamous southern mountain country feud between two hateful families.

Evans was reduced to playing Ann Blyth's middle sister (Natalie Wood was the youngest of the trio) in a sometimes-corny drama about a young girl discovering at 18 that she was adopted in Our Very Own (1950).  For some reason I still fail to understand, I kind of liked it.  Granger was underused as Blyth's boyfriend.  Both Evans and Dana Andrews joined Granger in Edge of Doom (1950) a not half bad film noir about a young man who kills a priest.

With good friend Shelley Winters

After his relationship with Laurents ended, Granger says he enjoyed a one-night stand Ava Gardner, certainly a predatory female, but it's hard to believe it meant much to either one of them. Another predatory female in the form of Shelley Winters came into his life.  In both of their autobiographies they claim their relationship was an important one... whether it was a sexual one depends on where one wants to go with this.  Winters slept with many of men who crossed her path and if she and Granger slept together, it was likely little more than a lark.  It is indisputable they were good friends, although they argued fiercely and often (mainly about acting).

More sensible is that his new relationship with composer Leonard Bernstein occupied most of Granger's attention.  While they met in Hollywood, New Yorker Bernstein hated it there and is likely to be behind Granger's eventual move to New York.

Certainly the best film Farley Granger ever made and another of his personal favorites was Strangers on a Train (1951), again directed by Hitchcock.  Clearly, however, the best part went to Robert Walker who played the psychotic Bruno as a closeted gay man. The plot, clever as they come, involves two strangers who agree to swap murders... each will kill someone in the other's life and hopefully getting away with them because there's no connection.

Working it out with Robert Walker

This would have been Granger's best chance to move up in the Hollywood echelon but like his pal, Bernstein, he was getting fed up with Hollywood in general and Goldwyn in particular. Goldwyn could be vengeful and to be fair here, Granger could be contrary. They argued about everything... roles, who Granger was seen with (still), salary, loanouts and the fact that each thought the other didn't use the brains he was born with.  

How unfortunate that Granger elected to followup his greatest film with the moronic comedy, Behave Yourself (1951), a vanity project with his pal Winters about a young married couple, a dog and crooks.  That same year came I Want You, a decent drama about a family at the onset of the Korean War.  Granger was paired with the lovely Peggy Dow in her final film and with Dana Andrews in the lead and Dorothy McGuire in one of her best performances.  It charmed me but it didn't do much business.

He was not keen on doing Goldwyn's Hans Christian Andersen (1952) because he hated Danny Kaye (I fully understand).  He was a prima donna, a married bisexual who was the apple of Goldwyn's eye.  Obviously in any Granger-Kaye dispute, Granger was going to lose with Goldwyn.  Granger was tired of the hassles and this was the last straw.  He asked to buy out his contract and Goldwyn was only too happy to comply.

He was so handsome in those episodic films, O Henry's Full House (1952, with Jeanne Crain) and The Story of Three Loves (1953, with Leslie Caron) and then played the spoiled, rich boyfriend of Jane Powell in one of her worst films, Small Town Girl (1953). Luckily he already had them in the can when he left Goldwyn because the cranky old producer put the curse on him in Hollywood.

I'm not out to defend Goldwyn, who like most studio heads was a bit of a jerk, but Granger had his issues, too.  While there was a sweetness about him, he had a hair trigger perhaps brought about because he was usually in defense mode.  Over what?  Gay? Not getting work?  Playing the Hollywood game?  Sensing Hollywood was whispering about him?  He turned down a lot of roles and developed a petulant attitude about some of the ones he did accept.

He could find no work and what did many actors do in those days when the parts dried up?  They went to Italy.  Most did it for the money only.  Most of the films were never released in the States and I would seriously question whether they did all that well in Italy either, although maybe there was a fascination with American stars in those days.  Granger made the film, Senso (1954) for the acclaimed director, Luchino Visconti. The story of a neurotic woman who casts all aside for the love of an Austrian lieutenant made some noise in the States and captured the Italians' attention mainly due to leading lady Alida Valli.  He felt he grew up in Italy and that Visconti turned him into a better actor.  He was desperate to do better work.

He was supposed to stay in Italy to film Mambo with his pal Winters, her husband, Vittorio Gassman, and Silvana Mangano. But it didn't work out and Michael Rennie assumed the role.

Returning home he managed two more films. The Naked Street (1954) was a nasty noir where Anthony Quinn is out to get Granger because he got Quinn's sister, Anne Bancroft, pregnant.  The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955) attracted some attention.  A romanticized version of a real-life, turn-of-the-century incident where an architect (Ray Milland) is murdered by a playboy (Granger) because of their involvement with a showgirl (Joan Collins).  I thought it was gaudy and fun.

Granger moved to New York and became immersed in the Broadway scene, doing many plays and working with some of the greats... Helen Hayes, Julie Harris and Claire Bloom among them. He says he and another costar, Janice Rule, fell in love and planned to be married but not only did nothing become of it but she upped and married Ben Gazzara.  

Granger, did, however, enter into a relationship with television producer-director Robert Calhoun in 1963 and it lasted until Calhoun's death in 2008.  In addition to his Broadway roles, he began doing a great deal of television as most did when the movie producers stopped calling.  He would return to films in the 1970s, both in the States and Italy, and all were dreadful.

He and Calhoun had been collaborating on Granger's autobiography and it was published by St. Martin's Press in 2007.  I must say it is one of the most engaging autobiographies I have read. Titled Include Me Out, it was one of Sam Goldwyn's most famous malapropisms.

He died in 2011 in New York City of natural causes.  He was 85.

I must say I always enjoyed pretty boy Farley Granger.  A few of his films were real treats.

Next posting:
A good 40s films


  1. When I was about 14/15 I saw Our Very Own and I fell for Farley swimming trunks in the beach scene.I found them extremely sexy.I was not totally innocent then and I 've always been exited by ...what's inside.
    Thinking back I think I saw almost all of F. movies. My favorite ones are The Rope, I Want You and Senso.
    I wonder how did F. stumbled in Visconti or Visconti stambled in F.but I'm sure they must have a lot of fun together. Mentioning Visconti I cannot forget that he gave a great popularity to Massimo Girotti who plays the role of Garfield in Ossessione the Italian version of The Postman 1942. Girotti was an extremely handsome guy, with a beautiful face and two fabulous thighs.
    I know that when in Italy Farley did horrible movies but I didn't see one of them. I've been told that He lived in an ancient apartment in an ancient beautiful street of old Roma.Unfortunatly I never happened to see him even though I had close friends in the same area. I am glad I could finish this comment with no shakes. A presto

  2. Farley's biography is a great read, as is Arthur Laurents - his partner for a while. Other popular hunks of the time who slipped under the radar were Kerwin Mathews, who lived with a male partner for most of his career, and those close friends, despite their marriages, Guy Madison and Rory Calhoun, as per my own posts on them.