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« Thought Police Strike Again | Main | More Male Fashions »

September 22, 2006


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

So Kate and Spencer were both bi ... ? (Link thanks to Anne Thompson.)



posted by Michael at September 22, 2006


Big Yawn. Exhaustive research, my ass. Tracy was gay, according to Mann's source, one "Scotty," who sounds like a fictitious character. I wonder how how much time he spent interviewing Cukor's surviving associates, desperately trying to find some old hustler whop would provide him with some shred he could use as a jumping off point.

If Tracy and Hepburn didn't share a sexual interest, why did they spend so much time together, I wonder?

William Mann is gay, has written biographies of gay actor William Haines and director John Schlesinger and some gay-themed fiction.

He's one of those Hollywood biographers who thinks everyone in Hollywood is or was gay or lesbian. It suits his wish fulfillmnt fantasies and those of his readers.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on September 22, 2006 9:42 PM

This story is also in the most recent Vanity Fair. The best outcome of bothering with it might be to break up this idea that everyone has to be either AC or DC and the more of either the better. In fact, these are cultural assumptions that probably do more to promote the sale of viagra than to help people understand emotional and intimate complexities. There are many dimensions to sexuality, including null, or displaced, or in transit, or unique, or transformative, etc. etc. This one-or-the-other idea, with gasps when people step out of their category, encourages people to spend too much time obsessing over which one they are and whether they should go into the military or whether they should wear a pink shirt, etc.

Incidentally, Michael, in the same issue there's an interesting architecture story you might like. Another rant about glass skins.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on September 22, 2006 11:27 PM

Man, that Hepburn sure could overact! I saw "Suddenly Last Summer" awhile back, and wow!

Hepburn was playing an extremely histrionic character, but she succeeded in overdoing it anyway, in my humble opinion.

Also -- the Fifties were as obsessed with Teh Gay as we are today. But is was all in psychiatric- /medical- / social-problem mode. The whole country had its eye out for queers and latent queers.

Posted by: John Emerson on September 23, 2006 9:14 AM

Peter -- Is the guy not to be trusted? I looked at that Haines bio, and it seemed fairly interesting and trustworthy, but that was years ago, and as you point out Haines was definitely gay ...

P. Mary -- People do live and grow through such a wide range of things, don't they? Funny how we seem to like being scandalized by that fact, although the gossip-and-info end of it doesn't bug me. I like finding out about other people's sex lives. Would you have guessed (assuming there's anything to it) about Spencer Tracy? My own gaydar fails me there. I always thought there was something a little odd about his masculinity. It seemed so overdone, so theatrically thrown-away ... I guess I attributed it to the booze.

John -- You spent a little time back in Tennessee Williamsville! Hard to know where the legit stuff stops and the excess and hysteria begin, isn't it? I used to love some of the brooding, tormented ambiguity of so much of that era's serious work. But that was a while ago. OK, a loooooooooong time ago. How'd it strike you to revisit?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 23, 2006 10:23 AM

Human relationships are so complex. Many friendships are based on stuff like enjoying the same sports or foods or places or books, or having shared some intense experience. Some friendships stretch out to include sex and others don't-- probably most don't. But intimate relationships might or might not include friendships -- might be a compartmented and stylized part of life that has nothing to do with ever being seen together or be so totally unequal that there's just nothing to talk about.

Hollywood (and I do have friends in the biz) is so obsessive and sometimes so confused with constructed worlds that relationships can change within one evening's cocktail party. To have someone dependably there, whether a friend, an agent, or the kitchen help, becomes pretty important.

As for "Suddenly Last Summer," Kate had no business even being in that movie and the movie was not a particularly good interpretation of the play. That said, modern movie-goers tend to want everything to be underplayed and realistic. They miss the pleasure of melodrama and outrageousness that is a kind of stage style. Williams doesn't always translate to the silver screen.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on September 23, 2006 10:48 AM

When I saw that movie it was like I had been transported to a weird, sick foreign country, even though that's more or less where I grew up (historically speaking, not geographically).

On top of everything else, the movie has a Hollywood happy ending -- Elizabeth Taylor marries the brain surgeon instead of being lobotomized by him. Was that in the play?

Posted by: John Emerson on September 23, 2006 12:24 PM

In the play Dr. Sugar does NOT marry the female protagonist. This play is a kind of horribilization of Tennessee William's sister's lobotomy. Too bad he never got to sit down and talk to John F. Kennedy about JFK's sister's lobotomy. In those days surgery of various sorts seemed to be a solution for a lot of troublesome women. People who demonize feminists forget just how bad it could get for women.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on September 23, 2006 3:24 PM

Both my ex-wife and I have stories like that in our family, aunts and great-aunts who no one ever talks about.

God, what a crappy way to totally screw up a play. Gore Vidal did it! But I imagine he had pressure on him.

Posted by: John Emerson on September 23, 2006 3:46 PM

"Some friendships stretch out to include sex and others don't -- probably most don't."

Men (heterosexual division) are never friends with women just for the friendship. They're in it for the payoff and they'll hang in there through endless nonsense as long as there is (in their minds) a chance, be it ever so slight. When it becomes clear there is no chance -- friendship over.
Women may sincerely believe that a platonic relationship with a man is possible. It ain't.

Posted by: ricpic on September 23, 2006 6:05 PM

The evidence in my life is against ricpic. I probably have more male friends than female friends and I don't go to bed with either gender. I'd suggest ricpic's generalization was only relevant to young men, but some of my best friends go back to undergrad days and now I'm retired. They've been there all along. Their families are like relatives.

Some of my newest friends are old men in this little village -- dependable sources of information and support. One of my oldest friends here was once my student decades ago. There's probably a five to ten year gap between us but he knew my former husband and I very well in the Sixties. My best writing colleague is an Indian man just a touch younger than I am, happily married for many years.

Are you sure you're doing this right, ricpic? Maybe it's a city thing.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on September 23, 2006 8:33 PM

- ricpic – I understand what you mean when you say that “Men (heterosexual division) are never friends with women just for the friendship.” But there are numerous exceptions to this. I think, for example, that men who grew up with a lot of sisters or aunts (whether or not they had many brothers) find it very easy to have non-sexual friendships with women. Also, paradoxically, I know some charismatic men who have numerous affairs who also have a number of non-sexual, often very protective, women friends. On the other hand, a lot of men who don’t have any women friends simply don’t know what to do with a woman if they are not having sex with her.

Michael – I’m with Peter Winkler and Mary Scriver on this one. It annoys me that the writer seems to have a burning need to reduce a complex relationship into two gays using each other as beards while they pursued lovers. It doesn’t wash.

I am constantly amazed that after years of so-called sexual liberation and openness, some people (especially Americans) insist on simplistic formulas of human behavior, especially when it comes to sex. By itself, that Tracy and Hepburn may have been gay or bi is about as meaningful as saying that they were right- or left-handed, and is a lot less interesting to me than learning more about the nature of their friendship, and love affairs.

For example, some biographies of Greta Garbo note her relationships with men and women, but she seems not to have had much of a sexual appetite at all, and her need to be alone (or worshipped from afar even by her friends and acolytes) was more important than being someone’s lover. To reduce her to gay or bi is to be ignorant of her life.

The London Bloomsbury Group had notoriously complex sexual relationships. The 1995 movie “Carrington,” with Jonathan Pryce and Emma Thompson, admirably details the relationship and friendship between the homosexual Lytton Strachey and the omnisexual Dora Carrington, a friendship so intense that she shot herself two month’s after Strachey died of cancer.

I admit that I am as interested in famous people’s sex life as anybody else; but I prefer that the salacious have a little context. A mere shopping list of lovers, male or female, that tells us nothing significant about the quality or the nature of those relationships is a waste of time. Worse, this kind of thing tends to overbalance our appreciation of Tracy’s and Hepburn’s work as film stars. A line from Louise Levene’s review of a recent biography of dancer Margot Fonteyn comes to mind. This biography also gets into details of Fonteyn’s sex life, leading readers and fans to all kinds of speculation about her possible lovers. But Levene notes: ‘And (yawn) did Fonteyn sleep with Nureyev? Reports vary. Daneman concludes that she almost certainly did but at the same time reminds us that “whatever took place behind closed doors . . . was as nothing compared to what happened on the stage in front of our eyes”.’

Let me throw in that speculation about a Nureyev/Fonteyn love affair is a lot less interesting than learning that when Fonteyn was dying of ovarian cancer, Nureyev anonymously paid her medical bills.

Posted by: Alec on September 24, 2006 4:12 PM

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