Read Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines, Hollywood's First Openly Gay Star by William J. Mann Online


In 1930 William Haines was Hollywood's number-one box-office draw--a talented, handsome, romantic lead. Offscreen, he was openly gay. This bestselling biography captures the rich gay subculture of Hollywood before the Production Code--before studio intimidation led to the establishment of the Hollywood closet. Alone among his contemporaries, Billy Haines (1900-1973) refuseIn 1930 William Haines was Hollywood's number-one box-office draw--a talented, handsome, romantic lead. Offscreen, he was openly gay. This bestselling biography captures the rich gay subculture of Hollywood before the Production Code--before studio intimidation led to the establishment of the Hollywood closet. Alone among his contemporaries, Billy Haines (1900-1973) refused to compromise and was ultimately booted out by Louis B. Mayer. Forced to give up acting, Haines went on to become a top interior designer to the stars and to clients such as Nancy Reagan. By his side through it all was his lover, Jimmie Shields; their fifty-year relationship led their best friend, Joan Crawford, to call them the "happiest married couple in Hollywood." Wisecracker is an astounding piece of newly discovered gay history, a chronicle of high Hollywood, and--at its heart--a great and enduring love story....

Title : Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines, Hollywood's First Openly Gay Star
Author :
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ISBN : 9780140275681
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 480 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines, Hollywood's First Openly Gay Star Reviews

  • Sketchbook
    2018-07-19 20:05

    Fleeing his Virginia home, young Billy Haines (1900-1973) arrived in NYC after WW1, ready and willing for anything. He was smart, irreverent, charming and cool about sex. His attitude was, Why not? Never mind who. What to do with his life ? A talent agent (so the story goes) cooed, "I like your face." His answer: "So do I." Pause. "I'm breaking it in for a friend."The story, true or not, sums up the Haines personality, of which there was plenty. The funny & likeable Billy casually met the unknown George Cukor, Jack Kelly (later costume designer Orry-Kelly) and the guy he lived with, an acrobat named Archie Leach (later Cary Grant). NYC in the early 20s : anything went and the fluidity of your sexuality was more of Why not? What to do kerplunked him in big, dumb, easy Movieland (it's even dumber today) where you could become a big, dumb, easy millionaire ohnight.Ew, Hollywood!A spotty squeeze w actress Barbara La Marr helped, but she became demanding, wanting thisa-thata. No, said Billy. After small roles, he found himself w the cross-eyed (lol) Norma Shearer : "The one woman who got ariseout of me and that's saying amouthful."He had a brief bash with Ramon Novarro. Movieland then was mostly het, unlike the gay agents, producers who dominate today and yet insist that gay talent stay closeted, or you won't get STAR roles. Billy, by mid-1920s, found himself a #1 star comedian and he didn't keep his gay preferences secret. In 1926 he started living openly w Jimmie Shields, a nice, sexy nobody-in-particular who "looked after the house." This relationship lasted until his death. ~ Cary Grant, by then, was living openly w Randolph Scott; Gary Cooper shared his bath w actor Anderson Lawler; Stanwyck kept to herself, though Claudette Colbert muffed around w Dietrich, and Garbo -- we know whyshe"vanted to be alone."Until the Depression hit home and the Production Code (a Roman Catholic fart) slammed LaLA, no one much cared what stars did off-screen. Suddenly, early 30s, everything changed. The most odious mogul of 'em all, Louis B Mayer, demanded that stars "get married." You had to Play the Game, as did Grant, Scott, Cooper, Claude and so on, even those who weren't under Metro contract. Mayer was a ruthless hypocrite, given to screwing starlets while praying on his knees. (Decades later you couldnt grow up in LA, without hearing, as did I, what LB did to Judy Garland - with her mum's blessing).He insisted that Billy Haines Get Married. You're like a son to me, he slobbered. "I am married," Haines dared to reply, referring to Jimmie Shields. LB wept. On the 3rd go-round, Billy began weeping too. LB wasnt amused. The ugly pharisee realized Billy was mocking him. Since Billy wouldn't Get Married -- and continued to flaunt his gay life -- Mayer ended his contract, c 1933. All movie doors were closed. (By contrast, others like Cary Grant/ Geo Cukor realized that, in Hollywood, "image IS reality" and were discreet. This is true today as publicists and the media burp baloney of Holly "romances" and marriages).Here's a love story (Haines-Shields) that defied Hollywood conventions. It also adds insightful sociology of the period. The author admits that he couldn't discuss the Haines-Shields M.O. as those they knew were all dead. We do know that Haines supported his family through the years. The couple also kept their love alive by seeing Other People -- which makes perfect sense (as all worldlies, het or hs, know).Haines started an interior decorating bizness, after his blackball, which became world famous. We now know that loyalist pal Joan Crawford had her home toilet seats changed after every divorce. That's important. ~That's Hollywood!

  • Charles
    2018-07-19 15:51

    Lovely, actually, at the end. What a brave man he was. In some ways, I suppose, he might be seen as superficial, but he was not defeated by the bigotry of Louis B. Mayer. Haines stood up to Mayer when the studio head told him to dump his lover, Jimmie Shields, if Haines expected to stay a star. Haines told Mayer to go to hell, left movies, and became one of the great interior decorators of the 20th century. Perhaps it isn't Rosa Parks, but this man always insisted on the right to sit wherever he damned pleased and with whomever he damned pleased. So much of their relationship is still a mystery, but I wept when I read how Shields just couldn't go on without Haines. Jimmie killed himself a couple of months after his mate died. The loneliness was just too much. No mention of their 40 years together was mentioned in Haines's obituary and Jimmie didn't even have one. But their urns stand together at Woodlawn Mausoleum in Santa Monica, the way it should be.

  • Loederkoningin
    2018-07-24 19:55

    I recently read an article on Haines life that moved me. Can't wait to read a full biography on him.

    2018-07-22 14:42

    I thought this was a brilliantly researched book on a little known star of the early cinema. I knew nothing about the man before I read it but was a lot wiser after reading this. I get the impression that the book is more a labour of love rather than a shot at writing a Hollywood book judging by the amount of detail in it. He must have trawled through thousands of Hollywood magazines to get the stories about Haines which are so frequently quoted in the book. If the readers were so inclined they could look up the magazine and newspaper articles themselves following the references at the end of the book. From reading the book I have a much broader knowledge of the whole early Hollywood scene covering the move from the silents to the talkies which I knew next to nothing about before and it was very entertainingly presented. I was wondering how the author could fill so many pages but a lot of the writing is placing Haines in his situation - be it in the cinema, interior design world, the political climate at the time etc so after reading this you really ought to be a lot more informed on the late `20s to early `30s in Hollywood with a good glimpse into a long lost world.

  • Tyler
    2018-07-26 14:52

    Billy Haines is one of my new heroes. He was such a fascinating and complicated person who lived as an openly gay actor in the early days of Hollywood, was fired by Louis B. Mayer for refusing to get married to a woman ("I'm already married [to a man]," he said), and later counted the Reagans as friends. William Mann does a great job of capturing all the eras Billy lived through, and the lasting effect he had on the worlds of film and interior design. Before reading this book, I was only vaguely aware that there was this early film star who got fired for being gay and then became an interior designer. Now, thanks to William Mann's biography, I find myself noticing pictures and mentions of Billy all over the place. Turns out, he's an incredibly famous and influential character who (until now) went completely unnoticed by me and many others.

  • Graceann
    2018-08-02 19:54

    William Haines was a fun and interesting actor who is unfairly forgotten today - he played the "Wisecracker" who always got his comeuppance by the final reel. Devastatingly handsome and incredibly witty, he was popular on and off the screen. He was, however, openly gay (Joan Crawford referred to he and his partner, Jimmie Shields, as the "happiest marriage in Hollywood") and refused to toe the company line by marrying for appearances' sake. Gone from the screen in 1934, he became one of the 20th century's most sought-after interior decorators, and his pieces are still prized. William J. Mann covers all of this and more, in an engaging, compulsively readable style.

  • Brad Vance
    2018-08-01 16:47

    "Hollywood's first openly gay star"...and the last one for another, what, eighty years? Ninety? Anybody bid a hundred? The key here is "openly gay STAR." Haines was the one of the biggest box office attractions in the country for a couple years in the late 1920s/early 30s, and none of today's stars could say the same. Maybe Jim Parsons or Neil Patrick Harris could lay claim to the title, since their openness ran parallel to their monstrously popular TV series. But on the big screen?Why Haines, why then? Well, for a few reasons. One, Haines himself was a rebel, running away at 14 to found what was probably a brothel in a wild company town, then to New York, where he found freedom in Greenwich Village. He simply didn't have the temperament to please other people by denying his own identity.Reason #2 was the era - the 1920s look more like today than any era in between now and then. "Polymorphous perversity," at least in the refuges of Greenwich Village and Hollywood, was the order of the day. Everybody fucked everybody - "gay" and "straight" identities weren't socially and politically defined roles yet. I was surprised (and jealous) to learn that Gary Cooper had male lovers, and that even Clark Gable had at least one gay encounter, with Haines himself (and Gable was the ultimate "gay panic" case, flying into a rage whenever anyone mentioned the incident). Haines' downfall came when the Depression finally impacted the motion picture industry - when the frothy comedies and devil-may-care characters he played lost their appeal to the audience...but more so because one of the social reactions to the Depression was an increased social conservatism, and an increasingly powerful crusade against "smut" and "decadence" led by the Catholic League of Decency. The word went out from the studios that the party was over - stars were to marry, settle down, with a member of the opposite sex, regardless of their proclivities (well, if you were a straight horn dog, you could get away with that, but the gays were under orders to retreat to the closet). But Haines was already in a long term relationship with another man, and had no intention of hiding who he was, or pretending to be someone he wasn't. He mastered the media, using humor and being a "wisecracker" (also a code word for someone gay) to deflect those probing questions about his private life. He never lied, never told the truth - but evaded both with panache and clever repartee. Some of today's closeted stars could learn a lot from him.Speaking of which, I had to laugh at one of the parallels between Haines' career and that of our Most Famous Stars Today. His baseball movie Slide Kelly Slide "firmly established the Haines formula: Conceited jerk thinks he can wisecrack to his heart's content and that he knows all the answers. Then enters true love." COUGH EVERY TOM CRUISE MOVIE COUGH.

  • Jerry
    2018-07-18 16:05

    I am an interior designer and a gay man so this book appealed to me on both levels.I had previously known about William (Billy) Haines before. Our professional lives barely overlapped and I would have loved to have met him. What caused me to want to read this biography was his love story with Jimmie Sheilds during a time that being gay was something to be hid. As if it's all peaches and cream now in the age of Trump.I have vaguely known Billy was a silent movie star, but that era did not hold a lot of interest for me. However this biography was amazing in its detail and descriptions of those times. He also went into great detail about his teenage years which was also fascinating. Billy was at the right place at the right time and had the right friends to launch himself into a fantastic design career. As is still true today, stars want publicity and decorating a star's home brings publicity to the designer. Billy's personality reminds me of one of my mentors, Val Arnold. He was also a decorator to the stars and used that for his own publicity. I believe they knew each other but were not friends.I first became aware of Mr. Haines with the publication of Winfield House, the official residence of the US ambassador to Great Brittian. The house was an amazing compilation of antiques, chinoiserie and modern sensibilities it took my breath away. I recently was able to tour Sunnylands in Palm Springs which remains in perfect condition as Billy originally designed it. An amazing tour de force of architect/interior designer/landscape architect under the patronage of the Annenbergs.The seem to be hundreds of stars homes that Mr. Haines designed. I have tried to find photos of some including George Cukors stunning house as well as Billy and Jimmie's house.The author explains the relationship Billy and Jimmie had in as much detail as he could find from sources other than the subjects as they kept their personal lives quite private. As public as they were a couple, their home life was kept close to the vest. I wish to have known more so I could have learned from them.One of the fascinating things I learned from this book was that the 1920's were a lassiez-faire period for gay people. There was an amazing amount of bi-sexuality amongst the entire Hollywood Colony of this period. An extensive amount of research has been done by the author on this. This was a formative time for Billy and crystallized for him how he would live his life with Jimmie at his side...unapologetic that they were a couple...even in the face of Louie B Mayer demanding that he marry a woman to keep his acting career. Such courage.The one fault for me in the book was the repetition of the same facts in discussing all the different stars and their relationships. I now plan to buy the photography book on Willian Haines decorating.

  • Rj
    2018-08-06 13:59

    Mann's book looks at the career of William Haines an openly gay actor who lived in Hollywood during the 1920 and 1930s. As the political climate changed in the 1930s and became more intolerant Mayer at MGM who was known for his homophobia refused to renew Haines' contract because Haines lived openly with his partner, Jimmy. Because he couldn't work on screen, Haines became Hollywood's interior designer of choice decorating the homes of Hollywood's elite. It is an important book, that while gossipy in tone details the story about queer lives before and after the Productions Codes."He shared de Wolfe’s vision about how a house should function: “a synthesis of comfort, practicality, and tradition.” 256

  • Gregg
    2018-07-26 21:08

    As a fan of both the stories of old Hollywood and the stories of people who live life against the grain, I was attracted to this biography. Mann gives us a detailed account of a man brave enough to risk his career to live life by his own terms. Lots of other Hollywood personalities appear throughout the narrative, but the focus remains on Haines, a man I knew almost nothing about prior to reading the book. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Hollywood biographies and/or LGBT history.

  • Paul
    2018-07-23 16:54

    Very interesting story, delightfully researched, with insight into a time in Hollywood that was not quite what I thought it was. I like the way William J. Mann writes - maybe I'll look at a few more of his books.

  • Ray
    2018-07-26 16:56

    Ah, what a great addition to my growing old Hollywood collection. Billy Haines was an early MGM star, mostly in silent pictures, but who also transitioned to talkies. His contract at MGM was allowed to expire because, as the author of the bio puts it, he refused to "play the game." Haines met his lover, Jimmy Shields in 1926 and they were together until Haines died in 1973 (Jimmy took his own life shortly just three months later in response). For as much as such a thing as a gay identity existed in the 30's, Haines lived his life as an out man and his refusal to marry or date women put an end to his film career.This was ultimately fortuitous as he became a very successful decorator and was a pioneer of Modernist design.Haines forged a close friendship with Joan Crawford (when she was still called Lucille LeSeur) when she first arrived in Hollywood. Their friendship was long-lasting and very close. It was this friendship that initially attracted me to this biography and I am glad it did as it really broadened my perspective on old Hollywood and the studio system.

  • Cyndi
    2018-08-15 18:47

    I didn't think I would like this book as much as I did. I found it to be well-written and informative. I did not skim through anything which is a good thing! Not only did this book talk about the life of William Haines but it also discussed his relationship with his life partner, Jimmie Shields as well as how Hollywood perceived gay actors and actresses in the 1930's, 1940's and 1950's. Billy Haines was blessed to have 2 lucrative careers -- both as a film actor and also as an interior designer -- and he was loved by most everyone he met. He and Jimmie met in 1926 and died just a few months of each other which is true love if you ask me. I don't know why America puts so much emphasis on same-sex marriage. Love is love. I have many gay friends who have been in their relationships much longer than any of my straight friends. Commitment seems to mean something to them. Or maybe they are just more accepting of their partners -- warts and all. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes to read about old Hollywood.

  • Susan Bell
    2018-08-08 21:00

    I will quote the author: "whatever else Billy's story is-and it is many things-it is a love story. Pure and simple."

  • Bridget
    2018-08-01 16:00

    I found this book when a friend on Goodreads put it on her to-read list. I borrowed it from the library, and though it is a long book, it was hard to put down.I had never heard of William Haines before reading this. He was a big star in the silent movie era, and to some lesser extent, during the early talking movies. And all of that is interesting, but what makes the book so readable and worthwhile is the way that the author researched not just Haines, but movie-making and surrounding society mores during the times he was working. I found the stories about the early days of Hollywood so interesting - how it started with the emphasis on making the movies, and getting the actors and actresses do be convincing in their roles, with no one making a big deal out of their personal lives. Yes, maybe homosexuals were closeted, but at the same time, when it was a known aspect of their lives, it didn't necessarily mean they couldn't get parts - it was just a well-known secret. As time went on, and society changed, wars occurred, and the Legion of Decency gained power (ugh), it was important to the studios to have their people appear to be normal and upstanding - i.e., married to someone of the opposite sex. William Haines was often the fly in the ointment, because he was unwilling to play the game.The book discusses the details of the studio system and how restrictive it could be. Names we are all familiar with - Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg, Joan Crawford (a true friend of William Haines his death), Clark Gable, Rudolph Valentino, Claudette Colbert - pop up in so many of the stories, and you learn things about them that are new to you (well, new to me at least). (One thing I learned was something that made me feel even less charitable towards Ted Turner - when he purchase MGM, he also purchased their archives, and closed them to research. What a jerk! (But I already thought that.))William Haines' life - professionally and personally - almost seems like a movie of its own. Once he was done as far as acting, he became one of the most well-known and popular interior decorators for both Hollywood types and other wealthy individuals and families. He was with the same partner for over 25 years, and they were devoted to one another. He managed to live the life he wanted to live, much of it at at time when that was "just not done."I do have to say, that there were times when someone would be mentioned as being homosexual or lesbian, and I would be shocked - not because I disapprove, just because I'd never given it much thought one way or the other. I would say to my husband, "Oh my God, I didn't know _____ was gay!," and nine times out of ten, he'd say, "Everyone knows that, Bridget." Apparently not.This was an interesting book, a fun book, and and in many ways, a sad book. It provided so many insights into our collective social history, and made me aware of someone who was truly famous for his time, and that I had never heard of before. It is a well-written and extremely well-researched book. If you like film and social history, I highly recommend it.This also fits into my Summer Book Bingo reading, for the square "Title where the protagonist has a different sexual orientation than your own."

  • Colleen
    2018-08-07 16:41

    I did not like this author's Tinseltown (Colleen Moore barely mentioned, everything seemed too convenient and veered into fiction I think instead of non-fiction), so approached this one with some trepidation. I've seen 4 of Haines movies and to confess he didn't make much of an impression on me, so definitely will need to watch more with him in a starring role. Though this book never really addressed which of his films were lost or saved, so something of an oversight I think. I found it interesting, since Barbara Stanwyck gets several mentions in this book as a closeted major star who played the game, how in many ways this is a far truer book of her life in Hollywood perhaps than the behemoth murder weapon sized book that came out a few years ago on her that skirted the question so obviously it is laughable in retrospect. And as a fan of Joan Crawford I was definitely aware of Billy Haines although I found it interesting when he listed the 3 women most important to his career--the wealthy unknown woman who kept him starting out, Eleanor Boardman, and Barbara LaMarr, saying of La Marr "She was the woman who meant most to me during my years in Hollywood"--no real mention of Crawford which is very interesting. No one knows the rift between La Marr and Haines (she was jealous that she was spurned?) and a book on La Marr is way overdue, but I was unaware of the connection between the two previously.Although it seemed that Billy Haines knew almost every major Hollywood star, in many cases intimately--Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Norma Shearer, Gary Cooper, Clara Bow etc. The story of his life beyond the 1920s hedonism though is fascinating--the factory owner's kid who ran away from small town Virginia to open his own brothel/dance hall in a boom town at 14 years old, and from there working as a clerk in NYC, to winning a modeling contest with Eleanor Boardman (as his other best friend, I don't really remember seeing any interviews or quotes from her--wasn't she extensively interviewed in the past?), to Hollywood stardom and for one year, the #1 male star in the world. As a movie star, he never bothered to play the game or hide his boyfriend, Jimmy Shields, from view and when given the ultimatum from Mayer, he didn't hesitate. The author at the end states at the start he thought it would just be another fallen star story and realized it was a love story. And he's right--"the happiest marriage in Hollywood"--that lasted for almost half a century, with Shields killing himself soon after Haines death from cancer. Try not to tear up at the suicide note. But even retired from screen, and it seems made a far wiser choice than those who kowtowed to edicts, and followed his other interest--interior design, eventually proving himself the top of that field as well, befriending most of the major CEO (Bloomingdale) and politicians (Reagan).So much of the major incidents and breakups of Haines life are shrouded in mystery. The fight with La Marr. Why he and George Cukor had a long falling out. What happened at that Cole Porter luncheon? I forgot about how Haines was attacked by a mob of KKK at his beach house and the author actually tracks down the center of the controversy. Jimmie Shields had dyed his poodle's fur purple for Easter and the little kid next door came by to see the dog, and Jimmie gave him a nickel for a hotdog--the kid goes home, tells parents the gay guy next door gave him a nickel, mob forms, major drama, end of a Hollywood career. The little kid, now an elderly mayor, says yes it happened like that, but before giving him a nickel, Shields took him inside and performed a sex act on him. The surviving Shields friends all say that he would never have taken advantage of a 6 year old boy and Haines would not have covered that up (Haines wasn't even there the day in question but possible George Cukor was). The man though said he was never hurt by it, and is not currently upset with what happened and that his parents didn't really see the big deal about it either and didn't want the attention and the mob that sprung up had nothing to do with them. Mann then segues into repressed memories and recollection that makes it seem that he doesn't 100% buy the man's testimony about that day. I am not sure what to think either, since there's been constant revelations on what famous or revered people are really like, but it does seem out of character. The book doesn't dwell on this overlong like many other authors would--so points to Mann for moving the history along instead of overly sensationalizing this. It's interesting the circles that Hollywood in the "Golden Years" traveled in--and you start to notice it when you look through casual or out on the town photos. You had the Irene Dunne/Roz Russell/Loretta Young/Jeanette McDonald Religious Brigade for example, and Haines as one of the chief entertainers and almost professional best friend of Joan Crawford’s you can always expect to see sitting beaming at certain tables. Claudette Colbert (which was kind of surprising--this book made me like her more, she generally comes off as cold and argumentative, and I don't see Billy putting up with that), the Talmadges (another family desperate for a big book on), Marion Davies and Hearst, and the friendship between them and Billy was actually pretty sweet--you can almost see a movie on that subject alone. Besides being a love story, it's also a paean to friendship--the 45 year relationship between Joan Crawford and Billy Haines, him helping her out when she arrived, and a proud builder of the Crawford persona I think (just doing the interiors of her famous houses and the many comments of him there monthly switching something around or changing toilet seats--side note: why are toilet seats mentioned so frequently in Crawford biographies?) and her hiring him to do her house after his unceremonious departure from MGM to taking him to all parties and premieres to avoid a total blacklist. Until his death, which left her devastated, and then Shields death, which bothered her as much, knowing him just as long--and feeling guilty since she promised Billy to take Jimmie under her wing, but the suicide happened before she could get to California. They talked for hours at least 3 times a week, and knowing Crawford, he probably got twice daily letters and telegrams. And she was always the kid he knew when she first rolled into Hollywood, Lucille LeSeuer, aka Cranberry. A surprisingly uplifting and cute book, which wasn't what I was expecting at all.

  • Michael
    2018-08-16 17:57

    I thought this was a great book: I learned a lot about sexuality in Hollywood in the 1920's and how it all changed in the 1930's with the Hays Code. I had no idea that so many movie stars were either gay or bisexual: Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Clifton Webb, Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich, Talulah Bankhead, Greta Garbo, Barbara Stanwyck, etc. Mr. Haines was incredibly brave to be openly gay during that period; it probably ended his film career. The book is a pleasant read, well-researched and fascinating. Bravo Mr. Mann!

  • Benjamin
    2018-07-20 15:59

    William Haines was a huge Hollywood star in the late 1920s and early 1930s, but his film career came to an abrupt end when his openly living with his same-sex partner became unacceptable for 1930s moralists. Haines, however, never went back on his commitment to his partner, and they stayed together until Haines' death in 1974. His second, more successful career, was as the foremost interior decorator for the rich and famous of LA. Another fascinating movie biography by William J Mann.

  • John
    2018-07-23 20:57

    Very good biography of William Haines!

  • Diane
    2018-08-02 13:42

    More than any other star William Haines epitomized the "anything goes" attitude of the 1920s. This is just a splendidly written book by William T. Mann which could equally have had the title"The Devastating Boy". Billy was aware of his sexuality from his early teens and ran away from home at 14 with his boyfriend toindustrial town Hopewell where as a young entrepreneur he starteda dance hall (a code name for brothel). After the town burneddown Haines, who for some reason couldn't go home (the author gives his reasonable thoughts on this) goes to New York where heis there at the start of the Greenwich Village trend. Yes, he seemed a bit of a hustler but no-one disliked him due to his wit and wisecracks. Once he got to Hollywood - care of a New Faces contest where the female winner was Eleanor Boardman, no-one beat a path to his door, unlike Boardman who was instantly picked as an up and comer - he was too carefree and trying to live the movie star life style. By 1925 he got serious - especially when his new found friend Joan Crawford's, who arrived in Hollywood early that same year, career took off in leaps and bounds.Then he met Jimmy while in New York and, as Joan Crawford said, theirs was the happiest marriage in Hollywood. After the roaringtwenties came the depressed and repressed thirties and the free andeasy life style that Billy and his crowd had enjoyed came to an end. Suddenly fan magazines were not so protective of star's alternative lifestyles and actors found if they wanted careerlongevity they had to appear "just plain folk" - and that wasn'tBilly's way. One thing I found interesting was how unprepared MGMwas for the talkie revolution. I knew Garbo was making silent like"The Kiss" in 1929 but Haines who starred in MGM's first talkie"Alias Jimmy Valentine"(1928) and had a perfect talkie voice,didn't get to star in another until "Navy Blues" in December, 1929.By the mid 1930s Haines was in demand as an interior designer (hehated the word decorator) to the stars but in 1936 there was an unsavoury scandal - not involving Billy but his long time partnerJimmy Shields and suddenly friends (like Carole Lombard - who wasprobably influenced by homophobic Clark Gable) gave him the coldshoulder. Not "Cranberry" Crawford - she was his friend and supporter until the end. He and his business recovered and by thelate 1960s he and his business partner were in England redesigningWinfield House.The last part of the book I found very moving - Billy Haines, thekid who ran away at 14 had definitely triumphed!! By being true tohimself and living life honestly and on his own terms. Someoneasked did Haines ever "come out" but as far as this book is concernedhe was never "in" - he never disguised his true self or lived a lie.The book shows that stars who did repress their true sexuality (andI was really surprised at the names named) who married to please thestudio, lived lonely, sometimes bitter lives, usually resorting toalcohol.Very Recommended.

  • Bryan Cebulski
    2018-07-16 15:09

    I love Hollywood history (especially pre-code) and I love queer history, so this was a great read for me. William Haines was an asshole and much harder to like for me as a reader than I think Mann assumed, but this book effectively highlights how many gay white men (especially gay white male celebrities) in the first half of the twentieth century presented themselves and saw the world. Which is to say, surprisingly limited. Yet the bravery demonstrated in Haines' story definitely comes through, and he stands as a conflicting but nevertheless important figure in American queer history.One pattern that seriously bothered me about Mann's bias though: He always wants for us to give his subjects the benefit of the doubt. Two instances in particular: He emphasizes how Haines' family kept on the same group of black people as "the help" at their home, and this is supposed to suggest that it's somehow noble or shows character in the family. Even more troubling is the treatment of accusations of Haines' partner Jimmy sexual assaulting a 6-year-old boy, which are quickly and almost playfully dismissed. Not to say that Mann's evidence against the accusations aren't fairly convincing, but suffice it to say that the sensitive material isn't handled gracefully.

  • Jeffrey Covey
    2018-07-29 15:04

    An encouraging bit of Pride Month reading of the "Nice to know we've always been here" variety. "Openly gay" in the context of the 1920s held a different meaning than today, not an affirmation, but a refusal to lie, evading direct questions with clever evasions (making Haines the "Wisecracker" of the title). That's bad for the author, leaving him with a lack of primary sources and the need to offer what evidence he can gather to support educated guesses or outright speculation about many important events. Still, he was able to speak with many who where there, and to build a portrait of the vibrant gay social scene in the Hollywood of the 1920s (almost rivaling the one in Berlin in the same period) and how it changed in the face of the more reactionary 1930s.There's a lot of name dropping and Hollywood gossip to titillate, but at its heart, it's a portrait of a good, honest, and much-loved man who lived a life of integrity for more than 50 years before Stonewall and whose 47-year relationship with his partner put all his straight friends and Beverly Hills neighbors to shame. Not essential, but well worth the time. I'm putting the author's more general survey of Gay Hollywood on my reading list.

  • Susannah
    2018-08-16 22:11

    Updated 11/26/14: Finished this audiobook yesterday in a marathon session (while housecleaning), and I'm glad to be done with it. This book had tremendous potential, but William Haines as a subject just did not hold up for a 400+ page book. Too many unknowns, too much uncertainty, way too many assumptions.------I'm giving up on this one for a while. The entire production of this (audio)book is mediocre at best. While I am very interested in early Hollywood, so little is actually known about William Haines that the book's author is forced to make assumptions continually. I don't think I've ever seen (heard) the words/phrases "perhaps," "one can assume," "it would seem that," and all variations used this much in a work of nonfiction. Further, the narrator of the audiobook struggles with name pronunciations (e.g., King Vidor's name is pronounced both "Vee-door" [correct] and "Vee-der"), which I found to be off-putting. I would like to finish listening to it eventually, but I need a break.

  • Sara
    2018-08-16 15:07

    I found this book very interesting and quite eye opening. If the author is to be believed (and he appears to have done a fair amount of research to back his claims), homosexuality was common and well known in Hollywood. There were many marriages of convenience and some of the stars who are said to have had affairs and in some cases, long-term relationships with same-sex partners, is astonishing. Interesting also, that the 20s was a decade of sexual revolution to rival that of the 60s. I never heard of William Haines before - he was big during the silent era of moving pictures and successfully made the transition to talkies, but it was his relationship with the man with whom he spent his life, living openly as a committed couple that brought about the end of his movie career. The politics during the studio days is interesting to read about, but must have been a horror to live through for many actors of the day.This is a great story of a strong, determined, talented and intelligent man who wasn't afraid to live the life he chose and love the man he loved.

  • Dave Whitaker
    2018-07-26 16:48

    This was an enjoyable read, but a bit "breezy" for me. At times, I was frustrated with the author because I felt he speculated too much on what Billy Haines was thinking or feeling. Mann would also touch on a deeper analysis, but would then back away from it or would rely on other sources to make the case. One problem is the studio system and the publicity department, which was already operating quite well by the time Billy Haines became a star. Hollywood, both then and now, excels at making lies into truth, making it very difficult for any biographer. However, there is much more detail when Haines became an interior designer, showing that it was really his life's passion. Sadly, the biographer spends less time on this aspect of his life compared to his early Hollywood days. Ultimately, I'd still recommend the book if someone wanted a quick, and often funny, read.

  • Michael Kerr
    2018-07-27 19:02

    It's not like history is crowded with positive gay figures, so when I heard about Billy Haines I was keen to read his biography. And while he is a great example, heroic even, in his unwillingness to retreat to the closet (like his contemporary, Clark Gable - juicy bits about other Hollywood figures are a big plus here), I just could not love the book. A lot of repetition and speculation about how Haines must have felt or thought. I'm still an admirer of Haines (and his 47 year relationship with his partner, Jimmie Shields), but the book itself didn't work well for me.

  • Hillery
    2018-08-04 13:41

    Very enjoyable book. Definitely a must-read for anyone interested in the intersection of gay history and the history of Hollywood. When the issue of closeted stars is constantly discussed today, it is important to read about this largely forgotten trailblazer who was out in the early 1930s and was named the number one male movie star in 1930.

  • Suvi
    2018-08-12 18:56

    I have no idea who he is but I think the title just commands me to find out more. If Joan Crawford referred him and his partner as the happiest marriage in Hollywood, there must be something worthwhile to read about.

  • Jenny
    2018-08-04 21:09

    I love a biography of a film star or director that makes me want to see examples of the subject's work. This one did in two areas - Haines' films (he was a great comic actor) and his interior design. It was well written and held my interest.

  • Emmaline
    2018-07-16 22:04

    A really interesting biography about a man I'd never heard of (but probably should have). Thoughtfully researched, lovingly written, and full of fascinating tidbits about early Hollywood that I can't seem to shut up about.