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    Hot Reads: LGBTQ in Hollywood

    By Jan Wahl–

    Winter is a great time to curl up with a good book. Sometimes it takes a little digging and research to find the perfect book, but it is so worth it! An author who is currently at the top of my list is Boze Hadleigh. His The Lavender Screen: The Gay and Lesbian Films traces the evolution of LBGTQ-themed films from the 1930s to the present. Hadleigh’s The Vinyl Closet:  Lesbians and Gays in the Music World focuses on present and past singers, dancers, musicians, composers, and their artistic contributions. From Broadway Babylon to Leading Ladies, Hadleigh has authored at least 22 books. Some include interviews, some consist of endless quotes, and there are many historic overviews. I appreciate that they are written by a gay man who has knowledge and sensitivity for the subject.

    I am currently on the hunt for Hollywood Lesbians by this author. It is a collection of ten interviews with Dorothy Arzner, Edith Head, Judith Anderson, Agnes Moorehead, Marjorie Main, Barbara Stanwyck, Nancy Kulp, Capucine, and Sandy Dennis. I’m sure the carefully couched questions find a clever way to bring about answers about the closeted culture and individuals. Particularly, I am always looking for information about Arzner, a person I hope someday gets on the Castro’s Rainbow Honor Walk. This out lesbian director was making amazing films early in Hollywood, and was a favorite of the industry at the time. She ended up teaching and people still hold on to her guidance and wisdom.

    Hollywood Gays is Hadleigh’s portrayals of widely known industry gay men. Liberace, Anthony Perkins, Randolph Scott, William Haines, and James Whale are a few of those included, and then there is the much-married Cary Grant. One of the best books ever written about early Hollywood, Wisecracker, tells the story of William Haines; it is by William J. Mann. Tab Hunter’s honest autobiography gives us details into the turbulent love affair with Perkins. But I always look for more information and dish.

    Have you ever had the feeling that a book is so juicy and good that you hate to put it down and cannot wait to pick it up again?  That is happening to me now with the giant new read Hollywood: The Oral History by Jeanine Basinger and Sam Wasson. It includes an impressive series of candid remarks by luminaries from Hitchcock to Irene Sharaff to Jordan Peele. There are hundreds of famous people explaining aspects of showbiz and the wild ways the industry works. Experiences with other famed folks include this from Ron Howard, on working with Miss Bette Davis: “She would not call me Ron, always Mr. Howard. I asked her why and she said that she first had to decide if she liked me or not. She said I looked like a little boy. Eventually she called me and kept patting my ass.”

    Steven Spielberg did an early project with Joan Crawford. He says that he was scared, knowing she could have turned the film into a horror show for him as a new director. But he found her to be the only person in the crew who treated him with total respect and kindness. He called her compassionate and a refreshment in the land of sharks.

    Two go-to books for all weather are the classics of this genre. The first, Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood by the brilliant Mann, reads almost like a novel. There are stories, personalities, and historical context that teach and inspire. The ultimate, of course, is the tome that started this area of study for me when I was very young. It is Vito Russo’s The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies. The depictions onscreen, from the silent movies until now, will blow you away. Russo’s details, insights, horrific possibilities, and humor as he carefully takes us through each frame will change the way you see movies. It is a book that changes our world. 

    Jan Wahl is a Hollywood historian, film critic on various broadcast outlets, and has her own YouTube channel series, “Jan Wahl Showbiz.” She has two Emmys and many awards for her longtime work on behalf of film buffs and the LGBTQ community. Contact her at

    Off the Wahl
    Published on March 9, 2023