The party scene during the Golden Age of Hollywood is legendary; just imagine the biggest, most beautiful movie stars in the world mingling in the Hollywood Hills. Despite the almost non-stop press blitz old Hollywood stars were subject to thanks to their studio overlords, not every aspect of their lives was public; you may be surprised to learn those parties were filled with gay stars you never knew were gay, or bisexual and queer stars who kept the true nature of their sexuality out of the public eye. Some gay screen legends like Rock Hudson came out of the closet late in life. Outing other allegedly queer actors of the silver screen remains controversial, given they aren’t around to speak for themselves.
Starlets such as Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo make the cut, which includes lesbians of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Despite their marriages to men, both were reportedly known to secretly enjoy affairs with other women. Rumors have swirled for decades that legendary screen actors such as Cary Grant and Clark Gable were bisexual, and as more time passes, further evidence surfaces that those claims may be undeniably true.
See if your favorite actor or actress from American cinema’s golden age made this list of LGBTQ old Hollywood movie stars. Which one shocks you most? Which did you suspect all along? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Despite only appearing in three films, the cultural status of James Dean as a disillusioned rebel is just as strong in the 21st century as it was at the height of his popularity. Dean passed in 1955, at 24, in a car accident. Rumors swirled around his sexuality in his heyday, and persist today. No one knows for sure if the Rebel Without a Cause star was gay, straight, or bisexual.
Dean dated women, but perhaps those relationships were false ones set up by the studio? Since the 1970s, several books have outted the Giant actor. In 1975, Jonathan Gilmore, a close friend to Dean, wrote The Real James Dean, in which he disclosed he and Dean engaged in sexual encounters.
Also in 1975, biographer Robert Martinetti published The James Dean Story, in which he wrote the actor was involved with Rogers Brackett, an advertising executive. Brackett told Martinetti, “I loved him and Jimmy loved me. If it was a father-son relationship, it was also somewhat incestuous.”
A number of other biographies make claims about Dean’s sexuality. The most scandalous claim came in Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince’s 2016 book James Dean: Tomorrow Never Comes. The authors write that Dean’s friend Stanley Taggart asserted the East of Eden star was involved in “kinky sado-masochistic sex” with Marlon Brando. In the union, Brando was allegedly the dominant partner and Dean the submissive.
Many call two-time Academy Award winner Marlon Brando the greatest screen actor of all-time. Despite where he ranks in terms of ability, there’s no doubt Brando exudes intense masculinity. The Godfather patriarch was married four times and some sources claim he fathered 17 children (!).
Many allegations suggest Brando was bisexual. His most well-known alleged affair was with James Dean. However, Darwin Porter’s biography, Brando Unzipped, claims the actor had sexual relationships with Cary Grant, Montgomery Clift, and Sir John Gielgud. There are also rumors he had an affair with Bob Dylan.
Taking it a step further, in 1976, Brando admitted to a French journalist, “Homosexuality is so much in fashion, it no longer makes news. Like a large number of men, I, too, have had homosexual experiences, and I am not ashamed. I have never paid much attention to what people think about me.”
It’s been more than 50 years since Marilyn Monroe passed away unexpectedly in 1962 at age 36. However, the sex symbol still tops any list of blonde bombshells. Monroe was married three times, and two of her marriages were extremely high profile. Her second was to New York Yankee Joe DiMaggio, her third to Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Arthur Miller.
Monroe is such a quintessential sex symbol for red-blooded men, it’s hard to conceive of her preferring women. Yet the Gentlemen Prefer Blondes star allegedly admitted to having sexual encounters with Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Marlene Dietrich (totally believable), and Elizabeth Taylor.
There’s some evidence to Monroe’s encounter with Crawford. The actress began to see psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Greenson towards the end of her life. In taped transcripts of Monroe’s sessions, she admits, “Oh yes, Crawford. We went to Joan’s bedroom. Crawford had a gigantic orgasm and shrieked like a maniac… Next time I saw Crawford, she wanted another round… after I turned her down, she became spiteful.”
Katharine Hepburn is perhaps the most renowned actress in the history of Hollywood, with four Academy Award wins over a 60-year career. In 1999, she was named the Greatest Female American Screen Legend by the American Film Institute. Is it safe to assume Hepburn wouldn’t have had anywhere near the same success in old Hollywood if the truth came out about her sexual orientation?
By several accounts, Hepburn’s 25-year relationship with frequent co-star Spencer Tracy was more about friendship than sexual attraction. Screenwriter and gay rights activist Larry Kramer said of the famous couple, “Hepburn and Spencer Tracy were both gay. They were publicly paired together by the studio. Everyone in Hollywood knows this is true, but of course I haven’t seen it printed anywhere.”
Known for her boyish attire, Hepburn did have an interest in men, but seemed to favor women. Over a 50-year period, Hollywood pimp Scotty Bowers claims he set the siren up with 150 women. He said she would see them once or twice and then “tire of them.”
Spencer Tracy was one of the biggest movie stars in old Hollywood. During his 40-year career, he was nominated for nine Academy Awards, with two Oscar wins. The actor was married with two kids, and even though he became estranged from his wife Louise, they never divorced, which Tracy claimed was because of his Catholic upbringing.
Tracy formed a reputation in Hollywood as a very heavy drinker and womanizer; he has been linked to starlets such as Ingrid Bergman and Hedy Lamarr. It was also rumored he often stayed at openly gay The Philadelphia Story director George Cukor’s house for several days at a time, where he had sex with the director’s young male friends. Tracy is also rumored to have been involved in a long-term relationship with actor John Derek, and it has been said his relationship with Katharine Hepburn was studio-engineered and never consummated.
Swedish-born Greta Garbo was a Hollywood star in the ’20s and ’30s, though her status endures; she made AFI’s 50 Greatest American Screen Legends, published in 1999. She retired from acting and public life entirely at the tender age of 35, after 27 films, and spent the remaining 50 years of her life in isolation. She never married and never had any children.
Garbo has been romantically and sexually linked to several female stars. Instead of lying to the press, she remained silent about her personal life, which lent an air of mystery to her persona. Perhaps her most notorious relationship was with Marlene Dietrich.
The pair first met in Weimar Berlin, before Garbo was a star. The Ninotchka actress was allegedly so hurt by Dietrich she denied knowing her; she, at the tender age of 20, thought they were in love, while Dietrich, 24, was in it for a physical affair. Garbo also allegedly had relationships with Mercedes de Acosta, Salka Viertel, Louise Brooks, Billie Holiday, Lilyan Tashman, and Tallulah Bankhead. Garbo called her lesbian love affairs “exciting secrets.”
Matinee idol and Oscar-nominated actor Rock Hudson was lost to AIDS in 1985, at age 59. He was the first major celebrity to die of the disease. Before his illness, the actor was able to keep his sexuality a secret from the public. However, Hollywood insiders knew, despite his three-year marriage to Phyllis Gates in the 1950s.
In fact, it was Gates who confronted Hudson about his sexual orientation. The dialog below was tape-recorded by a private investigator named Fred Otash, whom Gates hired to follow Hudson. Gates became suspicious of her husband’s sexuality following a Rorschach test he took.
The following is an except from The Hollywood Reporter, who obtained Otash’s secret files:
“‘You told me you saw thousands of butterflies and also snakes,’ she said ‘[A therapist] told me in my analysis that butterflies mean femininity and snakes represent that male penis. I’m not condemning you, but it seems that as long as you recognize your problem, you would want to do something about it.’ She also complained about ‘your great speed with me, sexually. Are you that fast with boys?’
‘Well, it’s a physical conjunction [sic],’ replied Rock, then 32. ‘Boys don’t fit. So, this is why it lasts longer.’
Added Phyllis: ‘Everyone knows that you were picking up boys off the street shortly after we were married and have continued to do so, thinking that being married would cover up for you.’
‘I have never picked up any boys on the street,’ Rock insisted. ‘I have never picked up any boys in a bar, never. I have never picked up any boys, other than to give them a ride.'”
Handsome, enigmatic 1950s heartthrob Montgomery Clift was, like Marlon Brando, a method actor, and his deeply soulful work earned him four Academy Award nominations. Unlike most of his peers, who lived in Los Angeles, Clift lived in New York. This decision left his dating life out of the scandal papers and his personal life very personal.
Clift was involved in a seemingly “will they or won’t they” relationship with Elizabeth Taylor. The duo appeared together in three films: A Place in the Sun, Raintree County, and Suddenly, Last Summer. Like most of the alleged gay, bi, or queer actors on this list, it appears Hollywood’s inner circle knew of Clift’s sexual orientation.
Debbie Reynold’s wrote in her memoir, Unsinkable, that, despite Taylor being married at the time, it was obvious she and Clift had more than onscreen romance. “[They] laughed and giggled while making out in the water in front of us all… Even though Monty had boyfriends as well as girlfriends, it was obvious that he and Elizabeth had been intimate. Elizabeth could seduce any man, gay or straight.”
On the same night described by Reynolds, Clift got into a horrific car crash. After the crash, which disfigured his face, Clift’s career began to decline and he fell victim to severe alcohol abuse. It’s also likely his alcohol abuse was triggered by having to hide his sexual orientation. He passed from a heart attack at the age of 45.
Clark Gable was so famous in his heyday he was referred to as The King Of Hollywood. The Gone with the Wind star won his lone Academy Award for Oscar-sweeping romantic comedy It Happened One Night. Despite being married five times and having two kids, Gable was a notorious ladies man, who often made a point of going after fresh-faced Hollywood starlets and just about anyone whom he shared a big screen with.
Yet Gable was allegedly involved with men, too. Rumors circulated Hollywood that, before becaming a star, he traded sexuality for career advancement. In David Bret’s book Clark Gable: Tormented Star, the writer alleges Gable was gay for pay and liked to have sex “for bucks.”
There’s also a rumor Gable didn’t want to star in Gone with the Wind because George Cukor, a gay man, was attached to direct. Cukor allegedly knew about Gable’s days of hustling Hollywood’s gay circuit before he became famous, and Gable was reportedly uncomfortable working with him because of this. It’s all speculation. However, we know for sure Cukor was fired as director of Gone with the Wind in the middle of the film’s production, and replaced by Gable’s friend Victor Fleming.
Barbara Stanwyck was one of the most ambitious actresses in old Hollywood, appearing in almost 85 films over a 60 year career. She was nominated for four Academy Awards, received an Honorary Oscar in 1982, and was given the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 1986. Stanwyck was married twice and had one adopted son. Her first marriage, to Frank Fay, was described as abusive and is allegedly the inspiration for the couple in A Star Is Born. There are rumors both of her marriages were “lavender,” studio-backed unions made to hide an actor’s true sexuality.
There’s plenty of evidence pointing to Stanwyck being gay or bi. Actor Clifton Webb called the actress, “My favorite Hollywood lesbian.” Her second husband, Robert Taylor, told Shelley Winters his wife was a lesbian, and they didn’t share a bed. The actress’s biographer Axl Madsen wrote, “people would swear that she was Hollywood’s biggest closeted lesbian.”
Very few actors in the history of Hollywood had the dramatic chops and comic timing of debonair leading man Cary Grant. The Hollywood lothario was married five times and had one daughter. The American Film Institute ranked him second on its Greatest American Screen Legends list (Humphrey Bogart topped it).
Grant’s bisexuality is a matter of debate, though there’s no denying he was roommates with actor Randolph Scott for 12 years. The pair met on the set of Hot Saturday in 1932 and lived together in a mansion nicknamed Bachelor Hall in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. These photos of Grant and Scott suggest they were maybe more than just friends.
There’s also Gillian Armstrong’s documentary Women He’s Undressed, about the life of three-time Academy Award winning costume designer Orry-Kelly. The doc goes into detail about Kelly, an Australian chap, meeting fellow immigrant Archie Leach (Cary Grant, an Englishman) in New York City in 1925. Grant and Kelly lived together on and off for nine years, and were lovers. Their relationship reportedly ended because Grant knew he needed to hide his sexuality in order to make it as an actor in Hollywood.
Joan Crawford was one of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars in the 1920s and ranks 10th on AFI’s The Greatest American Screen Legends. The Academy Award winning thespian appeared in more than 80 movies in her 50 year career. She was married four times and adopted five children.
Today, most know Crawford as the subject of her disinherited daughter’s scathing memoir Mommie Dearest, which was made into a film starring Faye Dunaway as Crawford. If that weren’t enough, FX’s series Feud details Crawford’s and Bette Davis’s legendary battle on the set of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?.
Back in the day, rumors ran rampant about Crawford’s insatiable appetite for sex with men and women. The rumors are explored in detail in David Bret’s biography Joan Crawford, Hollywood Martyr, which asserts the actress slept her way into becoming a screen legend.
There’s some evidence of Crawford’s bisexuality in EJ Fleming’s book about notorious Tinseltown problem solver Eddie Mannix, The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling And The MGM Publicity Machine. Flemming alleges Mannix got MGM to pay $100,000 to stop the release of a lesbian porn starring Crawford before she was famous. Of course, same sex relationships in porn aren’t the same as in real life, but consider this: Crawford also had an alleged romance with Marilyn Monroe. Yes please.
The name Raymond Burr is synonymous with his iconic TV character, defense attorney Perry Mason. He’s also well-known for his portrayal of a disabled detective in NBC’s hit drama Ironside. Burr married Isabella Ward in 1948, but the marriage only lasted a matter of months.
Burr met fellow actor Robert Benevides on the set of Perry Mason in 1960. They remained together until Burr’s death in 1993. Benevides was usually listed as Burr’s business partner. The couple bought land together in the 1980s and started a vineyard in California’s Sonoma County. Benevides still operates Raymond Burr Vineyards as of 2017.
Best known as Norman Bates in the Psycho films, Anthony Perkins was a married man with two children. However, he also allegedly had several homosexual affairs. His longest romantic male relationship was reportedly with actor Tab Hunter.
According notorious Hollywood pimp Scotty Bowers (via his tell-all Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Live of the Stars), Perkins was involved with many men. “He always wanted someone different. ‘Who’ve you got who’s different, Scott?’ ‘Who do you have for me for tomorrow night that will surprise me? Anything really new?”
Perkins passed in 1992, at 60, from AIDS. He was with his wife, Berry Berenson, and two teenage sons at the time of death. His death came as a shock because Perkins kept silent about his illness, “He simply never wanted anyone to know,” Ms. Berenson said. “He figured if anyone knew they’d never give him work again.”
In February of 2018, Richard Pryor’s widow, Jennifer Pryor, released a statement to TMZ stating that her husband had had an intimate affair with Marlon Brando in the ’70s. As she told the publication: “It was the ’70s! Drugs were still good, especially quaaludes. If you did enough cocaine, you’d f*ck a radiator and send it flowers in the morning.”
This wasn’t the first time Pryor’s relationship with Brando had been in the news, however; Quincy Jones had also alluded to it in a Vulture interview, in which he said Brando would “f*ck anything. Anything! He’d f*ck a mailbox. James Baldwin. Richard Pryor. Marvin Gaye.”