William Haines, the number-one box office star of 1930, has somewhat faded into obscurity. In all likelihood his career would’ve survived the shift from silent films to talkies but could not survive the increasingly repressive atmosphere of Hollywood at the time of the production code. Biographer William Mann says the first "openly gay" actor may be somewhat of an anachronism - the idea didn’t even really exist at the time - but calls Haines courageous nonetheless for abandoning his career when Louis B. Mayer told him to choose between his contract and his boyfriend. Bo Foxworth gives a rich, refined performance of this well-researched, sympathetic biography of the wisecracking actor whose life has proved as historically important as his work.
In 1930 William Haines was Hollywood's #1 box-office draw - a talented, handsome, and wisecracking romantic lead. Off screen, however, protected by a careful collaboration between studio and press, he was openly gay with reporters and studio chiefs alike. Here is Haines's virtually unknown story - rich with detail, revelations, and scandal - about silent movies and talkies; his lover Jimmie Shields, and their fifty-year relationship (Joan Crawford, their best friend, called them "The happiest married couple in Hollywood") and the enforcement of the Production Code and establishment of the Hollywood closet, which led to the blacklisting that ultimately doomed Haimes's film career.
Wisecracker sweeps from gay pool parties to the excitement of early talkies to Haines's infamous encounter with gay-bashing white supremacists in 1936. He survived the scandal to emerge as a top interior decorator to the stars and to such clients as Nancy Reagan and Walter Annenberg, who employed him for the American Embassy in London. With a cast of characters running from Tallulah Bankhead to Betsy Bloomingdale, from Clark Gable to William Randolph Hearst, 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.
©1998 William J. Mann (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
I had little to no knowledge of "courageous" Billy Haines and author Mann told an involved historical tale superbly. As the audio book ended I found myself going to google to look for additional information. I found archived photos of Haines, his pals and his amazing decor at a website in his name. Someday we will have audio books that
feature actual archived voices counter poised against the authors rendering. Mann's book and it's narration came alive when Haines was quoted. In the meantime I am content to remember Mann's rich and thoughtful exploration.
Bo Foxworth's warm reading style conveys the real affection that author William Mann developed towards William Haynes in the process of talking to his friends and family for this biography. Haynes' story offers amazing insights into the secret lives of Hollywood stars in the early days of silent films, followed by the transition to films with sound and the imposition of stodgy censorship of the movies. Mann skillfully describes how societal attitudes towards gay people went through many ups and downs over the decades, and how William Haynes was consistently open and forthright about his love for his long-time partner and his right to live his life as he saw fit.
What a fascinating life! Yet so few people really know of William Haines today. The author is right when he states that when you come down to it, this is a love story of a couple who just happen to be of the same sex. No different than the great enduring marriages you hear or read about from the humblest to the mighty. Joan Crawford was right in stating that their's was "The happiest marriage in Hollywood."
If there was one thing that I'm at odds with, and even Mr Haines is guilty of this, is that William Haines is considered a film actor primarily in the silent film era who became a famed interior decorator. I see him as the opposite, a world famous interior decorator who earlier in life did some work in film.
I've seen some of his films and they are okay, with the best one being Show People. Even today, it holds up as being a very good film, and had Haines not been his own worse enemy and took acting seriously, he could have gone on to become a great character actor, even with his lost hair and this weight gain.
I think the book is recorded well, with the exception of glaring edits with variable sound quality.
Since Billy Haines is basically obscure, more stories involving other celebrities woould have be good.
Learning about this man..
"Hollywoods Forgotten Star"
It was fascinating to find out about one of Hollywood's forgotten stars and a by-gone era
There were so many, it's hard to list them all!
This was the first time I'd listened to one of his performances, and it was certainly entertaining
For me, the most moving moment was when the narration covered how Jimmie couldn't carry on without his beloved Billy
An engrossing, entertaining and fascinating story. Highly recommended
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