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Editorial Reviews

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.

Publisher's Summary

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.

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Juicy, Thoughtful and One of a Kind!

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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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A Story That Needed To Be Told

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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A touching love story and a fascinating history of Hollywood

Any additional comments?

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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A Nearly Forgotten Hollywood Figure Comes Alive

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Although many would file title under "gay interest" it is worth the time of anyone interested in classic Hollywood, MGM and the old studio system. There are great stories about Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, George Cukor, Cole Porter and more.

What other book might you compare Wisecracker to and why?

William J. Mann's Tinseltown is also a great true-life detective story.

Have you listened to any of Bo Foxworth’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

Bo Foxworth does a great job with this title, doing different voices for the many people quoted, including William Haines, Clark Gable and even Anita page. The one problem is that he pronounces some names wrong, such as Dorothy Kilgallen. On a sidenote, the text briefly mentions Elizabeth Montgomery, who was the narrator's stepmother.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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glimpse into the past

really enjoyed this view to the past. much of the narrative felt like speculation... but it was plausible enough that the underlying theme resonated with me. I recommend this book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating story

If you could sum up Wisecracker in three words, what would they be?

Fascinating, Compelling, Well-written

Who was your favorite character and why?

Billy Haines -- He kept true to his principles and was a courageous man in the face<br/>of much prejudice, at a time when being openly gay was not tolerated.

Have you listened to any of Bo Foxworth’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I have not heard Bo Foxworth's other performances. I felt he was excellent in this<br/>book.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

There were many moments in the book that were compelling, but one particular<br/>moment stands out and that is when Haines had to make a choice on whether to<br/>engage in a "Lavender wedding" or remain true to his partner.

Any additional comments?

I enjoyed this audible book very much and would highly recommended, which I have<br/>already done to several friends. It is informative about a seldom talked about period<br/>in the movie picture industry.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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william haines

What made the experience of listening to Wisecracker the most enjoyable?

the book brought painted a vivid history of life in Hollywood from the early 1920's. I listened to it in black and white...I enjoyed every minute of it...and I liked Williams Haines very much. I was sorry when the book ended....

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Just because is not interesting

Just because he was the first openly gay movie star does not mean he was interesting. This book, though performed well, was simply boring....William Haines apparently did not do anything terribly interesting. Perhaps the good stuff is lost to time but in truth, he seemed to be Just a normal Joe who happened to be gay. Chapter 9 was basically a political commentary and overall, it was just a depressing, boring book.

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What a wonderful journey... !

It is difficult to imagine, in today's world, just how brave and exceptionally well Billy Haines lived his life. It is a story of not only courage, ambition, and success, but also a kaleidoscope of people, events, and memories of a world forever lost. This is a book well worth reading and one of the most touching here on audible.com.

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Obscure actor-Hard to relate to

Is there anything you would change about this book?

Since Billy Haines is basically obscure, more stories involving other celebrities woould have be good.

What did you like best about this story?

Learning about this man..

0 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 12-02-15

A real eye opener

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, a biography of someone I'd never heard of. A real eye opener revealing the life of a remarkable man whose life in Hollywood as an silent movie star and later as a respected interior designer is a real roller coaster of a read. Informative, exciting, revealing the lives of early Hollywood stars during the hedonistic early years of the century. It was also interesting to understand how Haine's coped proudly with his homosexuality at a time before gay rights. I was riveted from start to finish.

What other book might you compare Wisecracker to, and why?

The only other book I can compare Wisecraker to is Ginger:My Story by Ginger Rogers as she too was honest, open and revealed and insider's view of the secret world of Hollywood.

Have you listened to any of Bo Foxworth’s other performances? How does this one compare?

I haven't listened to any other of Bo Foxworth's performances.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Tears and laughter both.

Any additional comments?

I can't recommend this highly enough for anyone who has an interest in Classic Hollywood.

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  • S. E. Errington
  • 06-08-14

Hollywoods Forgotten Star

What did you like most about Wisecracker?

It was fascinating to find out about one of Hollywood's forgotten stars and a by-gone era

What was one of the most memorable moments of Wisecracker?

There were so many, it's hard to list them all!

Have you listened to any of Bo Foxworth’s other performances? How does this one compare?

This was the first time I'd listened to one of his performances, and it was certainly entertaining

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

For me, the most moving moment was when the narration covered how Jimmie couldn't carry on without his beloved Billy

Any additional comments?

An engrossing, entertaining and fascinating story. Highly recommended