Farley Granger: Days Gone By
Actor Farley Granger is widely recognized for his roles in two Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, Rope and Strangers on a Train.
But, with the recent publication of his memoir, Include Me Out: My Life From Goldwyn to Broadway, Granger has also become known as an out actor.
His memoir chronicles dalliances with both male and female Hollywood types, including actress’ Ava Gardner and Shelley Winters, composer Leonard Bernstein and screenwriter Arthur Laurents (who wrote the screenplay for Rope).
The delightful 82-year-old Granger has a definite aversion to labels of any types when it comes to sexuality; he feels they give ammunition to “those enemies coming at you,” as he explained to The Gay and Lesbian Times during a recent phone interview.
“There always has to be the people to champion the cause, the shock troops, and God love ’em –God love the Stonewall Riots and everything, thank heaven for them,” Granger said about those that fight the good fight. “The time when there is no weight given to one particular label is going to be the ideal time.”
Granger’s Include Me Out: My Life From Goldwyn to Broadway is chocked full of Hollywood lore, and writing the memoir (along with his partner of 50 years, Robert Calhoun), proved to be a walk down memory lane.
His remembrances of Hollywood’s glory days showcase how much the world of Tinsel Town has changed since Granger was discovered as a high school senior by a casting director, and had to hone his craft as a contract player for Goldwyn.
“I don’t think it’s a community anymore the way it was,” Granger stated about the Hollywood of today. “It’s run by corporate conglomerates, each studio had its own kind of familial feeling – there was the Metro crowd and the Fox crowd and the Warner crowd, everyone met everyone else, and now that whole sense of community is gone.”
And that feeling of community is one of Granger’s favorite memories of being a part of Hollywood’s Golden Era.
“The Saturday night open house parties at Gene Kelly’s house,” he cited as his favorite Hollywood remembrance. “Through mutual musician friends, I got introduced to the MGM musical crowd, and they all hung out at Gene Kelly’s house. And on any Saturday night, you’d go over there and it could be Judy Garland and Lena Horne or Johnny Mercer or Betty Garrett, just singing at the piano for the pure joy and release of it; those parties were memorable, I’ll never forget them.”
Include Me Out also details just how much the climate regarding sexuality in those heady days has evolved.
“Well, at that time when I was there, I left just before the advent of Confidential Magazine, which really blew the roof off everything,” Granger recanted. “It started to threaten to expose people and then they (gays in Hollywood) were going to great lengths like arranged marriages, and all of that. There were gay cliques, but I was never part of them, just because I had more fun with the musical crowd.
“There was a bit more freedom, everybody knew what was going on and no one talked about it, and the studios protected their people,” he said. “Then when the gossip became like Confidential Magazine, and funnily it coincided with McCarthyism in the ’50s in this country, things got very strange.”
Throughout film history gay portrayals on film reinforced the stereotype of the sissy as the go-to-gag to elicit laughter from movie going patrons, and these cases of “shock and eww” stereotyping was prevalent until the trend turned toward darker portrayals. The “possibly gay character” being cast as the villain arrived on the movie scene casting a dark shadow on the ways we were being seen by the masses.
The Alfred Hitchcock films, Rope and Strangers on a Train, both contain elements of homosexuality, albeit it was of the “gay as a villain” motif that was prevalent during that era of filmmaking, but there is no denying what is transpiring between the main characters in both of those Hitchcock films. Granger was not concerned that this would lead audiences to draw certain conclusions about his lifestyle.
“I didn’t care,” he responded. “I was just so happy to be working with Hitchcock at that moment in time. Who cared what people thought? It didn’t bother me at all.”
In Rope, a fictionalized account of the 1924 Leopold and Loeb murder case, Granger starred alongside gay actor John Dall and perennial Hitchcock star, Jimmy Stewart, who may not have been so comfortable with the film’s gay undercurrent.
“It was odd working with him on Rope. I loved working with him, he was a true gentleman, but in Rope I don’t think he was happy,” Granger summarized. “He was very remote and kept to himself and was kind of aloof. I don’t think he was comfortable – we never discussed it (the film’s subject matter), but I am sure he was aware of it.”
But, Granger suspects that Hitchcock knew that the chemistry between him and his leading men had a certain “flair” to it and feels that his own sexuality may have added an extra element to his performances.
Particularly in Strangers on a Train, where there is a magnetic attraction between Granger and co-star Robert Walker in this tale of a “criss-cross” murder scheme. The film holds a special place on Granger’s resume (undoubtedly, it’s his most popular film), as well as in his heart.
“It’s my favorite, too. Audiences today love it, it works every time I’ve seen it with an audience right up to a month ago,” he said. “They get the humor and everything, which is amazing, that he (Hitchcock) told such a weird suspense story and got so much humor in it. I think it’s one of his best films and it’s underrated.”
Granger appeared in numerous films, before he began working in the early days of live television. Eventually the luster of the bright lights of Hollywood faded for Granger, who decided to head for the stage lights of Broadway. This move entailed him breaking his contract with Goldwyn, and he essentially had to buy his way out of said binding agreement to work on The Great White Way. It was a move that suited Granger just fine, as he won an Obie award for the play “Tally & Son.”
“The interaction with the live audience, there is nothing like it.” Granger replied of which medium, film or theatre brought him the most satisfaction. “It changes every night, it’s different at every performance, because people bring to the theatre their day or the world, and you have to adapt subtly – it’s a fascinating challenge.”
Now that his personal life is being played out on a different stage, in the pages of his memoir, Granger felt it was cathartic to tell his tale, and that the time was right to do so now.
“Well I was afraid if I waited any longer, I’d either die or forget,” he said with a laugh. “I had been wanting to do it for awhile; I had started it in about 1990, but put it aside. And, it seemed like a few years ago it was time to go back to it.”
I conducted this interview with Farley in 2007. He was a gentleman on a grand scale, and we hit it off when he realized I knew my Hitchcock movies, of which Strangers on a Train, is truly one of the director’s finest. I was saddened by his passing last week, and decided to post my interview with him (thought I already had, honestly), and may he rest in peace.