We all know about the openly gay actors of today like Neil Patrick Harris, Jim Parsons, Chris Colfer, etc.
But what about the openly gay actors who came before them? Yes, there were some openly gay actors - AND directors - in Hollywood at a time in which the lgbtq community wasn't as out of the closet as we are now.
Today, I want to focus on William "Billy" Haines, who gave up his career instead of staying in the closet, and the love of his life, Jimmy Shields:
Charles William "Billy" Haines was an American film actor and interior designer. He was a star of the silent era until the 1930s, when Haines' career was cut short by MGM Studios due to his refusal to deny his homosexuality. Haines never returned to film and instead started a successful interior design business with his life partner and was supported by friends in Hollywood.
Haines and his partner, Jimmy Shields, began a successful dual career as interior designers and antique dealers. Among their early clients were friends such as Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson, Carole Lombard, Marion Davies and George Cukor. Their lives were disrupted in 1936 when members of the Ku Klux Klan dragged the two men from their home and beat them, because a neighbor had accused the two of propositioning his son. Crawford, along with other stars such as Claudette Colbert, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Kay Francis, and Charles Boyer urged the men to report this to the police. Marion Davies asked her lover William Randolph Hearst to use his influence to ensure the neighbors were prosecuted to the full extent of the law, but ultimately Haines and Shields chose not to report the incident.
The couple finally settled into the Hollywood community in Brentwood, and their business prospered until their retirement in the early 1970s, except for a brief interruption when Haines served in World War II. Their long list of clients included Betsy Bloomingdale, Ronald and Nancy Reagan when Reagan was governor of California, and Walter and Leonore Annenberg with their 240-acre (0.97 km2) estate "Sunnylands."
Haines and Shields remained together until Haines' death. Joan Crawford described them as "the happiest married couple in Hollywood."
Haines died from lung cancer in Santa Monica, California at the age of 73, a week short of his 74th birthday, which was on the new year of 1974. Soon afterward, Shields, who suffered from what many believe to be Alzheimer's Disease, put on Haines' pajamas, took an overdose of pills, and crawled into their bed to die. They were interred side by side in Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery.
It's been said that Shields left a short suicide note. It read:
"It's no good without Billy."
So the next time someone tells you about how gays and lesbians don't believe in the concept of love, remember Billy and Jimmy.
Past Know Your LGBT History posts: