Monday, January 25, 2010

Including Him Out; or, A Farley Good Read

Guess what? Shorty finished a new book.
It's embarrassing for him, because he started this one before Christmas, and only finished it about a week ago. The holidays are busy times!

Anyway, it's a highly enjoyable memoir by Hollywood's Farley Granger, called Include Me Out. The title comes from one of Sam Goldwyn's famous malapropisms, but it has a DOUBLE MEANING on account of how Farley, you know, liked to swing both ways.

My favorite way that Farley swung was down Shelley Winters way, but I digress.

Granger was one of the pretty boy contract players in the MGM stable, and would alternate between serious, actorly roles and teen fluff, basically whatever Sam Goldwyn told him to do. He was loaned out for two Hitchcock movies - Rope and Strangers on a Train. Rope of course has been discussed elsewhere, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Strangers on a Train was remade as one of my favorite movies of my childhood, Throw Momma From The Train, starring Mama Fratelli from Goonies.

Farley tells us that Hitchcock had originally wanted the cast of Rope to be himself and Montgomery Clift as the two murderous lovers, and Cary Grant as their teacher / father figure / third point in their love triangle. Neither Clift nor Grant would take the roles though, as even heavily censored the gayness struck too close to the bone (hee hee) - or in Grant's case, too close to the lady underpants he liked to wear. Theatre actor John Dall ended up playing Granger's lover/co-conspirator, and Jimmy Stewart took the teacher role. Stewart played the role as a straight man - in both senses of the word (and according to a Stewart bio I read he was able to force Warners to up his salary to the amount which had been offered to Grant - a big step for him). I'm sure Mr. Hitchcock would have enjoyed having three men with secrets about their sexuality play three men with secrets about their sexuality...and murder.

Well, most people are probably skimming this post by now, but one thing I really liked about Rope watching it in the 21st century is the double constraints Hitchcock made it under (something he would maybe appreciate? He sure liked doubling). The technological constraints of shooting the film in real time, on ten minute reels, with heavy cumbersome equipment, and the constraint of making a movie loosely based on real life gay lovers who killed someone, without completely hiding their sexuality (they shared a bedroom in the movie, amongst other hints) in the culture of the late 1940s.

Of course, we can't get too liberal arts college-y on the whole thing. As Farley writes,

"To this day, reporters and film aficionados still ask about the actors' discussions with Hitchcock about the implied homosexual relationship between the two young men in Rope, and how Jimmy Stewart fit into those discussions. My answer is always disappointing to them: 'What discussions? It was 1948.' "

My favorite story about Rope was that after meeting Hitch, as he called him, Granger went to a friend's house to cat-sit only to discover that some guy named Arthur was also cat-sitting. Now, I don't only like this story because it involves cats. A few days later Granger discovered that Arthur was Arthur Laurents, who wrote the screenplay for Rope. They ended up having an affair that lasted the length of the movie....until Farley dumped him for Shelley Winters.

What I love most about their relationship, other than the simple fact that it involves Shelley Winters, is that it lasted for decades. Shelley would have her marriages then rebound with Farley, Farley would have his straight (Barbara Stanwyck, Ava Gardner) and gay (Leonard Bernstein!, among others) romances, and rebound with Shelley.

Farley ended up in a relationship with Robert Calhoun, a producer, which started the night Kennedy was shot and ended with Calhoun's death last year. Shelley eventually moved into their building in NYC a few floors below them.

They made one movie together, Behave Yourself, a screwball comedy sold to them as being produced by Howard Hughes (which he actually had nothing to do with). Netflix is delivering that to me this week, so I'll see if it's as bad as Farley says it is.

Farley was a great date for Shelley as they would bounce around town getting her all the publicity she wanted, and he recounts a fun trip to London and Italy they took together where she spent most of the time in her hotel room afraid her freckles were cancerous, then met and left him for Vittorio Gassman.

Well, I've typed enough today and barely scratched Farley's surface. The book was really enjoyable, and not just for the gossipy bits. I liked reading about a Hollywood contract player trying to navigate the system. I liked hearing about his friendships with folks I wouldn't have guessed - like Betty Comden & Adolph Green, or Peggy Guggenheim. His role playing opposite Barbara Cook in Anna & The King on Broadway, and interacting with Rodgers & Hammerstein as they worked on the production.

In conclusion, thanks Farley, for writing your book. I'm sorry I took so long to read it and got all rambly writing about it.


ALH said...

This post is AMAZING. It was better than reading the book myself.

Kevin said...

I liked this post and am proud to have read every word of it. Including the tags.