July 23, 1924– Gavin Lambert
I met Gavin Lambert in autumn 1973 at a coke fueled, debauched, all-male party at the Hollywood Hills home of a famed Academy Award nominated, Tony Award winning producer. I won’t give up the name of the host, but I will tell you kids that I held the 1953 Tony statue that he received for producing the Leonard Bernstein musical Wonderful Town as he did unspeakable things to my 20 year old body. This was the only period in my life when I was considered an ingénue. I actually didn’t mind being objectified and passed around by older guys. I liked being the object of desire, and being a bit of a slut. I was feeling very democratic and especially open-minded in those days. I was hungry for experiences, and was not above putting out my crack for my crack at show business.
I had smoked a joint that had been enhanced with something extra, because I don’t remember how I ended up in bed with the handsome 50 year old gentleman. He seemed impossibly old, but I also found him to be impossibly desirable. In the early morning hours, we started in on round two, when the little strands of conversation revealed that this man had written the novel and screenplay for one of my favorite films from childhood, Inside Daisy Clover (1965). The movie featured my muse Ruth Gordon. I went absolutely nutty, stuttering and muttering:
“Oh my god, oh my god, that is my favorite movie, I love that film so much! Oh yeah, that feels so good. Tell me about working with Ruth Gordon! Oh, I can’t believe you created that film, I love it so much! Will you sign an autograph?”
I think I totally ruined the hot mood with my sudden outburst of fandom.
For 50+ years, the go-to-guy for bitchy, witty and perceptive gossip about Hollywood was screenwriter, novelist and biographer Gavin Lambert. For much of the 1950s and 1960s, he lived in Hollywood, the inspiration and setting for most of his novels, including The Goodbye People (1971), The Slide Area (1959) and of course, Inside Daisy Clover.
Tales Of the City author, Armistead Maupin wrote of him:
“Decades before it was fashionable, Gavin Lambert expertly wove characters of every sexual stripe into his lustrous tapestries of Southern California life. His elegant, stripped down prose caught the last gasp of old Hollywood in a way that has yet to be rivaled.”
Lambert wrote the biography Mainly About Lindsay Anderson (2000) about his friend and roommate at Oxford University, film and theatre director Lindsay Anderson, famous for This Sporting Life (1963), O’ Luck Man (1968), If (1973). Lambert and Anderson founded the short-lived, yet influential film journal Sequence (1949-51) while they were students at Oxford. Unlike Anderson, who was tortured throughout his entire life by guilt about his homosexuality (he always fell for happily married, heterosexual young men), Lambert was gaily gay. Lambert was able to have a series of fulfilling relationships.
He had an affair with director Nicholas Ray, whose films Bigger Than Life (1956) and Bitter Victory (1957) Lambert contributed the screenplays. His longest relationship was with Mart Crowley who wrote the influential gay themed play The Boys In The Band (1968). The couple had a home together in Hollywood.
Lambert wrote and directed the seldom seen film Another Sky (1955), shot in Morocco. This rather modest film tells the story of a young English woman who discovers her sensuality in North Africa, a reflection of Lambert’s own sexual liberation living in Tangier earlier in the decade. He lived off and on in Morocco from 1954 to 1989 on the suggestion of gay writer Paul Bowles, whom he met in LA at the home of gay author Christopher Isherwood and his partner, artist Don Bachardy.
Inside Daisy Clover was directed by Robert Mulligan. It tells the tale of how the fame and fortune of a young star, perfectly played by Natalie Wood, leads to misery and a nervous breakdown. Lambert first met Wood when he went to Hollywood as an assistant to Ray on Rebel Without A Cause (1955). The parental units took me to see it at a drive-in theatre when I was just 12 years old and it fried my little pre-teenage brain.
Lambert wrote a revealing biography of Wood, Natalie Wood: A Life (2004) admitting they had shared at least one lover. According to Lambert, 17 year old Wood had lost her virginity to Lambert’s then boyfriend Ray. Lambert’s juicy biography includes details of Wood’s relationships with Elvis Presley, Robert Wagner, Warren Beatty, Paul Mazursky and Leslie Caron. In the book, Lambert claims that Wood frequently dated gay or bisexual men, including Nick Adams, Raymond Burr, James Dean and Tab Hunter. Lambert also claims that Wood helped financially support his own lover Crowley, making it possible for him to write the infamous The Boys In The Band.
Lambert’s best screenplays were adaptations of novels with gay overtones: Sons And Lovers (1960) based on the novel by D.H. Lawrence was Oscar nominated, The Roman Spring Of Mrs. Stone (1961) was from Tennessee Williams’ novel, I Never Promised You A Rose Garden (1977), and Liberace, Behind The Music (1988).
When I first read his collection of short stories The Slide Area , I dog-eared at least two dozen pages featuring Lambert’s sort of striking writing. The Slide Area, ranks with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon and The Day Of The Locust, and anything Raymond Chandler ever wrote about the city of Los Angeles.
I own copies of his smart biographies of show biz figures: On Cukor (1972), Norma Shearer: A Life (1990), and Nazimova: A Biography (1997), the first detailed account of the private life and acting career of lesbian Alla Nazimova. He also wrote GWTW: The Making of Gone With The Wind (1973). Lambert was able to interview and gain personal remembrances of those involved with the classic 1939 film, including his friends, dismissed director George Cukor and the picture’s star Vivien Leigh.
Gay artist Don Bachardy said to his longtime partner writer Christopher Isherwood:
“Gavin has a vague way about being rich. He lets it pile up behind him but he never turns around.”
I have reason to believe that before he left this world in 2005, Lambert was working on a book The Greatest Sex In Hollywood: The 1970s, where I am the subject of the chapter Live Fast And Fly High, but I was probably just as a footnote. Lambert was every inch the gentleman to me. He would have been 92 years old today. I would have like to have taken him out for a nice lunch with a toast of Champagne to those zany 1970s.