July 1, 1925– Farley Granger:
“I never felt the need to belong to any exclusive, self-defining or special group. I find it difficult to answer questions about “‘gay life” in Hollywood when I was living and working there. There were, of course, gay cliques, but I had no close friends who belonged to any of them, and I had no desire to become involved with any of them . . . I was never ashamed, and I never felt the need to explain or apologize for my relationships to anyone.”
I recently was sacked out on my sofa as I watched back-to-back Hitchcock films on TCM. I thought I had seen all of Alfred Hitchcock’s Hollywood films, and most of his British silent films and early talkies, but I had somehow missed Marnie from 1964. I finally watched this movie in amazement and afterwards I felt I needed to put together a post on my impressions of this nutty psychological thriller about a frigid and fragile person, who is raped by Sean Connery, but then I thought: “Why, when I live it every day?” Immediately following Marnie, I caught Rope (1948). I am always up for a little Farley Granger.
Granger had a career on stage and on screen from the early 1940s into our new century. He is especially noted for starring in a pair of films Hitchcock with legendary homosexual subtext: Rope and Strangers On A Train (1951).
His first starring role in They Live By Night (1948), directed by bi-sexual Nicholas Ray, is probably my favorite of his film performances. Granger’s sensitive portrayal of a bank robber on the lam grabbed the attention of Hitchcock. While preparing to shoot Rope, a film inspired by the notorious Leopold and Loeb murder case, Hitchcock had the great idea to cast Granger. He chose as Granger’s co-star, John Dahl, whose gayness was also well known in Hollywood. They play a pair of affluent young men who set out to commit a “prefect murder” just for the thrill.
The two characters sexuality is never made explicit in the film, but the relationship between the young men has an extra strong dose of homoerotic subtext, skillfully sewn together by Hitchcock and his actors. The film is famous for its continuous, uninterrupted 10-minute takes, the amount of time a reel of Technicolor film lasted. It was a difficult feat and Hitchcock ran into numerous technical problems which frequently brought the action to a halt throughout the short 21 day shoot. I find Rope to be a brilliant film, and not just as a technical marvel. It is probably Hitchcock’s talkiest movie. It also seems underappreciated by film fans, never on any list of Hitchcock’s greatest, but the time is long overdue for it to be appreciated as a masterpiece of suspense and art.
Three years after starring in Rope, Granger again worked with Hitchcock in another classic thriller about a perfect murder, Strangers On A Train, based on the first novel by acclaimed lesbian writer Patricia Highsmith, author of The Talented Mr. Ripley and a series of other Ripley books, plus the groundbreaking romance novel The Price of Salt, adapted to last year’s Carol. Hitchcock was dissatisfied with the end result of Strangers On A Train, but it proved to be an unlikely box-office hit and the first major success of Granger’s career. It remains one of my favorite of Hitchcock’s films.
Granger had affairs with both men and women. Unlike most other actors who were gay or bisexual, Granger refused to get married just to keep film fans off-guard. When producer Samuel Goldwyn took him to task for dating gay composer Aaron Copland, Granger declared:
“Copland is one of the most important composers in America and a gentleman. I met him at this studio when you hired him to write the score for The North Star. I’m not going to be told who I can or cannot see in my private life.”
Granger had flings with Leonard Bernstein, writer Arthur Laurents, and actor Robert Walker and he remained close friends with both of them until each of their deaths. I like that. I remain friends with most of my liaisons. It’s so civilized.
In 1995 Granger was one of the actors interviewed for Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s ground-breaking documentary The Celluloid Closet (1995), discussing the depiction of homosexuality in film, in particular, Rope and Strangers On A Train.
“I never hid. I never considered myself in the closet. When I had my relationship with Arthur Laurents during the filming of Rope, all of my friends knew about it. We went out to dinner together and went to parties together. It was the crowd we hung out with – it was a New York music and theatre crowd. None of those people cared a fig about whom you were having sex with.”
Granger was a profoundly good-looking guy and an actor of considerable range and style: Broadway, films, musicals, light comedies, dramas and film noir. He made more than 50 films and he worked in a dozen Broadway shows, plus daytime soap operas on television. Laurents:
“As striking as Farley’s looks were, he seemed unaware of them. Once you knew him, what you marveled at was his sweetness. He was generous with praise for his peers and with presents for friends, as though he himself wasn’t enough to give.”
I find him to be the epitome of how to age with class and distinction. He was in a 49 year romantic partnership with stage manager Robert Calhoun who left this world in 2008. The couple lived in the same Greenwich Village apartment for all those decades. I said hello to them once on a spring day in 1977 when I was on my way to an acting class at HB Studios. The three of us chatted on the sidewalk for a moment about acting schools. He mentioned that he had also studied at the Actors Studio along with his BFF Shelly Winters. At the time he was in his early 50s and I must say, Granger was just about the handsomest man I had ever laid eyes on.
You really should read Granger’s dishy memoir, deliciously titled Include Me Out (2007).
“I looked forward to the time when I could be myself. And, that’s how I have lived and still continue to live my life. Fortunately, it has been many years since I felt the need to be secretive.”
Granger took his final bow in the same week as Elizabeth Taylor in spring of 2011.