My personal Hollywood empyrean

Since I was a kid watching old movies on television, and consistently through my adult life, I have considered Cary Grant and James Stewart to be the two top movie stars, on a transcendent level of their own above the other great Hollywood stars. Several years ago, after having seeing many of the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies for the first time, I added Fred Astaire to that top notch.

I just came upon the American Film Institute’s list of top 50 stars. In the list of male stars, the top five, starting from number one, are: Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Marlon Brando, and Fred Astaire.

It’s pleasant when one’s own tastes and valuations so closely match the “official” valuations of one’s society. However, while Brando was extraordinary, he was also bent, and I protest his being placed in the top five above luminaries greater than himself.

- end of initial entry -

Jeff in England writes:


LA replies:

I’m laughing, I should have expected this from you. Here’s your mental process:

  • Auster was putting Brando down as “bent.”
  • “Bent” means homosexual.
  • Auster is thus, out of anti-homosexual bigotry, denying the value of some of the greatest figures in history.

The problem with your theory is that by “bent” I did not mean homosexual. I meant Brando’s self-indulgent, eternal-rebel, anti-establishment, egomaniacal, perverse (which does not mean the same as perverted) and creepy persona.

Shakespeare, Plato, and whatever other figures you may have on your favorite list of eminent supposed homosexuals are not bent in this sense.

As for Cary Grant, this is a tired subject. There are certain public figures and especially Hollywood stars about whom it is constantly said with absolute assurance that they were homosexual, with no support for the contention other than the statement that “everyone” “knows” it to be true. I’ve read a couple of biographies of Grant and have never seen any evidence that he was homosexual.

There is a literalness and reductiveness at work in this attitude about Grant which assumes that his unusual qualities must be of a sexual origin. I think it works something like this. As David Thomson memorably put it in his article on Cary Grant in his Biographical Dictionary of Film,

The essence of his quality can be put quite simply; he can be attractive and unattractive simultaneously; there is a light and a dark side to him but, whichever is dominant, the other creeps into view…. The effect he achieves is one of art; it shows malice, misogyny, selfishness and solitariness beneath good manners and gaiety; and it reveals a sense of grace-in-humour buoying up a near-sadistic playing upon lesser people’s nerves and good nature.

So, seeing this (as Thomson calls it) “disturbing and living ambiguity” in Grant, certain people, perhaps being overly preoccupied with sex, assume that Grant’s ambiguity must be a sexual ambiguity. At least that’s my “special theory” of the matter. My “general theory” is that some people, usually on the left or in the counterculture, get a subversive kick and sense of empowerment out of uncovering the “hidden truth” that various famous people are “really” homosexual.

Of course, for all I know, Grant may have been homosexual, in addition to his five marriages and numerous affairs. But I repeat I have never seen a single piece of evidence for it.

Another point Jeff misses is that the bentness of Brando is part of his public persona and his acting; the supposed “bentness” of a Grant, even if true, is private and not expressed through his work. Why, then, does Jeff insist on its significance, other than to promote the tendentious idea that homosexuality is of central, even formative importance to our culture?

Jeff replies:

I’m laughing too. That you read two books that do NOT say that Cary Grant was NOT gay. That you are so naive as not to realise or accept that Cary Grant was at least bisexual if not totally gay (plus he took LSD for a decade or more) also makes ME laugh….[LA says: See? There’s that absolute truth about Grant that everyone simply knows to be true, the same way they know that Canada is north of the United States, or that Britain is an island. And if you say that you don’t know that it’s true, then there’s something wrong with you.]

As for definitions of bent….well, I won’t argue your definition of bent except to say that many most people would think that bent means gay means queer means homosexual. Anyway I agree Brando had a perverse side to his character all right and there is no argument with that. Ditto the likes of present day actors like Jack Nicholson and Robert Blake and so many other Hollywood actors. Ditto current media magnates such as Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt. Ditto present and past musicians such as Phil Spector and Marilyn Manson, Robert Johnson and Marvin Gaye. Many of our great artists and performers were and are perverse.

Muslims see this sort of thing and say, see, this is what the West is like, it encourages perversity. And they are right.

Vincent Chiarello writes:

Your take on Brando is, for me at least, right on the money. For all his talents—and they were most often not on display—he was overrated because too many of the film critics were fascinated with his non-conformist views. It should be remembered that Brando was the paradigm for the Sixties actor/celebrity who trashed America.

In his place, I believe the name Gregory Peck should be inserted. I say this despite the fact that Peck was, in his later years, the anti-American peacenik, the quintessential Hollywood Liberal, and defender of most Leftist causes, including abortion and “Gay rights,” none of which I share. I guess his “strict Catholic upbringing” didn’t wear too well with him, particularly after he left his first wife to marry a French reporter. C’est la vie. But few, if any, actors played such a wide range of characters, including my favorite, Gen. Frank Savage, in the 1949 production of Twelve O’Clock High. In my judgment, that was the best action war movie ever made, and I am not alone: when I last checked, the US Air Force still used that film for officer training.

I would move Burt Lancaster into Peck’s slot, for he, too, was an eclectic thespian who could do it all… and he did!

De gustubis non disputandem est.

Vincent C. writes:

I cannot leave the subject of your Hollywood Empyrean without a response to Jeff.

Was Shakespeare “bent?” In my case, as opposed to yours, I duly consider the word to mean “homosexual,” and I wondered if this claim is another example of modern day projection by homosexually supportive writers, Jeff to the contrary notwithstanding. I decided to go to my source: David Allen White is a Professor of Literature at the U.S. Naval Academy, and a well-recognized scholar of Will of Stratford-on Avon.

Professor White claims that, as a result of lousy high school instruction, many of the midshipmen who take his course on Shakespeare, which he has taught for nearly three decades, have been told of Shakespeare’s “abnormal” sexual proclivities. (The other “myth” they come to class convinced of is that Shakespeare didn’t write his plays.) White claims that the purported source of Shakespeare’s “gayness” are the sonnets, but they are also—see Sonnet 20—the evidence that Will S. was, to use the modern vernacular—quite “straight.” In short, Will S., the father of children, was as homosexual as your humble scribe—which is to say, not at all.

Still, the myth persists, which is more an indication of the power of the Zeitgeist than the power of truth.

LA replies:

I think Vincent is over-simplifying the issue of Shakespeare’s sexuality. On one hand, I don’t see anything homosexual about the plays. On the other hand, clearly the author of the Sonnets is in love with the young man, and this love has an erotic component. To deny that would be ridiculous. The question is whether this erotically tinged love is what us great moderns call “gay”? Some say it is, others say not.

Jeff in England replies:

The real question is: Is the narrator of the Sonnets the same person as Shakespeare the real life person? Or is the narrator just a fictional artistic creation? This question can be asked of Dylan narrators within his work in relation to the real life Bob Dylan.

LA replies:

1. In my view, the Sonnets are too personal in tone to imagine them as a being the expression of a fictional “poet” created by the real poet, like the singer in a Dylan song. One must assume that Shakespeare (whoever he was, hah) is honestly expressing himself.

2. Even if your theory were true, the fictional poet would not be without connection with the real writer; the writer would still be expressing things about himself through the fictional artistic creator.

Jeff replies:

A writer can express things thru a narrator which are opposite to what the writer actually believes. However, in the Sonnets’ case (as opposed to the plays), it is more likely than not that the emotions expressed are those of the artist himself. But we don’t know that for sure.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 23, 2007 07:04 PM | Send

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