was considered a set in those days. Queers were attracted to this new and exciting
industry from day one, but as soon as “talkies” came about, muted queer caricatures
became all to real “faggots”, and a long war, in varying degrees of oppression, was
waged against the very people who helped elevate the business from crude to fabulous.
The names go on and on: Cary Grant, Dorothy Arzner, Montgomery Clift, Anthony
Perkins, Raymond Burr; Billie Burke who played Glinda in The Wizard of Oz—did you
know she was a dyke? I didn’t. One fascinating surprise after the next kept me glued.
When anything queer is at hand, irony is never far away: Mann even looks at how
“deviant” men such as Jams Dean and Rock Hudson helped define “masculinity” for
men the world over. The inquisitions of the McCarthy years was a maddening section
(in terms of the cruelty doled out to gays) and Hollywood’s connection to the Mattachine
Society and the development of the Los Angeles gay bar subculture come off the pages
clear as day.
Latinos are alive and well in queer Golden Era Hollywood, too—beginning with the
“effeminate” Mexican heartthrob Ramón Novarro and working forward to Cesar
Romero—who although I knew was of Cuban heritage, was also the grandson of
Cuban icon Jose Martí. Who knew? Although Romero was seen escorting stars such
as Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck to gala events and restaurants, he often
complained of being “alone” to the press and is alleged to have had an affair with
Tyrone Power. Yet both Novarro and Romero came to define the (straight) Latin lover
type—hmm, ok. It would be interesting for a Latino scholar to write a similar book on the
closeted world of Spanish-language entertainment media, as many in the Spanish-
speaking world prefer to watch Univision and Telemundo and go to see Spanish-
language movies. Until then, William J. Mann’s Behind the Screen serves as a
memorial to our unjust treatment
www.ambiente.us MAY | MAYO 2009
Behind the Screen | How Gays and Lesbians Shaped
Hollywood,1910-1969 (Viking, 2001) By William J. Mann
REVIEW by Charlie Vázquez
Q: Now who put the “tinsel” in Tinseltown?
A: Ask Glinda the Good Witch…
I don’t know how this book got past my sharp “book” nose, but somehow it did. There
are times when I pick up a book, as I did with this one, and just cannot put it down.
Behind the Screen will surely do the same for you—and I’m not a movie person, by any
means. But, I love queer history. This book, with all of its layers of shady studio politics,
art and craft history and thirsty egos, makes me want to revisit some of the movies
discussed that queers wrote, directed, costumed, made up, designed, acted in, edited
and scored, from the silent era through the turbulent 1960s.
Starting with boomtown Hollywood’s infancy, Behind the Screen unravels the
development of the film industry and its transition from rough diamond to sophisticated
pearl. And we “fairies” had much to do with this—as New Yorker sophisticate and
theater set decorator George James Hopkins learned, when he was called to work in
Tinseltown in 1916. He was apparently aghast at what
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and innate creative power—our uniqueness, that which makes our work stand out as
the best. We need to remember that our enemies hate to be outshined.
CLICK HERE for more by Charlie Vázquez
Copyright 2009|Ambiente. Do not reproduce without prior authorization.