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A Century of Hollywood Lesbians

GARBO FOSTER

Boze Hadleigh opened the closet on some of Hollywood's most famous lesbians. Twenty-three years later, he's doing it again. 

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Boze Hadleigh's 1994 book Hollywood Lesbians (Barricade Books) slammed open the closet door on some of Hollywood's most famous stars, including Barbara Stanwyck, Ann B. Davis, Agnes Moorehead, Edith Head, and Dame Judith Anderson.

Now Riverdale Avenue Books is publishing an updated version: Hollywood Lesbians: From Garbo to Foster, which gives us a rare, no-holds-barred collection of exclusive interviews with icons -- from the Golden Age of movies and TV all the way to the stars we see dominating online streaming today.

A companion volume to Hadleigh's classics Conversations With My Elders and Hollywood Gays, the updated edition is gaining attention from Tinsel Town's heaviest hitters -- including Ellen DeGeneres, who calls the book "Riveting! An eye opener."

The Advocate sat down with Hadleigh to discuss Hollywood Lesbians: From Garbo to Foster, which is only one out of the 22 books he's written on the subject.

The Advocate: How many of the subjects featured in Hollywood Lesbians (1994) and Hollywood Gays (1996) were alive at the time they were published? I'm wondering if Barbara Stanwyck, Nancy Kulp, and Agnes Moorehead were able to read the book.
Boze Hadleigh: Unfortunately, most of the participants in Hollywood Lesbians and Hollywood Gays were no longer alive when the books came out. In some cases, I had to sign contracts -- including an eight-pager for Edith Head promising I would ask nothing about her private life -- to not publish until they were deceased, so they could no longer be hurt professionally, or embarrassed; those generations were big on that.

I was able to get feedback from several of the women in Hollywood Lesbians on the men in Conversations With My Elders (a 1986 gays-in-film interview book preceeding both Hollywood Lesbians and HollywoodGays) because one of CWME's three directors was the highly esteemed "women's director" George Cukor, who helped me gain access to Barbara Stanwyck.

Since my father was a history professor, I've always thought it was important to acknowledge when someone important is gay or lesbian, whether a positive role model or a J. Edgar Hoover. Disappointingly, I found that often a historian would closet an admired gay figure but admit the homo- or bisexuality of a disliked historical figure, say, Caligula or Nero.

Did you set out to dispel all the myths we had about these stars' lives as depicted in fanzines and other outlets back in the day?
Yes, definitely. I wanted to dispel myths and stereotypes, just to make it known there were and are many lesbian, gay, and bi celebrities, and VIPs. In Broadway Babylon, I point out that Ethel Merman, who was often believed to be lesbian and Jewish, was neither, whereas Mary Martin, i.e. Miss Femme, was lesbian or bisexual, who had a gay husband that coached her on dressing and coiffing femininely!

What was different about this updated edition of the book Hollywood Lesbians: From Garbo to Foster?
The update has more of an overview, noting that nowadays, when there are far more out actresses, they write their own books. I couldn't get interviews with long-closeted, eventually out but very private women like Lily Tomlin and Jodie Foster.

The [added] 50 percent edition to Hollywood Lesbians include noninterview chapters on Jodie [Foster], Ellen [DeGeneres], Rosie [O'Donnell], Greta Garbo, a long chapter on TV stars, and a new intro featuring 50 celeb quotes about women loving women -- via lesbians, bisexual women, heterosexual women, and a few heterosexual men. These are the type of honest, illuminating, and revealing quotes that I still would not be able to supply 50 of about men loving men.

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Are you amazed at the stars who are out now, or does Hollywood still have a problem with out LGBT actors?
It's definitely a big change since the first edition of Hollywood Lesbians, but yes. Hollywood -- that is, show business -- still has a problem with GLBT performers, especially ones who reach a wider audience. Movies costing as much as they do, producers, bankers, etc., want a star who appeals to the most people and won't elicit controversy.

There's also, alas, a lot of self-hate, not to mention naked ambition, keeping celebs in the closet. It has to be remembered that regarding Hollywood lesbians and bisexual actresses, their careers are limited not just by homophobia but by sexism, looksism, and ageism.

The big success of Ellen is possible because she's not playing a love object. She is funny and nonthreatening, more of a girl-woman, or almost boy-woman, than a leading lady. Personality can go further than looks. As Joan Collins said, "Being beautiful is like growing a little bit poorer every single day." Hollywood can pair a 70+ actor with a female 30 or 40 years younger, but actresses over 60 don't get paired with actors of 50, 40, or 30.

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Diane Anderson-Minshall

Diane Anderson-Minshall is the CEO of Pride Media, and editorial director of The Advocate, Out, and Plus magazine. She's the winner of numerous awards from GLAAD, the NLGJA, WPA, and was named to Folio's Top Women in Media list. She and her co-pilot of 30 years, transgender journalist Jacob Anderson-Minshall penned several books including Queerly Beloved: A Love Across Genders.
Diane Anderson-Minshall is the CEO of Pride Media, and editorial director of The Advocate, Out, and Plus magazine. She's the winner of numerous awards from GLAAD, the NLGJA, WPA, and was named to Folio's Top Women in Media list. She and her co-pilot of 30 years, transgender journalist Jacob Anderson-Minshall penned several books including Queerly Beloved: A Love Across Genders.