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Paper Trail:
Great American Couple

Paper Trail:
Great American Couple


In an exclusive excerpt from his new book, Hollywood Bohemians: Transgressive Sexuality and the Selling of the Movieland Dream, Brett L. Abrams explores the relationship between Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, who led homosexual lives right under everyone's nose.

In an exclusive excerpt from his new book, Hollywood Bohemians: Transgressive Sexuality and the Selling of the Movieland Dream, Brett L. Abrams explores the relationship between Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, who led homosexual lives right under everyone's nose.

Newspaper and magazine articles, Hollywood novels, and Hollywood movies featuring Hollywood between the late 1910s and early 1940s showed audiences homosexuals, adulterers, effeminate males, and butch females. Actress Greta Garbo defined herself as a bachelor. Screenwriter Mercedes De Acosta wore mannish attire. A trio of male heartthrobs attended a party and showed no romantic interest in women. Homosexual designers picked up men in nightclubs. The industry and the media covering Hollywood developed and disseminated these real and fictional characters, whom I call Hollywood's bohemians.

The Hollywood bohemians appeared because they contributed significantly to the construction of the movie capital's image. They helped forge the perspective of Hollywood as the most racy, risque and unconventional place in the country. Hollywood was the dream factory, a place to project our fantasies and reflect our dreams, no matter how outlandish. The usual Hollywood publicity enabled audience members to develop a sense of intimacy with the celebrity so that readers could imagine themselves as having a greater understanding of the star.

Hollywood bohemian images increased the appeal to audiences' prurient interests with sexual naughtiness. As homosexuals, adulterers, effeminate males, and butch females, the bohemians embodied the pleasures of the forbidden and the taboo. Hollywood bohemians linked the industry to exposure of (previously) guarded secrets. They played an important role in developing Hollywood's image as a place of sexual abandon, further enhancing the Hollywood "mystique." The brilliance of these images was that they set the bohemians at familiar Hollywood locations. The presence of the sexual "other" makes the location more exciting, and the familiar location makes the "other" less threatening.

The bohemians are the forerunners of today's highly sexualized images. They highlighted celebrity and public figures' personal lives, which has become the focus of extensive coverage now. They represent an early example of the media presenting culturally controversial behavior images to attract audiences.

The first publicity images containing information about Grant and Scott began after they became friends while filming the movie Hot Saturday in mid-1932. Press reports during the first two years described the actors' shared celebrity home and domestic life through phrases including, "Hollywood's twosome" and "the happy couple." The innuendos provided details about the two actors' personal lives which thrilled fans, making the actors appear to be two men sharing more than lodgings.

Other articles attempted to understand the actors' living arrangements in other ways, such as the need to reduce rental costs. These items noted that similar to other single men, the actors shared lodgings earlier in their lives when they struggled to make it in the arts. However, by 1935 they had little financial incentive to continue having roommates for this reason. Cary Grant's continued use of finances as the explanation for his living arrangement inadvertently revealed a deeper truth. "'Here we are,' Cary would say, leaning back in a chair, 'living as we want to as bachelors with a nice home at a comparatively small cost. If we got married, we would have to put up a front. Women -- particularly Hollywood women -- expect it."

Grant expressed that he and Scott lived as they wanted to: as bachelors, together within a nice home. The actor used the word "front" to mean that if he and Scott got married, the industry would require them to spend money and put on airs. However, his word choice had the double meaning: once they each married, Grant and Scott would be putting up a front that hid their desire to live together.

The pair continued their domestic relationship even after Grant's marriage to Virginia Cherrill in early 1934. Reporters noted, "The Grants and Randolph Scott have moved, all three, but not apart." Indeed, this choice for living arrangements appeared preplanned. An item from two weeks prior to Grant's marriage observed that Scott would not seek any permanent quarters until he heard from Grant. Innuendos continued later that year. Shortly after Grant's divorce from Cherrill, an article proclaimed that Randolph Scott had moved back in with Grant. This article's title, "A Woman Is Only a Woman," suggested that the two men formed a home life with one another that they probably could not have with a woman. These items associated the actors' home with a forbidden sexuality, turning the place into an exotic experience.

There were few images of two men living together in popular culture, literature, or medical textbooks during this era. Many movies had strong male comradeship themes, but the men did not share a house. In these movies, a group of men bonded by accomplishing some "manly" act, such as going off to war or conquering the wilderness. Even the medical community members who wrote about their studies of homosexuals very rarely included case studies of two men who lived together. One of the few instances of an image of men living together appeared in Richard Meeker's Better Angel, a 1933 novel about homosexuals. Its protagonist Kurt stayed in effeminate David's apartment before Kurt decided to commit to his relationship with David.

The Paramount publicity department shot over thirty photographs of Grant and Scott within different rooms of their Santa Monica beach house. The studio focused its interpretation of these pictures on the stars' personalities, bachelorhood, and use of the house. The caption stamped on the back of each photograph highlighted that the actors were two of filmland's most eligible bachelors who shared quarters but lived independent lives.

The studio believed that photographs of the actors using their swimming pool and sitting at their den bar revealed each man's physical attractiveness. The images also showed the men's fun-loving spirits within a luxurious and beautiful place. The studio presumably thought that the photographic series depicted each man as a swinging Hollywood bachelor. These images appealed to both heterosexually inclined women who appreciated the actors' looks, domesticity, or both, and to heterosexually inclined men, who saw the men living a fantasy "high life."

These groups were not the only people to whom the photographic series appealed. Other photographs in the series heightened the unusualness of their star home by illustrating the actors' Hollywood bohemian natures. In three photographs of the pair at the dining room table each man stared and smiled across the table at one another. In another set, Grant leaned over the seated Scott's shoulder and appeared to watch him write out a note or bill. The photographs demonstrated that the actors found the space and the homey atmosphere comfortable while they displayed a degree of shared intimacy with one another that people expected to find in a romantic heterosexual couple.

The photograph that depicted the end of this long day was the most suggestive that the actors were Hollywood bohemians sharing a loving relationship. Scott and Grant stood on their patio in the early evening. They appeared in silhouette, as Pacific Ocean waves crested behind them. Scott touched his lit cigarette against the cigarette dangling from Grant's mouth.

The presentation of two men smoking together appeared frequently in fiction during the era. However, these scenes occurred in bars, saloons, and other "masculine" spaces rather than in a space that the culture viewed as romantic. The interaction between the two men did not present them as a pair, isolated from everyone around them. One man rarely lit the other man's cigarette, and certainly did not lean forward to light a cigarette as it dangled from the other man's mouth. The image of a male and female couple lighting cigarettes within a beautiful night scene at home appeared most frequently in cigarette advertising since the mid-1920s. These images linked smoking cigarettes to romance.

Scott and Grant appeared within that similar type of romantic setting.

One lit the other's cigarette as the man lit a woman's cigarette for her in the advertisements and popular culture of the era. Scott gingerly touched the cigarette as it dangled from Grant's mouth, demonstrating a comfort with close physical proximity. This photograph hinted at a shared intimacy between the actors. This image took the viewer inside the actors' private dwelling and linked the house to a forbidden sexuality and pleasure. While depicting the taboo, it also showed that behavior in a remarkably touching and beautiful way that made the home even more memorable. This image also illuminated a type of coupling within a home that few readers would have seen, making this star home appear bohemian and highly unique. The actors' living arrangement lasted until early 1942 when they moved apart for the remainder of their lives.

From Hollywood Bohemians: Transgressive Sexuality and the Selling of the Movieland Dream (c) 2008 Brett L. Abrams by permission of McFarland & Company Inc., Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640.

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