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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2016

entry arrow6:04 PM | From William Haines to Matt Bomer, With Love

I was watching Gino M. Santos' Love Me Tomorrow (2016) straight through the lunchtime screening with two good friends because we wanted to escape from the mundane demands of work, and figured that a Star Cinema romantic drama -- with all the expected gloss and silliness -- would be enough of an escape from the pressing world. I also went because I loved Santos' two earlier features -- The Animals (2012) and #Y (2014) -- which made the cut for the Cinemalaya of their respective years, but ever since he made the leap to commercial filmmaking, I've lost track of his output. Ex With Benefits (2015), anyone? This new Piolo Pascual starrer proved to be a good way to be reintroduced to the gloriously burgis cinema of Gino Santos, clearly the heir apparent of Danny Zialcita even if the wit of the old master has yet to really embrace the young director. And so we traipsed through the inoffensive story about a DJ past his prime (played with jagged cockiness by Mr. Pascual), who happens to bed occasionally on the side a pretty "social media influencer" (Coleen Garcia transcending a thankless role) -- but finds himself unwittingly falling for an older widow and budding fashion designer (gamely portrayed by Dawn Zulueta, who reminds us that old movie stars shatter everyone else in their light). There's not much to this old chestnut of reverse May-December romance, and I could recommend it for its insistence that life has no villains. But what got me thinking after exiting the movie house was this: Piolo Pascual -- an enduring moviestar whose beauty is not diminished by the years -- has done almost all sorts of romantic pairings, but not once has he ever played half of a gay couple. In that respect, his contemporaries Dennis Trillo and John Lloyd Cruz have him beat, and to think these two remain the ultimate of machismo in Philippine contemporary cinema. There have been the persistent rumours of course regarding Mr. Pascual's sexuality, and his refusal to play gay only seem to magnify it.

I can understand the dilemma. It is an unfortunate truism in show business that being openly gay is bad for business for movie actors of certain box office categories. A character actor, forever in a supporting role, may be able to get away with being out of the closet, but stars?

Hollywood itself is littered with stories of actors in and out of the closet. I love the story of William Haines who once ruled Hollywood as its biggest box office star. Out Magazine writes about him: "Known as a wisecracking leading man, William 'Billy' Haines was the top box office draw of 1929, was friends with a young Cary Grant and remained lifelong besties with Joan Crawford. Through it all he was more or less openly gay, at the cost of his movie career, and married for 50 years to the same sailor he picked up on a publicity trip to New York in 1926. Crawford once called the relationship between Haines and Jimmy Shields 'the happiest marriage in Hollywood.'" [More here. Slate also has a story here.] That marriage was what cost him his movie career, but it was a cost he was willing to pay. Forced by MGM honcho Louis B. Meyer to give up Jimmy for the sake of moral policing in the wake of the restrictive Hollywood Code, he gave up movie stardom instead of giving up on the love of his life. Known for his opulent taste, he went on to have a very successful second career as an interior designer. His fascinating life has been made into a 2001 documentary for AMC titled Out of the Closet, Off the Screen: The Life of William Haines...

Then there's Tab Hunter. He came to the movies in 1950 with a role in The Lawless, but his blonde good looks soon landed him a meaty role in Island of Desire (1952) opposite Linda Darnell, and soon he was starring in a string of films including Gun Belt (1953), The Steel Lady (1953), Return to Treasure Island (1954), Track of the Cat (1954), and Battle Cry (1955). In September of 1955, the tabloid magazine Confidential wrote about his 1950 arrest for disorderly conduct, and alluded that the actor perhaps was gay. It had no impact on his career, however, and a few months later, Hunter was named Most Promising New Personality in a nationwide poll sponsored by the Council of Motion Picture Organizations. He went on to star in many movies, and later took to television, and oversaw a career that had its highs and lows -- but he never became the full-fledged movie star he promised to become early in his career. But I'm not sure his being gay had something to do with that. Some actors become big stars, some don't -- and that's that.

Tab Hunter's life as a gay actor working in Hollywood has been immortalised in the recent documentary Tab Hunter Confidential (2015), directed by Jeffrey Schwarz -- The Hollywood Reporter writes about it here.

Of late, many well-known actors have since bucked the trend -- perhaps a reflection of a new openness. And so we have the likes of James Franco, Joel Grey, Ellen Page, Maria Bello, Anna Paquin, Wentworth Miller, Matt Dallas, Raven-Symone, Ellen Degeneres, Portia DiRossi, Jodie Foster, Jim Parsons, Evan Rachel Wood, Neil Patrick Harris, and others in various stages of coming out [The New York Daily News has a list here. The Los Angeles Times also has a list here. And so does Entertainment Tonight, here.] Among them all, Matt Bomer stands tall. Openly gay -- and yet still remaining irresistible to both men and women alike. The roles he is given do not even consider his gayness. He plays straight, too -- and convincingly so. And nobody minds.

But will some of the most major movie stars hounded for so long about their sexuality -- they will remain unnamed here -- ever choose to come out? Perhaps not. One gets used to the confines of the closet sometimes.

Nicolas Kazamia's Gay Hollywood: The Last Taboo (2009) is a good documentary that tackles the issue. The film, according to its catalogue, "looks at the challenges facing gay artists in Hollywood past and present. Hollywood in the 1920s was the most homosexual friendly place to be as most of the behind-the-camera staff were gay. However, for those in front of the camera there was no tolerance from the movie-going public. Any homosexual who wanted to maintain a career had to remain in a well-locked closet. During the 1950s, the studios provided their own 'police' who would be the first to arrive at any scene of an 'indiscretion' or other scandalous act. Their task was to collect and remove any evidence and then call the real police if necessary. The studios, wanting to safeguard their investments, even forced male gay actors, like Rock Hudson and Cary Grant, into sham marriages." You can see the entire film below...

So, will Mr. Pascual ever choose to play a gay role? Let's hope he does...


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