Farley Granger died at 85 this week. He bucked the studio system, insisting on good parts and when it came to living openly as a gay man, he refused to play into Hollywood’s antigay policies. A wonderful actor and unique star, he will be missed.
In 2007 he was in Philly to receive an award from the Philadelphia International gay and lesbian film festival. I had a chance to interview him and his partner Robert Calhoun for an Edge piece.
The following is part of that interview ~~
They would pause first, then finished each other’s sentences.
A beautifully romantic idea rarely seen in real life. But for screen legend and gay icon Farley Granger and writer Robert Calhoun, it is a description that would apply after 45 years together.
I met them when they came to Philadelphia where Granger was honored for cinematic artistic achievement at the 13th International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. The couple is also on a mini tour to promote Include Me Out, Granger’s bare bulb memoir co-written by Calhoun.
Looking a little dazed from travel, the men graciously recount many details of Granger’s life in films and on stage in the lounge of swank Hotel Sofitel, where they were preparing for a reception in their honor that evening at XIX Nineteen Caf�, the elegant penthouse restaurant at the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue Philadelphia. After receiving his award, the film festival continued to honor them with a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, the 1948 thriller that starred Granger as a gay killer modeled in Arthur Laurents’ screenplay after the real-life murderers Leopold and Loeb.
Calhoun immediately interjects as they sit down. “We did the book together and I’m inclined to more detailed memories.” It is Granger, though, who fills in the emotion and star power.
Granger was scouted at age 17 by a studio rep for movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn and appeared in the film North Star before going into the Navy. When Granger returned to Hollywood after his discharge, he refused to be controlled by the Orwellian studio system and backed away from it. How intrusive were they when he began his career in post WWII Hollywood?
“Very.” Granger said without hesitation
Calhoun: “Farley did the first two films for (influential producer) Lewis Milestone starting when he was 17. He did North Star and then at 20th The Purple Heart then he went into the Navy. When he got out he got back and went to see Lewis Milestone and then …”
Granger: “Milestone said ’Aaron Copland is in town doing the music for my film and he would love to see you again. Why don’t you call him?’ We had dinner at the famous James Wong Howe restaurant and Aaron came in and I was smoking a cigarette and we laughed about that … and we just giggled about everything really. I was saying things like ’what do you really think of Prokofiev?’ to him and making an ass of myself I’m sure. And we were just having a wonderful time. The next day I was called into Goldwyn’s office and told I’d been seen with Aaron Copland and that was very bad thing to do…” Calhoun: “because Copland ’was a known homosexual.’” they said.
Granger: “’I said, I don’t believe what you’re telling me …’ They said he’s gay and I said I know that and I said ’… it’s my life and I’ll see who I want to see, if you don’t like it, get rid of me. But I certainly will not give up Aaron Copland for you, being as stupid as you are and I walked out.’ I was furious.”
Calhoun: “That was 1948 in Goldwyn’s office and a vice president did most of the talking and Goldwyn said there imposingly silent behind his desk … But he (Granger) directed this to Goldwyn and said ’and furthermore I met him at your studio on a film you made called North Star.’”
Robert notes that Granger never expressed any fear or regret for how he handled them. It certainly didn’t hinder his career. “Goldwyn wanted to loan me out a lot of times to other studios because he only made one or two movies a year. He would loan me out and they were bad scripts. Ali Baba things that Tony Curtis did and I didn’t want to do them, so I said no.” Granger laughs when I ask him if they didn’t get rid of him because he was such a screen presence who was not only great looking but a naturally talented actor, and that they were afraid of him.
“Both probably.” he says with a wicked laugh….
Calhoun: “You’re not scary, but you’re not going to be pushed around. He also was not a part of the gay cliques that existed in Hollywood. The weekend swim parties at George Cukor’s house. Farley was not part of those groups. He chose to be with the New York/Metro musical crowd at Gene Kelly’s open house weekly. And musical people didn’t care who did what with whom. Farley found those parties so much more fun.”
Granger’s star was sealed as a leading man working with director Alfred Hitchcock on Strangers on a Train and Rope, both films with homosexual angles. In Rope, Granger and John Dahl play college age buddies who kill a fellow student for vicarious thrills. Rope was written by gay playwright/screenwriter Arthur Laurents (West Side Story and Gypsy), with whom Granger had a relationship. The meticulous Hitchcock never brought up the word homosexual, so ’it’ was never discussed, but the actors played it pretty straightforwardly as lovers.
On Strangers on a Train Calhoun said “It just sort of happened. They didn’t discuss it, but it’s so apparent that Robert Walker knew what he was doing … and Farley certainly was aware. It was interesting that it thread that very fine line of being acknowledged or acknowledged between the two of them.” Granger said that Walker was great to work with. “Hitchcock never brought up the word homosexual in either of the films,” Calhoun added, “which is odd because he obviously knew what he was doing.” Granger (with an ironic laugh): “Yes, he certainly did.” The actor also recalls taking tennis lessons from gay tennis great Bill Tilden at Charlie Chaplin’s house for his role as a tennis pro in ’Strangers.’ Granger invited his friend choreographer Jerome Robbins to dinner to meet Chaplin. “They came and they were wonderful and later that evening they ended up dancing together, which was just heaven to see.”
Granger bought out the remainder of his contract and was headed to New York to study and work in theater, his real dream. His agent told him that instead he had to make back the money he had just given back to Hollywood and should go to Italy to work with maverick gay Italian film director Luchino Visconti on a film called Senso.
Granger: “I didn’t know Visconti. My agent said that Goldwyn would let me out of the contract if I gave him all of my money. And I said sure I’ll do that. Then he said there’s this Italian movie and they wanted Ingrid Bergman and Brando, but they couldn’t do it. It was supposed to be very good. I loved Italy anyway, so I said ’Yes I’ll do it.’ We ended up living there.”
Granger was also in a famed, but ill-fated revival of The King and I co-starring Barbara Cook, who would become a lifelong friend. “Everyone wanted to take it to Broadway and Hammerstein said he and Richard Rogers would do it. But nothing happened.” Just as it was about to happen, there was an actor’s strike, and then Oscar Hammerstein died. Granger: “We were good. She was the best.”
Calhoun: “Barbara eventually sent us a copy of a letter that she had from Laurents writing to Rodgers saying how terrific he thought the show was. How much more impressed he was with the revival. Rodgers wrote back that, by far Farley and Barbara were superior than the original production on Broadway.” It was time to stop, but, like Barbara, I could have danced all night with Farley.
The couple was greeted by a full room of admirers at the Hyatt. Just desserts because Philly has special meaning for them: they fell in love and committed to each other on one of the saddest days in our nation’s history – the day President Kennedy was shot in 1963. “It was in Philadelphia that we really became a pair.” Calhoun said.