A Great Star Remembered Jun 22, 2007
Mann writes an excellent biography of a long-forgotten star, William
Haines, who was a top 5 box-office star between 1927 and 1932. Haines
was a huge star of his time, transitioned between silent films and
talkies, and was the first "outed" gay star in America.
Mann also delves into the personal life of Billy Haines and shows us
his "gay" life with partner Jimmie Shields, as well as his his hugely
successful career as an interior designer after his film career ended
Haines hit Hollywood in the early 1920s and landed small parts in a
number of films before getting the big build-up after his co-starring
role in 1925 with legendary Mary Pickford in "Little Annie Rooney."
From there Haines climbed the ladder of film success in a series of MGM
films that included "Brown of Harvard" and "Show People" before making
the transition to talkies in "Navy Blues" and "Hollywood Revue of
Until 1932, Haines reigned as a major star until he ran afoul of the
hypocritical Louis B. Mayer, who demanded Haines marry. Haines held
fast and refused to play that game. Mayer fired him. Haines returned
for a few B films at a minor studio and retired from films.
Haines maintained his Hollywood friendships with major names like Joan
Crawford, Constance Bennett, Marion Davies, Marie Dressler, Carole
Lombard, and Gloria Swanson and launched a career as a designer. Haines
had, without credit, designed the sets of many films. But as an
interior designer he had a career that spanned the next 40 years. He
designed the homes of many Hollywood stars and even designed rooms at
the White House when Reagan was president.
Haines was a huge star and major Hollywood talent who refused to play
the hypocritical game played by many other stars. He stood by his gay
partner until his death in 1973. Shortly after Haines' death, Jimmie
Shields, dressed in Haines' pajamas committed suicide. Joan Crawford
always said they were the happiest married couple in Hollywood.
Haines leaves a legacy of dozens of movies, many of them classics.
Gloria Swanson tried to lure Haines back to the screen for a role in
"Sunset Boulevard," but the 50-year--old ex-star refused. Haines' films
are still shown on Turner Classic Movies, and now and then, a classic
is restored and shown as a Turner Premiere film with great fanfare.
Mann brings the life and name of William Haines back from the movie
vaults to the present. Haines deserves to be remembered as a movie
star, a great actor, and a wonderul human being. His talent and guts
are examples for us all.