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Monday, November 5, 2012

Farley Granger, Rest in Peace

Getting cozy With Farley Granger

Thom and Farley Granger
(Photo Missing)

By Thom Nickels
Contributing Editor
Weekly Press

Farley Granger and his partner Robert Calhoun sat in a small suite in Center City’s Sofitel Hotel. The couple arrived an hour ago from Manhattan, so they’ve barely had time to relax.

Granger was here to receive the Philadelphia Gay & Lesbian Film Festival’s Artistic Achievement Award, and to speak and sign copies of his book, Include Me Out, co-authored by Calhoun, at Giovanni’s Room.

Granger still resembles the handsome matinee idol in Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and Rope. His eyebrows and eyes, a muted but still-alive boyish receptivity, and his long fingers suggest his younger days.

Granger looks overdressed in an autumn windbreaker, while the accountant-smart Calhoun is in a short-sleeved red shirt.

“Farley has always had this ability to not worry how it’s all going to work out, while I’m always thinking, ‘well, I better do something or I’ll be sleeping in the gutter.’ But Farley’s focus was never that,” Calhoun said.

Granger’s big career move from movies to theater was prompted by the boredom of making films—sitting on the set all day, filming the last part of a movie first, then jumping to the middle or the beginning and back again, until he felt disconnected and alienated as an actor.

After his success as a Hollywood leading man, Granger bought out his contract with Samuel Goldwyn and moved to New York, where he said he longed to live the life of a real actor, struggling and almost starving in a garret.

Granger was discovered as a17-year-old student at North Hollywood High, when an agent spotted him in a little theater production.

He was immediately signed to Hollywood mogul Samuel Goldwyn, the Hollywood mogul. Granger’s film star rise was meteoric, even magical. He never had to wait tables or go to open casting calls.

Despite a stint in the Army during World War II, his career in film and the theater seemed to travel at a comfortable if not always peaceful rate of ascendancy.

How was it to be gay in Hollywood during the McCarthy era, when other actors like Rock Hudson, James Dean, Tab Hunter, and Cary Grant were often “forced” to find women to be their beards?

“It was never a problem for me,” Granger said. “I didn’t hang out with the gay actor crowd but stuck to the musical theater group where people didn’t care who or what you were.”

Granger had affairs with Ava Gardner and Barbara Stanwyck and was engaged to Shelley Winters. He also had affairs with Leonard Bernstein, French actor Jean Marais (Jean Cocteau’s lover), and screenwriter Arthur Laurents.

Calhoun and Granger became partners while working in Philadelphia at the Forrest Theater the day that John F. Kennedy was killed.

Calhoun, a former executive producer of popular soap operas like The Guiding Light and As The World Turns, almost always took the lead in the interview.

“We had a good editor [with the book] and we felt good about her. There are certain books that get so graphic or specific with their content, it turns off a section of the audience that you want to reach,” Calhoun said.

As Hollywood memoirs go, Include Me Out has it all. Dozens of actor celebrities appear and disappear during the story.

Granger and Calhoun have more Shelley Winters stories than can be bound between the covers of a book.

“She was certainly bipolar,” Granger said. “She was crazy, but I loved her just the same.”

Their engagement ended when it looked like Winters’ instability would become an emotional liability. Their friendship managed to survive.

“Shelley drove me crazy sometimes,” Granger confessed.

Calhoun laughed easily, but sometimes Granger became quiet and seemed to drift into a dense trance. Granger’s eyes are so solidly dark that it’s difficult to read him, but the effect is arresting. It is obvious that, without Calhoun, Granger would not be on the road signing books.

In Hitchcock’s Rope—a take-off on the famous Leopold and Loeb case of the 1920’s in which two intellectually gifted gay lovers go on a crime spree and murder a 12-year-old boy in their Chicago neighborhood for the fun of it—Granger emoted a supple vulnerability rare for a Hollywood leading man of the period. Much has been written about Rope’s gay subtext in an age when the word homosexual could not be said.

Granger said that Hitchcock came close to being the perfect director and that the crews loved him. He always knew what he was going to do and didn’t ask for collective input. Granger doesn’t consider many of the current Hollywood directors real directors but said they are always asking for advice, input, and help from the cast.

At one point Calhoun said there used to be a list with the names of all the men that Ava Gardner slept with. “There were at least a dozen names, and Howard Hughes’ name was on it.”

After the tour, both men said, they are going to Europe, especially London and their beloved Italy, to see old friends before they die.