2008: 104. Wisecracker

“I’d come to ask her about William Haines, but there was so much she wanted to say first.”

Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines, Hollywood’s First Openly Gay Star, William J. Mann

Wisecracker is a biography of William Haines, a now forgotten movie star who was the top male actor in Hollywood in 1930.  He was also gay, and lived his life openly (well, as openly as one lived one’s life as a homosexual in the early 1930’s, which is one of the subjects the book discusses).  Too openly for Hollywood, which went from a place of relative freedom in the 1920’s to a clamp down on all “vice” in the 1930’s.  And because Haines was unwilling to fold, as so many of his comrades did, and desert his partner for a sham marriage, he was blackballed from Hollywood.  So, instead, he went on to be one of the most famous interior designers on the West Coast - one of the first to really push the profession of interior design.  And he lived his life, with the same man, quite happily, and thought of himself as a designer first, and a former actor second, which is nice, because lots of times you read stories of former movie stars (and particularly former silent movie stars) and they just ended up pitiful and alone (see e.g. Mary Pickford).

In terms of the biography itself, it was pretty well done.  I am not sure that Haines’s life was really interesting enough to deserve a 391 page biography - the most interesting part by far was the stuff about his life in Hollywood as a gay man, and what it was like in the 20s versus the 30’s.  Perhaps a book about that era, with a chapter on Haines might be more interesting - I slogged through the end, a bit.  But the stuff that is interesting is quite interesting - it is amazing to see how (relatively) open things once were, and I do think (and have long thought) that HBO could create a hell of a television series set in Hollywood right around the time that sound was coming in.  Something about the contrast between the relatively wholesome images on the screen and the quite scandalous lives being lead behind it seems like it would make great T.V. to me - maybe I should write it!


Date/Place Completed: 6/30/08, Sugar Hill N.H.

Categories: Non-Fiction

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017