How sham Hollywood marriages hid midcentury movie stars’ salacious secrets.

In this hyper-connected age, with the omnipresence of smartphone cameras and gossip sites like TMZ, it’d be risky business indeed — perhaps even an impossible mission — for a movie star to attempt to veil their sexual predilections with a sham marriage. Today, no-one of consequence really cares how you swing anyway. It’s all good. You do you, baby. (Unless ‘doing you’ involves active membership of the Westboro Church. Those guys are abhorrent.)

But back in Hollywood’s Golden Era, numerous stars felt the need — or were pressured by studios and management — to wear a ‘beard’, and we don’t mean the face-fur kind. (Pre-Sixties, matinee idols were seldom seen in an unshaven state.) No, the beard we refer to here is of the marital sort: a husband or wife procured primarily to scotch rumours of an actor’s homosexuality.

Rake favourite Cary Grant met and moved in with dashingly handsome fellow thespian Randolph Scott in 1932, and the two would live together off an on for 11 years. Following a 1933 magazine article profiling the merry co-habitants, which used nudge-nudge-wink-wink language to hint that their relationship went beyond that of mere housemates, Grant married the actress Virginia Cherrill, who left him after seven months (citing abuse, Grant’s constant drunkenness and lack of sexual interest as cause), whereupon Cary resumed rooming with Randy. The domestic arrangement finally ended when Grant entered the second of his five marriages, to the world’s wealthiest woman Barbara Hutton, in 1942. The two divorced just a few years later, but would always remain the “fondest of friends”.

The acerbic fashion critic Mr Blackwell, famed for his ‘Worst Dressed’ list, lived with Grant and Scott for a time, and wrote in his autobiography that they were “deeply, madly in love, their devotion complete… Behind closed doors they were warm, kind, loving and caring, and unembarrassed about showing it.” Nevertheless, macho Western star Scott married twice, first to the heiress Marion Du Pont in 1936, and again, in 1944, to actress Patricia Stillman.

Grant and Scott consistently denied the rumours of their partnership — Grant said he’d “nothing against gays, I’m just not one myself”.


July 2016


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