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Wisecracker [Hardcover]

William Mann
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb. 3 1998
In 1930 William Haines was Hollywoods #1 box-office draw - a talented, handsome, wisecracking romantic lead. Offscreen, protected by a careful collaboration between studio and press, he was openly gay with reporters and studio chiefs alike. Here is Haines's virtually unknown story - rich with detail, revelations, and scandal - about silent movies and talkies; his lover Jimmie Shields, and the fifty-year relationship (Joan Crawford, their best friend, called them "The happiest married couple in Hollywood") and the enforcement of the Production Code and the establishment of the Hollywood closet, which led to the blacklisting that ultimately doomed Haimes's film career. Wisecracker sweeps from gay pool parties to the excitement of early talkies to Haines's infamous encounter with gay-bashing white supremicists in 1936. He survived the scandal to emerge as a top interior decorator to the stars and to such clients as Nancy Reagan and Walter Annenberg, who employed him for the American Embassy in London. With a cast of characters running from Tallulah Bankhead to Betsy Bloomingdale, from Clark Gable to William Randolph Hearst, Wisecracker is an astounding peice of newly discovered gay history, a chronicle of high Hollywood, and - at it's heart - a great and enduring love story.

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From Amazon

William Haines was one of MGM's biggest stars in the late 1920s, playing cocky but sympathetic wise guys in movies such as Brown of Harvard. He was as self-assured in real life: dropped by the studio in 1933 because he refused to hide his homosexuality, Haines became a successful interior decorator. Journalist William J. Mann perceptively links Haines's story to shifting attitudes in the movie industry, the gay community, and America as a whole. He also paints a tender portrait of the actor's love for Jimmie Shields, his companion from 1926 until Haines's death in 1973.

From Library Journal

The now-forgotten Haines made the leap from contract player to featured actor in 1926 and was Hollywood's top male moneymaker in 1930. But a combination of changing times and battles with Louis B. Mayer over his love life ended his career by 1936. Thereafter, Haines made a fortune as one of America's top interior designers without giving up his principles. Journalist Mann's detailed biography, based partly on interviews with gay Hollywood figures who knew Haines well, reveals a film community whose public and private faces rarely coincided. Haines and his partner's 50-year life together and that of other long-term gay Hollywood couples demonstrates a commitment rarely seen among any couples. Highly recommended for its vivid portrait of these overlapping communities.?Anthony J. Adam, Prairie View A&M Univ. Lib., Houston
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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It's a central fact of his life that Billy Haines rarely told a lie, but he did have his ways of making the truth fit the situation at hand. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars A sloppy job April 28 2004
By A Customer
This book was a major disappointment. It could have been good. Unfortunately, once you throw out all the regurgitated gossip, conjecture, and seemingly endless repetition, there's not much real information on William Haines. It doesn't help that Mann doesn't seem to know (or care) that he frequently contradicts himself. Potentially interesting topics - that Haines may have been a manic depressive, to name just one - are touched on, but Mann prefers rehashing old publicity to attempting any real insight.
One of the more irritating aspects of this book is the repeated emphasis on how "cultured" Haines was. He quit school at age 14; how and when he acquired the "culture" he was so famous for is never really made clear. It's possible that he educated himself in art, music, literature, etc., which would be laudable as well as interesting, but if this side of Haines existed, Mann does him a huge disservice by ignoring it. Apparently it's enough for Mann that Haines was well-versed in antiques and Emily Post's Etiquette.
As has been pointed out in other reviews, Mann's research leaves a lot to be desired. Take, for example, his reference in Chapter Four to Gloria Swanson's "marriages to European royalty." Supposedly Mann read Swanson's autobiography; of her six husbands -and she discusses each one-only two were Europeans and neither one was a member of a royal family. Sounds like nitpicking, but that's just one of several statements based on slipshod research.
Then there's the question of style. Mann's prose is, on the whole, pedestrian, except when he tries to be imaginative, and then the results are laughable.
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2.0 out of 5 stars AN ALMOST TRUE BOOK May 10 2003
By A Customer
For those looking for an introduction to the career of William Haines and for some insights into gay life in the 1920s and 1930s, this book will suffice. But it has as its grounding assumptions several false facts.
1) William Haines was not the biggest moneymaker or the biggest star at MGM in 1930. He was not the Gay Gable. That "fact" is gleaned from one minor poll of distributors and is not reflective of the reality that by 1930 -- even 1929 -- Haines was fading.
2) Haines was fading partly because he was losing his looks -- an odd thing to say about a thirty year old man -- but true. He was getting heavy; he was losing his hair, and he was losing the boyish look that had been the source of his appeal.
3) Anyone who has ever seen a Haines talkie will understand why his career faded. His wiseguy personna did not translate well to the talking screen. He was, in a word, obnoxious. He looked like a big obnoxious stiff.
4) Mann says that changing mores in Hollywood, mores that would soon result in the Hays Code, partly brought about Haines's downfall. Wrong. Haines was already finished by 1932, long before the Code was instituted. And in any case the Code wasn't a product of some kind of consensus within Hollywood. And there could have been no moral re-trenchment in Hollywood, in anticipation of the Code, because in 1932, no one saw it coming. And to know that, all one has to do is watch some 1932 movies.
5) Half the people Mann says were gay weren't.
6) Some of the sex stories are specious, undocumented, seventy-year-old gossip.
7) Haines gayness was a nuisance, so far as MGM was concerned, but if his movies were making money the studio would have kept him indefinitely. He was dropped because his movies were tanking.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Badly Researched Book by William J. Mann April 5 2002
By A Customer
William J. Mann's book Wisecracker seems at first well written. Also, it appeared well researched and Mr. Mann
wanted to write about FACTS and not sensationalize a not so interesting life as William Haines. The book
centers around William Haines gayness above all.
But I totally lost interest in reading any more of this book when I reached page 116 where Mr. Mann
refers to Virgina Rappe as a "young starlet" when in fact she wasn't young by any means and her profession was
actually "prositute." She did do some modeling (adverts for make up) but never appeared in a film. Also he states that the "lured
details of the Fatty Arbuckle case came out..." The details he lists may have come from some old publicity
rag, but not the facts stated in Arbuckle's court transcripts. Rappe tried to extort money
from Arbuckle and to get back she said he raped her. He was never seen in ripped pajamas, and did not
wear anyone's "smashed hat" since there was no such item in that set of hotel suites in San Francisco.
Arbuckle barely saw Virgina Rappe since she lay sick - in another room with complications from a botched
abortion done a week before. Which was proven and the stories that circulation were just rumors.
SHEETS..or rag, more like. Don't bother to read this book if you want to know the truth.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Ultimately Disappointing Sept. 14 2001
I bought this book with high hopes, and as much as I hate to say it, I'm disappointed. There is quite a bit of info on William Haines' movie career here, and that is the best part of the book. Sadly, though, I feel the author runs into trouble in three places. First, he tries to give us a lot of context about the Hollywood of the time, but much of what he presents is quoted from other books, nearly all of which I've read and few of which I feel were adequately researched themselves. There is already too much classic-movie "scholarship" based on old press handouts and issues of "Photoplay"; I wish Mann had either dug harder for primary sources or left out material that could not be backed up by more substantive research.
My second quibble is that Mann devotes most of the book to Haines' acting career- which occupied only twelve years of his subject's life- and only a small portion to the decorating career Haines enjoyed for decades after he left the movie business. The info Mann gives on this period is well-researched, but there is not anything like enough of it.
My third reservation is my largest. In 1936, Haines and his lover Jimmie Shields were accused of molesting a young boy in Manhattan Beach, CA. They were run out of town; there was a hearing that ended in a dismissal. Up to a point, Mann seems to have made an admirable effort to get at the facts. Unfortunately, in his zeal to uncover the whole story, Mann found and interviewed the boy, now a retired mayor of Manhattan Beach. The ex-mayor says the molestation DID take place, and that the perpetrator was Jimmie Shields. Mann then does both his readers and his interviewee a grave disservice.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Things you can tell just by skimming through it
This book is very informative and full of eye-opening photographs. It reflects an issue that needs to be addressed much, much more. Read more
Published on June 1 2003 by J. Rose
4.0 out of 5 stars Gossipy
Yea, Mr. Mann gets a little gossipy in areas, without stating real facts, and he does tend to lean towards the "gay" angle on everything, but overall this is a pretty good book. Read more
Published on July 30 2002 by AJ
5.0 out of 5 stars WONDERFUL Biography of a Star!
I got much more out of this biography than I expected. I wanted to learn more about Billy Haines, and his struggle to be openly gay in Hollywood, and about his long marriage to... Read more
Published on April 12 2002 by steve
4.0 out of 5 stars A Look at the Social Swirl of Old Hollywood
Williams Haines is perfectly suited as a lens through which to examine life, gay life in particular, in old Hollywood when the silents were king and when they first fell. Read more
Published on Jan. 20 2002 by Ricky Hunter
4.0 out of 5 stars Decent Bio
The author of this book has a real feel for the Hollywood of the twenties and thirties. There are alot of anecdotes about various silent and talking film stars. Read more
Published on Sept. 5 2001 by Moe811
5.0 out of 5 stars A Star with Class
William Mann gives us quite a gift in his book "Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines, Hollywood's First Openly Gay Star". Read more
Published on July 4 2000 by James Hiller
4.0 out of 5 stars Almost a perfect book.
This book is very informing and inspiring. I mean, Hollywood "marriages" hardly last a couple of years, but with two couples in this book staying together for over 40... Read more
Published on April 20 2000 by "macadocb"
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read about Haines; but, not the best "study...
...of Gay Hollywood"... I enjoyed reading this book. I knew nothing about William Haines's life... Read more
Published on March 22 2000 by "zara_azari"
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful and Finally, an Accurate Look at Gay Hollywood
I just finished this book and was overwhelmed. Thank you to the author for finally chronicling gay Hollywood in a way that is thorough, fair and accurate. Read more
Published on Jan. 15 2000 by Judith D.
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