Wisecracker Hardcover – Feb 3 1998
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.
THAT'S WHEN I REALIZED THIS BOOK IS JUST A HUGE COLLECTION OF COMPILED PUBLICITY
SHEETS..or rag, more like. Don't bother to read this book if you want to know the truth.
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
This book is very informative and full of eye-opening photographs. It reflects an issue that needs to be addressed much, much more. Read morePublished on June 1 2003 by J. Rose
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 morePublished on July 30 2002 by AJ
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 morePublished on April 12 2002 by steve
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 morePublished on Jan. 20 2002 by Ricky Hunter
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 morePublished on Sept. 5 2001 by Moe811
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 morePublished on July 4 2000 by James Hiller
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 morePublished on April 20 2000
...of Gay Hollywood"... I enjoyed reading this book. I knew nothing about William Haines's life... Read morePublished on March 22 2000
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