I am looking for a cultural history of the beard.
September 11, 2013 8:09 AM   Subscribe

No, not the hair that grows on your face. I want more information on the phenomenon the “fake wife” or “fake girlfriend” who accompanies gay men to Hollywood premieres.

Recently I fell down the rabbit hole of this thread, which, as bizarre and confusing as it appears at first glance, is particularly fascinating to me because of the Tumblrites' conviction that “The Management” has not only forbidden the members of One Direction to come out, but has created an entire fake romantic life for them, including pseudo-relationships with Taylor Swift and a random, otherwise unfamous college-age woman.

In this context, the idea that Management is behind everything pulling strings seems like obvious conspiracy-theory fodder, but I have heard otherwise reasonable people claim with absolute certainty that, say, Leo DiCaprio is gay and that the women he's been linked with (Gisele Bundchen, for example) are beards. One of my favorite books this year, The Love Song of Jonny Valentine contains a very convincing portrayal of a Justin Bieber-type being sent on a “date” with a Selena Gomez-type entirely for the benefit of the paparazzi, but I'd like some factual information to separate out from the fictional depictions and rumors.

Does this (by which I mean 'the invention of fake relationships among stars solely for the benefit public consumption') actually happen? With how much regularity? I think I'm most curious about the logistics of it. What would the women involved -especially the non-famous ones- get out of it? Do people just show up together occasionally in front of the cameras, or is there more to it than that? Do straight stars get relationships orchestrated for them this way as well? Do the paparazzi know and willingly play along or is there cloak-and-dagger stuff happening? I hear a lot that the sexuality of various male movie stars is an 'open secret' in Hollywood, but the people I hear this from are rarely connected to Hollywood in any way. How precisely is this secret kept, and why?

I am not interested in straight women unwittingly married to closeted gay men (even if they eventually find out and stay in the relationship). I am curious about the behind-the-scenes stuff surrounding pseudo-relationships that are created entirely by 'Management' – or whoever would actually be in charge. I know about Anne Helen Peterson's Scandals of Classic Hollywood and I love her mix of juicy facts and smart analysis, so stuff like that is great, but I'm a bit more curious about how this kind of manipulation would work in the internet-gossip-saturated contemporary era than under the old studio system.

I'd be grateful for any kind of source you can recommend - cultural histories, memoirs, academic analyses, and even reliable and vetted insider blogs (but not gossipfests like Perez Hilton or the crap that comes up when you google 'secret gay celebrities'). I've really loved all the meta-discussion of the conspiracy theories and truther wars riddling the One Direction fandom written by smart people that have been surfacing lately, so more stuff in that vein, even if it's not directly on topic, is definitely welcome. I'd also love stories from Mefites themselves who have been involved in this culture at any level.

Thank you!
posted by pretentious illiterate to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Celluloid Closet, both book and movie versions, is a great springboard on gay Hollywood and public image in the "classic" era.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:26 AM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

I believe some sources used to call this a lavender marriage which might help in your research.
posted by barnone at 8:42 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I would also suggest Hollywood Babylon.

BONUS: I just emailed Anne Helen Petersen, who writes: "I am too lazy to make a Metafilter account but the answer to his question (at least in classic/1950s Hollywood) is the very juicy 'The Man Who Made Rock Hudson.'"
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:22 AM on September 11, 2013 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: This is so great, you guys! I And lavender marriage is super helpful.

I wonder if there's so much more information on Classic Hollywood because it was happening a lot more then, or because after a certain amount of time passes, people are no longer as invested in keeping the secret?
posted by pretentious illiterate at 9:24 AM on September 11, 2013

I think, just from my basic reading on the topic, is that we don't get the gossip until everyone has aged out or died. That's how most of this stuff we know about the 40s and 60s has come about.

And not the current stuff. For instance, there is a famous movie star who is gay—I know, because I've seen the gigantic NDA contract he had a former boyfriend sign!—but no one has printed a thing about it. But that'll come out in 5 or 25 years.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:28 AM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: See, NDA contracts for former boyfriends, THAT's the kind of stuff I want to know about. (Memail me the deets? I swear I'll carry the secret with me to the grave :D) I just find it hard to believe that with all the lawyers and friends and exes involved this kind of stuff doesn't sneak out somehow...the idea that these big secrets are being successfully kept, even for five years or ten, is sort of astonishing to me. Aren't the paparazzi following that star around? Aren't waiters and hotel clerks sending in private info to Star Magazine for the $100 tip? It's so mysterious to me.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 9:35 AM on September 11, 2013

Oprah Winfrey's NDAs are legendary.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:46 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

How much of this is being conflated with fanfiction? Just because there's fanfic about a particular pairing and fans add to that with pictures of 'evidence' or so on doesn't mean they actually believe there's this grand cover-up conspiracy.

Also would you be interested in situations where the woman is gay? There's been some chatter about Kirsten Stewart and Robert Pattison's relationship being one of these but again I'm not sure how much of this is fangirl wishful thinking.
posted by divabat at 10:22 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just find it hard to believe that with all the lawyers and friends and exes involved this kind of stuff doesn't sneak out somehow...the idea that these big secrets are being successfully kept, even for five years or ten, is sort of astonishing to me.

Again, back to Old Hollywood, but it was easier back in the days of the big studio system, when stars were under contract to studio heads who wielded mafioso-like power. Whatever they couldn't suppress through intimidation, they could suppress with money.

There's a rumor (I'm so sorry I'm not smart enough to substantiate it, even if the material's out there) that Rock Hudson's agent outed two of his smaller-potatoes clients to a reporter in exchange for keeping quiet about Hudson.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:45 AM on September 11, 2013

Best answer: Anne Helen Petersen, who writes: "I am too lazy to make a Metafilter account but the answer to his question (at least in classic/1950s Hollywood) is the very juicy 'The Man Who Made Rock Hudson.'"

I love Petersen's work, but I wanted to mention that I think she keeps typo-ing this book's title, unless there's some other book on Henry Willson I don't know about. I think she means The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson.

I just find it hard to believe that with all the lawyers and friends and exes involved this kind of stuff doesn't sneak out somehow...

These days, out from under the more complete power of the old studios, I find it hard to believe too, but it sure does keep happening. I mean, there are the gossip-column items of yore that have turned up acknowledged later; but there are also people I only find out about because a relative of mine worked with them (although the gossip still often seems to come along later; e.g., Kevin Spacey). I'd love to read more about the modern phenomenon myself. In the absence of the same kind of single control point of the past, how are these kinds of secrets successfully managed and kept nowadays?

I suspect that of course, as RJ Reynolds said, various truths will only come out after a long delay. After all, I would kill to read a book by or about Howard Bragman, for instance (the PR guy who's well-known these days for handling celebrities' coming-out, as discussed in this LA Times article). But given people's squirreliness around the topic, and concerns/contracts about confidentiality, and Bragman's desire to continue to be employed, I'm sure there won't be one anytime soon.
posted by theatro at 11:30 AM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This is older, not current, but you would probably love The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger. It's all about the way Old Hollywood (1930-60 or so) shaped its movie stars and controlled their images, and while I don't remember how much there was about gay men and beards specifically, there was a lot about studio-created relationships.

Back in the day this was absolutely a thing -- your studio would tell you who your date to the premiere would be. Even if the man was straight, his image would be boosted by the fact that he seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of different beautiful women following him around; the woman, on the other hand, got to have her name and picture in the magazines on the arm of Famous Dude, which was good publicity for her own career. If this is still going on today, I imagine those benefits for the women still hold true.
posted by ostro at 11:36 AM on September 11, 2013

It isn't that hard to stay in the closet. A bunch of celebs who have come out post-fame have managed to keep it in the closet until their announcement. Off the top of my head, Queen Latifah, Raven Simone, Portia deRossi, Neal Patrick Harris, all outed themselves.

There were rumors, sure, just like there is a massively persistent rumor that John Travolta is gay, but people won't believe it until he says it himself.
posted by zug at 12:23 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For more on how Hollywood and the tabloids support and feed off each other, I also recommend Dish by Jeannette Walls. It was totally illuminating, and I read the gossip rags completely differently now. After reading it, I have no doubt that what the public "knows" about various celebrities is what their publicists have crafted.
posted by purpleclover at 12:26 PM on September 11, 2013

Not only was this and IS this a thing, it's a freaking TROPE! Check out this Simpsons.

Or the whole TV series of Ned and Stacey (which I liked an awful lot, but it got cancelled.) (Not gay, but bearding none-the-less.)

There's the reverse beard situation in Three's Company. Where a guy claims to be gay so his uptight landlord won't think anything of his co-ed roommate situation.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:27 PM on September 11, 2013

Response by poster: Hey divabat - i'd be 100% interested in reading about times when the genders of the participants were reversed. Even more interested, maybe!

The fan fiction thing is exactly the hook of those One Direction articles - the reporters talk about how in earlier 'eras' of fandom (still relatively recent) fans were careful to emphasize that their Real Person Fiction was still just fiction, but the 'new wave' of (often very young) fans have a hard time distinguishing the fantasy from the reality. Which makes sense, given how difficult it is to parse out truth and rumor, and how strongly celebrities sometimes deny being gay prior to coming out of the closet
posted by pretentious illiterate at 1:06 PM on September 11, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! These are all great. I'm 'best answering' every one that includes a book I'm putting on my reading list. What a wonderful collection of fun, soapy, and hopefully illuminating reads!
posted by pretentious illiterate at 3:29 PM on September 11, 2013

Elton John was briefly married to a woman, Renata. There might be interviews about that knocking around. We were having this discussion at work yesterday and that was the example that came up.
posted by mippy at 4:06 AM on September 12, 2013

Blogs have sort of taken over celebrity gossip magazines on this front. There are a number of celebs (both major and minor) who are fairly out in certain blog circles, including photos of them dancing with their same-sex hottie, or at queer events. These blogs are less fan blogs for the specific celeb, and more like 'local scene blogs' where folks really could care less about making a big deal of the celeb's love life.

I really have no idea why these photos are not picked up by major gossip rags. These folks continue to show up to Hollywood and high profile events with their officially sanctioned SO.
posted by barnone at 8:59 AM on September 12, 2013

Major media outlets don't out/publish unflattering bits because most major stars have big PR firms that will cut off access to ALL clients if their prize pony is shown to be anything other than the official Show Pony bio says. Any a-lister playing romantic leads who is shown to be other than hetero ( or maybe bi) will not be bankable.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:02 PM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

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