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Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines, Hollywood's First Openly Gay Star Paperback – February 1, 1999


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (February 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140275681
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140275681
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.3 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #873,196 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

I live in two of the most beautiful places on the planet ' Provincetown, Massachusetts, with its exquisite light and ever-shifting dunes in the summer and the fall, and Palm Springs, California, with its majestic mountains and invigorating desert air in the winter and the spring. I am indeed blessed.

Customer Reviews

I highly recommend book with a few objections.
John L. Jones
Prior to reading this book,I knew nothing about Billy Haines and his remarkable career, and I am somewhat of a movie buff.
James Hiller
Up to a point, Mann seems to have made an admirable effort to get at the facts.
Sandy McLendon

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 80 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 10, 2003
Format: Paperback
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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32 of 38 people found the following review helpful By James Hiller VINE VOICE on July 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
William Mann gives us quite a gift in his book "Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines, Hollywood's First Openly Gay Star". He paints for us a picture of Hollywood in its hey-day, and in the aftermath of scandal. He allows us insight into the fascinating world of silent films. But mostly, he gives us a long forgotten but much endearing star, Billy Haines.
Prior to reading this book,I knew nothing about Billy Haines and his remarkable career, and I am somewhat of a movie buff. Billy once was an MGM top star, and the #1 Movie Star in 1928, only to give it all away for love. He went on to become one of Hollywood's most respected interior decorators, styling the homes of many stars and even an occasional conservative politician! What makes Billy full of class is not his brief but glorious movie career, but his attitude towards his life and love.
Through Mann's extraordinary research, thorough examination of sources, and testimonials, he brings to us the life of an incredible person. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enojys biographies, or life stories!
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 17, 1999
Format: Paperback
I looked forward to reading this book on this famous star of Hollywood in the 20s and 30s but the author's credibility went out the window for me by his constant claims that so many of the stars back then were gay. I am sure many were and of course there is no doubt about Haines but I know for a fact the claim that Claudette Colbert "came out" to her friends after her husband's death is completely false. She was straight. Also sincerely doubt Gary Cooper was gay as this writer claims. Unbelievable accusations at other stars makes one wonder just how much truth the author had and just how much "gossip" he decided to pass off as truth since all of the parties in question are dead. Nobody is well served by fiction masquerading as nonfiction and Haines himself deserves better than someone sticking a lot of conjecture into a biography of him.
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26 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Sandy McLendon on September 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
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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