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

4.1 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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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.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (March 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140275681
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140275681
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #585,575 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Excellent sociological study of Hollywood in the 20s and 30s, and the transition from silents to talkies, from freedom to censorship. William Haines was a most likeable man who was devoted to family and friends. This is the first time I ever read anything about Joan Crawford that made me admire her. She was a loyalist. A surprising biography
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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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From a wisecracking early movie star, a long time friend of Joan Crawford, a homosexual, an interior decorator, and apparently a class act, Willliam Haines, aka Billy, and Jimmie Shields, his partner/lover, for nearly fifty year, led a life of fun, travel, booze, and meeting American and British royalty. This is a fascinating book about the start of the movies and the progression of the media and politics of movie land. Tales of homosexuality and sexual exploits are delved into through this marvelously written and thoroughly researched book.

As a devotee of the silents and the lives/loves of Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Roscoe Arbuckle through the days of the HUAC into the days of Reagan's governorship of California and onward, Mr. Mann has authored an addictive book about an interesting and verbal and generous man living in a town afraid of scandal, loss of face, and money.

I was so absorbed in this book and could not put it down until I finished the read, sorry at the end that the book was completed. I wanted MORE; alas, there was no more.

Sway with the palm trees and the famous hotels and night clubs of the day in this book. It has been a long time for the movies, and perhaps they do not make cinema as they did back then, but gee, what a time those denizens of the land of the Angels and surrounding had back in the day.
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