William “Billy” Haines

William Haines, 1928
William Haines, 1928 (Wikipedia Commons)

January 2, 1900 – December 26, 1973. Haines was that rare individual who refused to deny his homosexuality. He ran way from home with his boyfriend when he was fourteen. Five years later he became a top model, and from 1924 through 1930, he was one of Hollywood’s most dashing leading men of the Silent Era. Notable films include The Midnight Express (1924), Little Annie Rooney (1925, with Mary Pickford), Tell It to the Marines (1926, with Lon Chaney and Eleanor Boardman), Spring Fever (1927, with Joan Crawford),  and Show People (1928, with Marion Davis). Here’s the opening scene from Tell It to the Marines, with Lon Chaney (Sgt. O’Hara), Eleanor Boardman (nurse Norma Dale) and Haines (Skeet Burns):

Haines’s successful transition to talkies was well underway when, in 1933, he picked up a sailor in Los Angeles’s Pershing Square and took him to a room at the YMCA. The police raided the Y and Haines was arrested. MGM head Louis B. Mayer demanded that Haines get married to salvage his career, but Haines refused to leave his longtime lover Jimmie Shields. Mayer fired Haines.

Haines and Sheilds turned their attentions to each other and to interior design. Thanks to Haines’s Hollywood connections, especially his close friend Joan Crawford,, they quickly becomee the designers to the stars. Clients included Gloria Swanson, Carole Lombard, George Cukor, Betsy Bloomingdale, the Annenbergs and the Reagans. Haines and Shields remained together for nearly fifty years. Crawford to dub them the “the happiest married couple in Hollywood.” Gloria Swanson tried to get Haines back into the movie studio for Sunset Boulevard in 1950, but Haines declined.

Haines died on December 26, 1973 of cancer. Soon after, Jimmie Shields put on Haines’s pajamas, crawled into their bed, and took an overdose of pills. They are buried together at Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery. In 1999, Haines was the subject of a biography, Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines, Hollywood’s First Openly Gay Star, by William J. Mann. You can see examples of Haines’s interior design work here.

Michael Tippett

Michael Tippett(January 2, 1905 – January 8, 1998) The British composer Michael Tippett has often been overshadowed by his contemporary, Benjamin Britten. Although both were conscientious objectors during World War II, Tippett was imprisoned for three months in 1943 as a conscientious objector while Britten avoided imprisonment.

Tippett’s pacifism came to him by way of his first serious romantic relationship, with a young artist by the name of Wilfred Franks. They met in early 1932, when Tippett was still rather uncomfortable with his homosexuality. This relationship coincided with Tippett’s political maturation as a leftist and pacifist. Tippett will later write:

Meeting with Wilf was the deepest, most shattering experience of falling in love: and I am quite convinced that it was a major factor underlying the discovery of my own individual musical voice — something that couldn’t be analysed purely in technical terms: all that love flowed out in the slow movement of my First String Quartet, an unbroken span of lyrical music in which all four instruments sing ardently from start to finish.

Tippett dedicated his String Quartet No. 1, which premiered in 1935, to Franks. This quartet is regarded as the first in the recognized canon of Tippett’s compositions. Whether Tippett and Franks consummated their relationship is in dispute. Tippett’s letters suggest they may have, but Franks, who was even more uncomfortable with his sexuality than Tippett, always denied it. Tippett wrote:

Throughout this period, my relationship with Wilf was a tempestuous one. He was so sure that there was no such thing as being queer, though he certainly acted differently. We never talked about it fully. I simply kidded myself, as people often do, that if you desire someone strongly enough they will reciprocate……I clung to this feeling that Wilf would accept – but it would not work. He eventually found himself a girlfriend …

The acrimonious end of their relationship in 1938  threw Tippett into a deep emotional and sexual crisis. Never fully comfortable with his sexuality and harboring deeper self-doubts as an artist, Tippett turned to the Jungian psychotherapist John Layard. He emerged from that therapy with an appreciation for “the Jungian ‘shadow’ and ‘light’ in the single, individual psyche … the need for the individual to accept his divided nature and profit from its conflicting demands.” This provided new inspiration as an artist, and it allowed him to come to terms with his homosexuality. In 1941, he met the artist Karl Hawker, and they remained together until 1970.

Tippett’s politics often influenced his music. His wartime premiere of his pacifist oratorio, A Child of our Time, in 1944 (with Britten’s partner, Peter Pears, cast as soloist) received wide acclaim. The Times of London called it “strikingly original in conception and execution,” and The Observer hailed it as “the most moving and important work by an English composer for many years.”

The premieres of his First Symphony, Third Quartet, and Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli — one of his most popular and frequently performed works — soon followed. But audiences and performers alike found his 1955 opera The Midsummer Marriage confusing. Modeled after Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Tippett’s work recast it as a Jungian manifesto where, as he put it, “a warm and soft young man was being rebuffed by a cold and hard young woman to such a degree that the collective, magical archetypes take charge.” The music itself was well received, and he re-used the Four Ritual Dances from the opera as a separate concert work.

Controversy surrounded premieres of two following works: the Piano Concerto (1955, its first appointed soloist backed out after declaring it unplayable), and the Second Symphony (1957). During the Second Symphony’s premiere, the BBC Symphony orchestra actually broke during the live broadcast a few minutes into the first movement and had to be restarted.

Tippet visited America for the first time in 1955. That visit inspired him to incorporate jazz and blues into his music. His third opera, The Knot Garden, not only explored the complex themes of the Sexual Revolution, but also incorporated electric guitar and a drum set as part of the orchestra. His Third Symphony (1973) was influenced by American blues, with the solo soprano’s part being a tribute to the late blues singer Bessie Smith. But his fourth opera The Ice Break was roundly criticized for its hackneyed use of American slang and the inclusion of race riots and a psychedelic trip giving what The Telegraph calls “toe-curling results.” Nevertheless, Tippett’s popularity grew through the 1970s and 1980s. He died of a stroke in 1998, just six days after his ninety-third birthday.

Further Reading:

Michael Tippett. Those Twentieth Century Blues: An Autobiography (London: Hutchingson, 1991).

Michael Tippett. Tippett on Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).

Further Listening:

Piano Concerto/Fantasia On A Theme Of Handel/Fantasia Concertante On A Theme Of Corelli. Howard Shelly, piano. Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra; Richard Hickox (Chandos, 2001).

A Child of Our Time. City of Birmingham Symphony; Sir Michael Tippett (Naxos, 2005).

Symphonies No. 2 & 4. BBC Symphony Orchestra; Michael Tippet (NMC Recordings, 2005)


Leicester man sentenced to four years for blackmail

Sidney Lawrence Neale, a thirty-one storekeeper of 73 Barfoot Road, Saffron Lane Estate in Leicester, England, was found guilty in Nottingham Quarter Sessions of blackmailing an unnamed man, referred to as “Mr. A.” The Nottingham Evening Post that night reported the following:

Two medical reports, read in court by Neal’s [sic] counsel, described him as a homosexual, and said that he showed almost complete feminine characteristics. The identity of the victim was not given, but it was stated that he denied absolutely the grave allegations made against him by Neal [sic].

It was, of course, absolutely essential that Mr. A deny those “grave allegations.” A conviction under Britain’s sodomy law might mean a life sentence. That was a remote possibility; convictions for sodomy were practically nonexistent because the burden of proof was so high.

But another law, enacted in 1881, prohibited the commission or attempted commission “by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with an other male person.” The gross indecency law provided up to two years’ imprisonment, with or without hard labor.

And where sodomy convictions were exceeding rare, gross indecency convictions were frightfully common. Playwright Oscar Wilde was perhaps the law’s most famous victim. In 1952, mathematician Alan Turing will go to police to complain someone had broken into his home. During the investigation, Turing will acknowledge a sexual relationship with the suspect. Even though Turing is a crime victim — his home was burgled — he became ensnared with the gross indecency law, and the consequences will bring his career and life to a catastrophic end.

Which is why, despite being a blackmail victim, it was absolutely essential that Mr. A deny the “grave allegations” against him.

The trial took place at Nottingham Shire Hall on December 19. The magistrates agreed to protect Mr. A’s anonymity because, it was reasoned, victims like Mr. A wouldn’t come forward if their names were going to be dragged through the press. As the Evening Post explained during the trial:

(Prosecutor F.B. Pierce) said that blackmail was a dirty and despicable crime. Not only did it aim at the pocket of the victim but often at the mind as well. Often the victim was bled almost white before the case came to the notice of the authorities, but fortunately in this case the victim had the sense to go to a solicitor before handing over any money.

Mr. A explained what happened. He met Neale in September and they became quick friends. On October 1, they met up in Leicester, and after running some errands for Neale, they decided to go to Mr. A’s house in Nottingham for the evening. Apparently, Neale was a reasonably accomplished piano player, so Mr. A invited him in to “play the piano.” One thing led to another, and soon they realized that the last bus back to Nottingham had left Leicester for the evening. So Mr. A invited Neale to spend the night. The Evening News reported that “they slept in the same bed, wich was the only one available. The next day he took Neale back to Leicester, and had not seen him since.”

On October 29, Mr. A. received a letter from “Sid”, addressed to “My darling.” According to court evidence, the letter read:

You have had your fun and you must pay for it. It was a lousy week-end, the most boring I have ever spent … I need money badly, so naturally I turn to you. You will not miss the measly sum of £25 (about £350 today). I trust you will oblige for your sake. If not, there will be an anonymous letter in Notts police station on Wednesday morning telling them all about our little escapade, and I am sure you would not like that.

Mr. A. didn’t reply, and on November 4, he received another letter. It read: “I will give you a little longer. I am sure you would not want any scandal. A man in your position could not afford it.” It also said that the writer wasn’t afraid of prison. It also warned that the writer had written to Mr. A’s next door neighbor and to the police, telling them that Mr. A used his home for immoral purposes.

If indeed Neale had sent the letters to Mr. A’s neighbors and police, then it appears that Mr. A felt he had no choice but to go to police and lodge a complaint, which he apparently did in December. And given the law at the time, of course, Mr. A would have had to deny having committed “gross indecency” with Neale. But Neale’s defense counsel wasn’t prepared to accept that bit of fiction:

Mr. Cotes-Preedy said the fact that Neal [sic] felt strong anger that a relationship which had started satisfactorily, had been broken off, might have prompted him to write the letters in the hope of seeing this man again.

Neale was found guilty of blackmail and sentenced to for years in prison. In passing sentence, Judge A.C. Caporn urged the public to “go straight to the police or to a legal adviser” if they find themselves in a similar situation.

On the Timeline:

Jan 2, 1950: Leicester man sentenced to four years for blackmail.


For January 2, 1950:
Sovereign: King George VI
Prime Minister: Clement Attlee (Lab)
Commons: 392 (Lab) 203 (Con) 11 (Lib) 34 (Other)

Headlines: Nottingham residents find “astonishing” reception of new BBC TV signal at Sutton Coldfield. Parliament vacancies created when five Labour M.P.s are elevated to peerages in New Years Honours list; Cabinet meets to consider early general elections. Trades Union Congress set prepare to set wage stabilization policy for 1950 amid economic emergency. Minister of Fuel and Power congratulates coal miners for beating the 1949 target of 202 million tons; calls it “greatest effort since Dunkirk.” Thirteen-year-old boy arrested for shooting a doctor in Brighton.


“Demanded money by menaces allegation.” Nottingham Evening Post (December 9, 1949): 6.

“Letters demanding 25 alleged.” Nottingham Evening Post (December 19, 1949): 1.

“Four years for trying to blackmail ‘Mr. A’.” Nottingham Evening Post (January 2, 1950): 1.