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.