2011-03-27

American actor and star of Strangers on A Train and Rope FARLEY  GRANGER died (b: 1925). Granger had one of the more prolific careers in Hollywood, but he is most closely associated with Alfred Hitchcock as a result of these two films.

Making the film The North Star proved to be a fortunate start to Granger’s career. He enjoyed working with director Milestone and fellow cast members Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Walter Brennan and Jane Withers, and during filming he met composer Aaron Copeland, who remained a friend in later years. When released, the film was ravaged by critics working for newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearts, a staunch anti-Communist who felt the movie was Soviet propaganda.

For Granger’s next film, he was loaned out to 20th Century Fox, where Darryl F. Zanuck cast him in The Purple Heart, in which he was directed by Milestone and again co-starred with Dana Andrews. Granger become close friends with supporting cast member Sam Levene, a character actor from New York who took him under his wing (ahhhh…the old “take him under his wing” move…) He also became friends with Roddy McDowell (no word about Roddy’s wing) and found himself linked with June Haver in gossip columns in fan magazines. This was one busy boy.

Upon completion of The Purple Heart, Granger enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Following training in Idaho, he sailed from Treasure Island in San Francisco to Honolulu. During the 17-day crossing, he suffered from chronic seasickness, lost 23 pounds, and upon arrival in Hawaii he was admitted to the hospital for several days of rehydration. As a result, the remainder of his military career was spent onshore, where he first was assigned to an enlisted men’s club situated at the end of Waikiki Beach and then to a unit commanded by classical actor Maurice Evans, where he had the opportunity to meet and mingle with visiting entertainers such as Bob Hope, Betty Grable, Hedy Lamarr and Gertrude Lawrence.

It was during his naval stint in Honolulu that Granger says he had his first sexual experiences (I guess Sam Levene’s wings don’t really count), one with a hostess at a private club and the other with a handsome Naval officer visiting the same venue, both on the same night. Ahhh youth.

He was startled to discover he was attracted to both men and women equally and in his memoir he observed, “I finally came to the conclusion that for me, everything I had done that night was as natural and as good as it felt . . . I never have felt the need to belong to any exclusive, self-defining, or special group . . . I was never ashamed, and I never felt the need to explain or apologize for my relationships to anyone . . . I have loved men. I have loved women.”

Granger’s next two films for Goldwyn, Edge of Doom and Our Very Own, were unpleasant working experiences, and the actor refused to allow the producer to loan him to Universal Pictures for an inferior magic carpet saga. When he was placed on suspension, he decided to accompany Ethyl Chaplin, who had separated from her husband, and her daughter on a trip to Paris. At the last moment they were joined by Arthur Laurents who remained behind when the group departed for London to see the opening of the New York City Ballet, which had been choreographed by Jerome Robbins.

He and Granger engaged in a casual affair until the actor was summoned to return to New York to help publicize Our Very Own and Edge of Doom, both of which received dreadful reviews. Goldwyn cancelled the nationwide openings of the latter, hoping to salvage it by adding wraparound scenes that would change the focus of the film, and Granger refused to promote it any further. Once again placed on suspension, he departed for  Europe, where he spent time in Italy, Austria and Germany with Laurents before being contacted about an upcoming film by Alfred Hitchcock.

In Rope — based not-so-thinly on the Leopold and Loeb murder —  Granger and John Dall portrayed two highly intelligent friends who commit a thrill killing simply to prove they can get away with it. The two characters and their former professor, played by Jimmy Stewart, were supposed to be gay, and Granger and Dall discussed the subtext of their scenes, but because The Hays Office was keeping close tabs on the project, the final script was so discreet that Laurents remained uncertain of whether Stewart ever realized that his own character was gay. 

Hitchcock shot the film Rope in continuous, uninterrupted ten-minute takes, the amount of time a reel of Technicolor film lasted, and as a result technical problems frequently brought the action to a frustrating halt throughout the twenty-one day shoot. The film ultimately received mixed reviews, although most critics were impressed by Granger, who in later years said he was happy to be part of the experience, but wondered “what the film would have been like had [Hitchcock] shot it normally” and “had he not had to worry about censorship.”

Upon the completion of Rope, Goldwyn cast Granger, Teresa Wright, David Niven and Evelyn Keyes in Enchantment, which was plagued by a weak script and indifferent direction. It failed at the box office, as did his next project, Roseanna McCoy, during which he and Laurents parted ways. While filming Side Street on location in Manhattan, Granger briefly became involved with Leonard Bernstein, who invited him to join him on his South American tour. By the time Granger completed the film, the composer/conductor had married Chilean pianist and actress Felicia Montealegre. The two men remained friends until Bernstein’s death.

In  Granger returned to film Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train based on the lesbian novelist Patricia Highsmith’s book, which already had a very queer shadow to it. For that time it was nothing short of pretty shockingly — Granger’s character is a tennis player, and back then tennis was considered a minor “sissy” sport. 

Despite three unsuccessful Broadway experiences, Granger continued to focus on theater in the early 1960s. He accepted an invitation from Eva Le Gallienne to join her National Repertory Theatre. During their first season, while the company was in Philadelphia, John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The President had attended NRT’s opening night and post-performance gala in the nation’s capital, so the news hit everyone in the company especially hard. Granger had become close friends with production supervisor Robert Calhoun, and although both had felt a mutual attraction, they never had discussed it. That night they became lovers.

Granger finally achieved some success on Broadway in The Seagull, The Crucible, The Glass Menagerie and Deathtrap. He starred opposite Barbara Cook in a revival of The King and I at the off-Broadway New York City Center and in 1979 he was cast in the Roundabout Theater Company production of A Month in The Country. In 1986 he won the Obie Award for his performance in the Lanford Wilson play Talley & Son.

In the early 1970s, Granger and Calhoun moved to Rome, where the actor made a series of Italian language films, most notably They Call Me Trinity. He also appeared on several soap operas, including One Life to Live, on which his portrayal of Will Vernon garnered him a nomination for the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, The Edge of Night and As the World Turns, produced by Calhoun. In the 1990s, Granger appeared in several documentaries discussing Hollywood in general and Alfred Hitchcock in particular. In 1995 he was interviewed on camera for The Celluloid Closet, discussing the depiction of homosexuality in film and the use of subtext in various films, including his own.

In 2003, Granger made his last film appearance in Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There. In it, he tells the story of leaving Hollywood at the peak of his fame, buying out his contract from Samuel Goldwyn, and moving to New York City to work on the Broadway stage.

In 2007, Granger published the memoir Include Me Out, co-written with his life partner Robert Calhoun. In the book, named after one of Goldwyn’s famous malapropisms, he freely discusses his career and personal life. Calhoun died of lung cancer in New York City on May 24, 2008, at age 77.