Much is being made about the “exclusively gay moment” in Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast, but the House of Mouse is about 70 years too late.
In 1946, acclaimed French director Jean Cocteau filmed his own live-action film, La Belle et la Bête, which is still held up as one of the most magical works of 20th century cinema.
Cocteau didn’t include any overtly gay characters in his version—in which Belle (Josette Day) is also wooed by Avenant, a friend of her brother who joins in the plot to free her from Beast’s castle. But both Avenant and the Beast were played by French actor Jean Marais, who was Cocteau’s muse and lover.
He also cast Marais in three other films: 1943’s The Eternal Return, 1947’s Ruy Blas and 1949’s Orpheus. Their relationship was hardly a secret—they were about as close to a gay power couple as you could get in the 1940s. They even opted to remain in Paris during the Nazi occupation, which would have been a death sentence for any gay celebrity without the filmmaker’s connections.
Cocteau dated a few women in his youth, but most of his relationships were with men: Besides Marais there were actor Eduard De Max, poet John Le Roy, and writer Raymond Radiquet, who was only 15 when they began living together. (Cocteau referred to his younger lovers as “les enfants,” or “the children.”)
Marais was bisexual—he was actually married for two years to actress Mila Parély, who played one of Belle’s shrewish sisters. After the Cocteau’s death, Marais wrote a biography of Cocteau, L’Inconcevable Jean Cocteau, and gave authorship to “Cocteau-Marais.”
Looking at the film again with knowledge of their relationship, you can see it as Beast’s tale, not Belle’s—a man hiding a terrible secret, one that nearly kills him. In the end, though, he is freed by the power of love.
So while everyone debates the merits of Le Fou, we’ll never forget our queer Beast.