Biographies of movie and TV stars often make fascinating
reading, but too often the lives of gay and bisexual celebrities are left
unexamined. At least they are until the celebrity in question is safely dead
(and unable to sue). Such was the case with Montgomery Clift, Cary Grant, Tyrone
Power and others.
Raymond Burr (1917-1993) is
another case in point.
Though Burr’s sexual orientation has been the subject of
decades of gay gossip, as far as the world at large was concerned, the star of Perry Mason and Ironside was straight through and through.
Raymond Burr (December 31, 1944)
Photo credit: Hulton Archives/Getty Images
Burr himself was to blame for the public’s ignorance.
Throughout his life, the deeply closeted actor wove a web of heterosexual
fantasy around him. He added a fake military record to his resume, and spun
stories about two dead wives who “died” tragic deaths.
Raymond Burr was briefly married
to an actress named Isabella Ward. But a brief marriage was not
enough to maintain the actor’s image of rugged
masculinity. So Burr or his press agents invented for Burr a
fictional military career, two fictional wives (both safely dead) and even a
fictional son (also dead). Burr even claimed to have enjoyed a brief,
star-crossed affair with the much-younger actress Natalie Wood.
In the midst of all this make-believe, Burr was enjoying a
long-term personal and business partnership with actor Robert Benevides, who is
13 years younger than Burr. The two men met in 1957 (I can confirm mid-1950s
only) and lived together till Burr’s death more than 35 years later. The two
men shared a passion for food, flowers, travel, and fine wines – the Raymond
Burr Vineyards, one of their common enterprises, is still owned and operated by
So secret was their relationship, Burr’s straight fans and
relatives were shocked when the actor died and left his entire estate to
Benevides, who was only referred to in Burr’s obituary as his “friend.” Needless
to say, Burr’s relatives sued for their share of the pie but, thankfully, they
As an accomplished film and television actor, Raymond Burr
deserves to be the subject of a well-written, well-researched biography.
Unfortunately, Hiding in Plain Sight: The
Secret Life of Raymond Burr (Applause; 268; $24.95) is not that kind of
biography. For starters, author Michael Seth Starr could not (or would not)
interview Robert Benevides, relying instead on a 2005 interview that Benevides
gave to Passport magazine.
Starr did interview a few other people who were close to
Burr, primarily Barbara Hale – “Della Street” on the Perry Mason show – and Libby Reynolds, a drag queen who tricked
with Burr waaay back in 1960. But,
for the most part, Starr based his narrative on secondary sources.
As a biography, Hiding
in Plain Sight resembles the “quickie” movie star books of days gone-by,
fun to read, but without much substance to them.
Starr describes Burr’s film and TV career in great detail,
from his early days as a screen heavy (in both senses of the word) to his later
television breakthroughs. Starr also tells us about Burr’s enduring weight
problem, his business ventures – including the purchase of a South Sea island –
and his trips overseas to entertain the troops.
Excepting his homosexuality, these and other aspects of
Burr’s private and public lives have been well documented before, and by better
authors. Unfortunately, as a look at the private gay life of Raymond Burr, Hiding in Plain Sight will have to do,
at least until a better book comes along.
Happily, many –
though certainly not all – of today’s celebs are more honest about their
sexual orientation. A case in point is forty-year-old Scottish singer-actor
John Barrowman, who in a previous generation might have become an MGM musical
star, dating or even marrying women to act as his “beards” while repressing or
covering up his true sexual orientation.
Instead, Barrowman is quite open about his homosexuality,
his long-time relationship with his partner, Scott Gill, and even the fact that
he has “never gone where no gay man should ever go,” to the dismay of his many
Though he is not terribly well known in the United States,
Barrowman has quite a following in the United Kingdom, where he shined in West
End theater productions and as “Captain Jack” in the BBC TV series Doctor Who and Torchwood. And needless to say, the handsome Mr. Barrowman is very
popular with gay men everywhere, as evidenced by his # 2 ranking on AfterElton.com’s
recent “Hot 100" list. (Jake Gyllenhaal barely beat him for # 1.)
Though he turned 41 in March, Barrowman is at the point in
his life where an autobiography seems to be in order, hence the publication of Anything Goes: The Autobiography
(Michael O’Mara Books; 256 pages; $29.95), which he wrote with his sister,
Carole E. Barrowman.
Though Michael O’Mara Books is a British firm, Anything Goes is readily available to
American readers via Amazon.com, Logoonline.com and major GLBT bookstores. Unlike Burr’s ponderous biography, Barrowman’s
memoir is a delight from beginning to end. Though he seems to be a bit too fond of himself, we don’t mind,
since we are fond of him as well. So we happily follow our hero from his
childhood in Scotland to his youth in Middle America, then on to his artistic
triumphs in London and beyond. And check out the photos!
Jordan may be less than a decade older than John Barrowman, but Jordan’s
experiences and perspectives seem almost pre-Stonewall compared with the
Scotsman’s. Perhaps this is because Jordan was born and raised in the deep
South, where Bible Belt attitudes kept most of its gays deep in their closets.
Fortunately, Jordan was able to transcend much of the
limitations of his upbringing, though even his most devoted fans would surely
cringe reading passages such as this one: “Like most gay men my age, I have no
earthly idea how to love in a healthy and blessed manner. I only know how to
How depressing, if blisteringly honest, is that?
And Jordan is one of the lucky ones, since he lived to tell
the story in My Trip Down the Pink
Carpet (Simon Spotlight Entertainment; 272 pages; $21.95), Jordan’s first
but hopefully not his only memoir.
Reading My Trip Down
the Pink Carpet, one gets the impression that Jordan went around the block quite
a few times while he was still living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. However,
Jordan is quite reticent about that part of his life, perhaps so as not to
upset his devoutly religious mother who is still alive.
For the most part, Jordan’s narrative begins in 1982 when
Jordan sewed $1200 into his underpants and boarded a Greyhound bus for
Hollywood. And he never looked back.
Though “vertically challenged” and rather effeminate to
boot, Jordan managed to do well in Tinsel Town, winning an Emmy for his role as
“Beverley Leslie” in Will & Grace
and earning enduring fame in the gay community for his performances as “Brother
Boy” in Del Shores’ Sordid Lives – on
stage, screen and television.
But Jordan’s hectic life had its up and downs, fueled by his
addiction to alcohol, drugs and low-life hustlers. Now clean and sober, Jordan
preaches the gay gospel to those who’ll listen, including the readers of this
book. To which I say, Amen!
Hollywood’s Dark Star by Brian J. Robb (Plexus; 160 pages; $19.95) is a
“quickie” biography, hastily put together following Ledger’s tragic death from
an accidental drug overdose. Even so, it is a delightful read for those of us
who admired Ledger and his admittedly spotty acting career.
“Heath Ledger was a movie star who burned brightly for the
brief period he was famous,” writes Robb. “It’s all the more tragic, then, that
those elements of his personality that gave the world great performances . . .
were the same things that resulted in his suffering great anxiety and
uncertainty about his own abilities and talents.”
While the text leaves something to be desired, we forgive it
all of its faults because of its wonderful photos, including over a hundred
great color and black-and-white shots of the immortal Mr. Ledger in all of his
various film roles. Included as well are photos from both his public and
private life. The photos alone make Heath
Ledger: Hollywood’s Dark Star worth buying.
Jesse Monteagudo, a Florida-based freelance writer, is now
celebrating his 30th year as a writer for the print and online GLBT
press. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.