An unlikely pairing one might suppose – but the two men had much in common. They were famous actors. Born within a few years of each other, they starred in many Fifties films. And both were GAY.
B.F.D., I hear you say – but then YOU were probably born after 1970.
Meaning that by the time you were old enough to learn that some people fancied members of their OWN sex (or indeed, to discover YOU fancied members of your own sex) homosexuality was LEGAL. Even socially tolerated.
But not so in the Fifties – and it was in those far-off days that Rock and Dirk were the most popular leading men in the movies. Rock in the States – and Dirk in Britain.
Thus, when Confidential Magazine outed Rock, his management had no CHOICE but to take action. If he had come out – his career would have GONE out. And while, during the Seventies, America’s society slowly began to accept homosexuality – its confused legislation on the matter (much of it concerning sodomy) remained at least partially in place until 2003 (yes: only THEN was it legalised nationwide).
Meaning Rock had little choice but to keep up his pretence to the bitter end – even to the extent of blaming an earlier blood transfusion for his condition, as he was DYING from AIDS.
It was a damn shame. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who had a bad word to say about Rock. He was a sweetheart. But – while he rarely gave them – those who WERE able to get an interview with him often reported that whilst being charming, Rock had always kept his DISTANCE. He had never opened up.
Only later, did they discover WHY.
He had married in the Fifties, but his wife had been merely a BEARD (his agent’s secretary, no less) a ploy designed to bolster his image. After a quickie divorce with minimal alimony, he remained single for the rest of his life. But he had many friends inside Hollywood, most of whom knew his “secret” – and KEPT it right up to the end.
And while Rock had been America’s heart-throb, in Britain that role was filled by Dirk Bogarde.
Coming from upper-class stock, Dirk entered the movies in stiff-upper-lip parts – interspersed with the lead in the long-running “Doctor…” series of films, where he was always up to his stethoscope in voluptuous nurses.
The term “matinée idol” was MADE for him. (In public, he had to wear suits with no flies in the trousers, to protect his dangly bits from hoards of screaming girls – and all of this before The Beatles).
His fan-mail at Rank Studios filled ROOMS. But in 1961, all of that abruptly CHANGED with the film “Victim” – in which he played a gay lawyer, being blackmailed over his sexuality. Many believe the film led DIRECTLY to homosexuality being (sort of) legalised in Britain, in 1967.
However, while Bogarde’s fan-mail STOPPED virtually overnight, his career did not. He began a whole NEW one, appearing in heavyweight, sometimes art-house dramas – often playing gay or at least ambiguous characters.
But despite this – and the 1967 Act – Dirk utterly DENIED being gay, for his whole life. Even in the many autobiographies he wrote, as part of his second career in the Seventies – that of a successful author.
His persona became that of a semi-retired LONER, living in rural France. (The partner he in fact LIVED with was his manager, who had earlier married and fathered a child – but Dirk NEVER married).
Like Rock, Dirk remained a private person. But UNlike Rock, he did not HAVE to. As a writer, he had the opportunity to EXPLORE and TALK about the issue. But his early upbringing appears to have won the day.
As far as Dirk was concerned, his sexuality was no-one’s damn business except HIS.
Of course, now everyone knows which celebs are gay – and for the most part, could care less. But fifty years ago, it was a BIG DEAL. And while the public expected to see stars do extraordinary things on the screen – they expected them to be just like the guy-next-door in their private lives.
Which would have been absurd. Show business is like no other business. It requires talents that are NOT ordinary. And at the risk of stereotyping (oh, go on – stereotype away) it is a fact that gay men are on the whole more CREATIVE and EMOTIONAL than straight dudes.
Therefore, is it any surprise that showbiz has more than its share of gay men? But in the Fabulous Fifties – being fabulous was not ACCEPTABLE.
Thus (in alphabetical order) Harry Andrews, Raymond Burr, Richard Chamberlain, Jimmy Edwards, Farley Granger, Eric Portman, Richard Wattis – and MANY others – had to stay SCHTUM.
(Really? Oh yes. If I’d included Liberace, Noël Coward, Charles Hawtrey and certain others in the list, you could have been forgiven for saying, “No shit, Sherlock.” But I’ll bet you didn’t know about ALL of the above!)