Farley Granger: 'Strangers on a Train' & 'Senso' + Resented 'Gay Label'

Farley Granger: Gay actor plays gay character in Rope
Farley Granger: Gay actor played early gay movie character in Alfred Hitchcock's Rope.

Farley Granger, best known for the Alfred Hitchcock thrillers Rope (1948) and Strangers on a Train (1951), and for Luchino Visconti's period romantic drama Senso (1954), has died. Variety reports that Granger, who was 85, died of “natural causes” in New York City.

One of the best-looking men to have a career in movies, Granger (born in San Jose, Calif., on July 1, 1925) was a Samuel Goldwyn discovery of the 1940s.

Granger's big break came when the independent producer cast him in Nicholas Ray's film noir They Live by Night (1949), in which the 24-year-old played a rebellious young man opposite minor leading lady Cathy O'Donnell, best remembered for Goldwyn's own The Best Years of Our Lives.

Granger developed a following, but he was never to become a major screen star. His work for Goldwyn, then distributing through RKO, certainly didn't help. A role originally intended for him, that of a troubled war veteran in The Best Years of Our Lives, was ultimately given to non-professional, handless veteran Harold Russell, who went on to win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his efforts.

In fact, apart from They Live by Night, which has its admirers, Granger was stuck starring in mostly minor fare during his period as a Goldwyn contract player. Among his vehicles were Enchantment (1948), with Evelyn Keyes; Roseanna McCoy (1949), with Joan Evans; Our Very Own (1950), with Ann Blyth; and Behave Yourself (1952), with off-screen pal Shelley Winters. Goldwyn's Hans Christian Andersen (1952) was a big hit, but the color extravaganza belonged to Danny Kaye in the title role.

Granger fared better on two loan-outs at Warner Bros., both in Alfred Hitchcock productions: Rope in 1948 and Strangers on a Train in 1951.

In the former, Granger played John Dall's murder accomplice and (implicit) lover, characters inspired by Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold. (Whether or not this was mere coincidence, both Granger and Dall were into men in real life as well.) In the latter, Granger becomes enmeshed with Robert Walker's suave-talking psychopath, who proposes they swap murders so their crimes could never be traced to themselves. Walker's character – who clearly has the hots for Granger – plays his part in the game, and expects his “partner” to do the same.

Granger and Goldwyn parted ways following Hans Christian Andersen. “Our relationship seems to be going downhill and getting worse rather than better,” Granger wrote the producer. Goldwyn responded: “We are often our own worst enemies, and I sincerely believe that your present attitude can only be harmful to yourself. The only way out is not 'divorce' as you put it, but to live up to your agreement in all respects.” Yet, without any films lined up for his very last contract player, Goldwyn ultimately let Granger go.

Following a couple of bland leading-man roles in MGM releases, The Story of Three Loves (1953) and Small Town Girl (1953), Granger went to Europe, where he starred for Visconti in Senso. In that romantic period drama with political overtones, Granger seduces and abandons Alida Valli.

There would be two more Hollywood movies, both released in 1955: the crime drama The Naked Street and The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, as millionaire sociopath Harry Kendall Thaw, who becomes obsessed with Joan Collins' Evelyn Nesbit. Then, at the age of 30 Granger's Hollywood career was over.

A lengthy big-screen hiatus followed, as Farley Granger's on-camera appearances became restricted to television work. He eventually returned to features in the late '60s, almost invariably in European productions. During that time, he was featured in several Euro-Westerns and horror/gialli (mix of violence and sex) productions. Among the Westerns were My Name Is Trinity (1970) and The Man Called Noon (1973); Granger's gialli and horror flicks included Something Is Crawling in the Dark (1971), Amuck (1972), The Red Headed Corpse (1972), and So Sweet, So Dead (1972).

According to the IMDb, Granger's last feature-film role was in P. J. Posner's dramatic comedy The Next Big Thing in 2001.

In addition to his film and TV work, Granger also appeared on Broadway in The Glass Menagerie, The Seagull, The Crucible, and Deathtrap. In 1966, he won an Obie Award for his performance in Lanford Wilson's Off-Broadway play Talley & Son.

In his autobiography, playwright and sometime screenwriter Arthur Laurents, who was Granger's lover at one point, ridicules the actor's well-publicized affair with Shelley Winters.

They had a good time together, and an occasional sexual foray gave their image a little reality. Still, when we double-dated and went to Mocambo, Shelley would table-hop or work the bar and come back with a cute little offering for Farley. If her intention was to do me in, she surely didn't think she was doing herself in as well. She seemed to go along with our pretense that we were not what we were.

Laurents also talks about Granger's “sweetness,” his lack of formal education, his psychoanalysis (because of problems with his homosexuality), and describes Granger's parents as “reactionary bigots he lived with in a small house in the Valley.”

In his own 2007 book of memoirs, Include Me Out: My Life from Goldwyn to Broadway, Granger disputed some of Laurents' claims, remarking that he was never a confused closet case.

“No, I never was.” Granger told The Villager's Jerry Tallmer. “That's why he resents labels,” television producer and Granger's companion (since 1963) Robert Calhoun added. “And 'gay' – in itself, destruction of a perfectly good word – is just another way of saying faggot.”

In addition to being somewhat dismissive of his relationship with Laurents – describing him as “that little guy” and as a “short, energetic man” – in his book Granger also discussed his years with Calhoun, and his relationships with Shelley Winters, Patricia Neal, Leonard Bernstein, and Ava Gardner. (Granger gets nary a mention in Patricia Neal's autobiography, As I Am.)

Regarding Shelley Winters' portrayal in Laurents' autobiography, Granger asserted that Laurents “made up a couple of uncomplimentary things about me and Shelley, in order to get back at Shelley, who'd walked out of one of his shows.” Calhoun added that Granger, then in his mid-20s, had no need to have Winters find him younger guys.

Calhoun died in May 2008.

When asked by the New York Times' Neil Genzlinger, “men or women?” Granger, ever reluctant to be pigeonholed, replied, “That really depends on the person.”

“But,” Genzlinger added, “his follow-up comment left little doubt”:

“I've lived the greater part of my life with a man, so obviously that's the most satisfying to me.”

Source for the Farley Granger-Samuel Goldwyn interchange: A. Scott Berg's Goldwyn.

Farley Granger: 'Strangers on a Train' & 'Senso' + Resented 'Gay Label' © 2004–2018 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s).
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6 Comments to Farley Granger: 'Strangers on a Train' & 'Senso' + Resented 'Gay Label'

  1. Carol Varner

    From a young age he was my dream man. I loved his handsome face, and gentle nature. Strangers on a train was my favorite picture he was in. I don't care if he was gay. I loved his looks and his acting.

  2. Mary Anderson

    It doesn't matter to me who he preferred as a mate or date.

  3. NORM

    I was watching 'Roseanna McCoy' and was attracted to Granger whom I had never, to my knowledge, seen before in a movie. There was a sweetness/vulnerability about him that came thru on the screen and made me want to know more. I googled him and that is when I discovered he was gay. I am gay also and find it interesting I was attracted to him in a movie he made in 1949. He was a nice looking man.

  4. Danny

    Marjorie Gunkler, He's one of my favorites too and being gay isn't a choice by the way.
    Also
    His sexuality has nothing to do with how amazing at acting he was. He was very talented.

  5. I don't care about his life choices. He was and always will be one of my favorite actors. God bless him.

  6. Louis

    Thanks. He was an actor I always liked, and I always wondered why his career hadn't gone further.