Not long before we celebrated the turn of the 21st century in 2000, there was still a stigma in many circles against gay people…and not just in conservative areas of the country. With all the flamboyance, adultery, and excessive behavior associated with Hollywood celebrities, actors and musicians, many gay men felt compelled to hide their sexuality for fear of being blackballed and their careers ruined. Marrying women was an easy and common practice to “prove” heterosexuality. In fact, according to the Oxford Dictionary, the term “beard” was a North American term that referred to “a woman who accompanied a homosexual man as an escort to a social occasion in order to help conceal his homosexuality.” The term, which became popular in the 1950s and 1960s, was also used for men who married lesbians for the same type of deception. This practice also frequently led to gay men and women marrying their beards.
In today’s progressive society, it may seem like much ado about nothing, but only 50 or 60 years ago, many gay men married, some multiple times, to keep up appearances they deemed vital to their careers moving forward. Some unions were more amicable than others, and some sadly included spouses that allegedly had no idea they were being bamboozled.
Women swooned at the mere sight of 6’3″ ruggedly handsome leading man Rock Hudson. He was the top male box office draw in the ’50s, starring with such icons as Elizabeth Taylor and Doris Day in dramas and comedies. When Hudson was 30 years old, he married Phyllis Gates, a union that lasted 3 years, until 1958. Hudson never discussed his sexuality, although many of his co-stars claimed he was gay. After his death from AIDS-related complications in 1985 at age 60, his long-time lover Marc Christian successfully sued his estate. Hudson is credited with bringing the AIDS epidemic to the forefront and gaining the attention and research it deserved.
While it seem preposterous that John would try to pass himself off as straight after years of gender bending performances, announcing he was bisexual in 1976, and cranking out endless song lyrics heavily laced with double entendres, he did just that by marrying Renate Blauel, a German recording engineer, in 1984. The marriage ended in 1988 after just 4 years and John came out as gay, and soon became one of the most vocal supporters of gay rights in the world. He married David Furnish in 2005 after a 12-year courtship, and they have two children.
As famous as he was for marrying Judy Garland, and fathering superstar Liza Minelli, stage and film director Vincent Minnelli was one of the most (heterosexually) married gay men in Hollywood history. After his marriage to Garland ended in 1951 after 5 years, Minnelli married Georgette Magnani (1954 to 1958), followed by Danica “Denise” Radosavljevic (1962 to 1971) and Lee Anderson (1980 to 1986). According to Minnelli’s biographer, Minnelli was openly gay when he visited and worked in New York but climbed back into the proverbial closet when he spent time in Los Angeles. Minnelli died of emphysema and pneumonia in Beverly Hills in 1986. An interesting side note: Liza Minnelli married Peter Allen in 1967, who came out as gay shortly after the pair divorced in 1976.
Best known for his role as Norman Bates, the deranged hotel proprietor in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller Psycho, Perkins reportedly had several sexual/romantic relationships with men in his younger days. However, he married actress Berry Berenson in 1973 and had two sons with her in 1974 and 1976. Perkins died in 1992 in Hollywood from AIDS and pneumonia; Berenson perished on Flight 11 that crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11.
One of the world’s most celebrated songwriters and composers, Porter seemed to live by the philosophies of some of his most famous songs like Anything Goes and Don’t Fence Me In. He was married for 35 years to Linda Lee Thompson until she died in 1954 but word on the street was Porter had numerous dalliances with men until his death in Santa Monica from renal failure in 1964 at age 73. Porter and his wife were childless and most of his royalties now go to the children of Porter’s best bud Ray Kelly.
Cumming is a multi-talented performer most recently hailed as one of the stars of the brilliant TV drama The Good Wife, on which he plays campaign strategist and crisis manager Eli Gold. Cumming, a self-proclaimed bisexual, was married to Hilary Lyon from 1985 to 1993. He revealed his attraction to both sexes in 1998 and has been married to graphic artist Grant Shaffer since 2007. Cumming is also a Broadway star as well as a celebrated author.
Although TV/Theater Director and Film/TV Producer Richardson was only married to actress Vanessa Redgrave from 1962-1967. They have two daughters together, the actresses Natasha (born 1963) and Joely Richardson (born 1965). After years of buzz on the streets about his sexual proclivity, Richardson came out as bisexual in 1985, the same year in which he received his HIV diagnosis. The illness led to AIDS and Richardson died of related maladies in Los Angeles in 1991.
When singer/songwriter Little Richard announced in a 1995 Penthouse interview that he always knew he was gay, the world grinned and nodded its collective head with a sigh of, “Finally!” He had always performed wearing women’s makeup, played up his effeminate gestures in his act, and showed a fondness for cross dressing, so his statement was hardly earth-shattering. What remains a mystery is his marriage to Ernestine Campbell from 1959 to 1963, a union that is barely spoken of, much less explained.
Peter Marc Jacobson
Fran Drescher seemed to lead a charmed life when she became a star playing the lead role in the hit TV sitcom The Nanny, a show created by husband Peter Marc Jacobson that ran from 1993 to 1999. However, her 21-year marriage ended the same year as the show and shortly thereafter, Jacobson came out as gay. Never ones to miss an opportunity, Drescher and Jacobson created a short-lived sitcom called Happily Divorced, based on their life post-marriage.
Long before Angela Lansbury was solving crimes on Murder She Wrote, she was a hot leading lady in film and on stage. In her early career, she was married to handsome actor Richard Cromwell from 1945 to 1946. When Lansbury learned of Cromwell’s bisexuality, she immediately ended the marriage and 3 years later married actor Peter Shaw, whom she was married to until his death in 2003. Cromwell died in Hollywood at age 50 in 1960 from a liver tumor.
Hailed as the first iconic gay movie star, Wrangler was married to a woman he called the love of his life for his final years. He married singer Margaret Whiting in 1994 and after he gave up acting, he produced musicals for her to star in. He never made a secret of his sexuality, although he was criticized by his fans for “turning straight” when he married Whiting. His famous quote about his sexuality was, “I’m gay, but I could never live a gay lifestyle, because I’m much too competitive.” Wrangler died from emphysema in New York City in 2009.