Christian fundamentalists continue to contend that homosexuality doesn’t exist, and that gay people choose their lifestyle without any biological predisposition. They further argue that homosexuality didn’t exist before the 20th century when researcher Alfred Kinsey began studying sexual behaviors of adults. That, of course, ignores all evidence to the contrary, including the existence of gay people as documented throughout human history.
As far back in time as human records do chronicle, gay people have existed and lived happy, sexually fulfilled lives, as these historical figures attest. While the sexuality of some remains hotly disputed–even in the face of documented sexual encounters–some people still refuse to believe any of the icons on this list could ever have tried the big gay way. They’d be wrong.
These 11 historical figures all had documented or strongly suggested gay encounters with passionate same-sex lovers. Some remained discreet with their love, others kept things a bit more overt, either confessing their love, or getting caught in the act! Perhaps most amazing of all, each enjoyed some degree of celebrity and success throughout their own lives, and remain popular and influential to this day. None of them ever apologized for their feelings, and a few even expressed them with frank pride. And yet, people still, somehow, can’t believe they were bisexual or gay!
Those people would be wrong.
11. William Shakespeare
Oh, Bill! Master of the English language, greatest playwright in all history, and a man who loved other men…and not just because men played women in all his productions. Historians debate the details of Shakespeare’s personal life: he had a wife, and practiced both Catholicism and Protestantism throughout his days. His writings, however, shed interesting light on his sex life: in every single one of his plays, he implies at least one gay character. In Hamlet, it’s Hamlet’s best friend Horatio. In Romeo and Juliet, it’s Mercutio.
Even more intriguing, 126 of Shakespeare’s sonnets, which he wrote based on his personal affections, are all directed toward a male lover, often thought to be the Earl of Southampton. The eroticism of the poems proved so controversial, that within a few years of Shakespeare’s death publishers began changing the pronouns to refer to women. It took 100 years before they were published in their correct–and gay–form.
10. Sir Alec Guinness
Guinness had a long and prestigious acting career on stage and in film, racking up an Academy Award and becoming a legend with his performance in Star Wars. Guinness liked to keep his personal life private, which he failed to do. Police arrested Guinness for sex with a man in a park bathroom in 1946! Guinness kept the arrest under wraps until a few months after his death. Friends and family have since admitted his numerous affairs with men, but respected his privacy during his lifetime. At the same time, he gained a reputation as a primadona on the set of Star Wars. Carrie Fisher recalls him paying Mark Hamill $10 to not talk to him for an entire day. He also had a curt way of dealing with fans who complimented him on his performance as Obi-Wan, often asking them to never watch the Star Wars movies again!
9. Errol Flynn
One of the original action movie stars of classics like Robin Hood and Captain Blood had a wild sex life with women, and even more so with men. Hollywood producer Robert Evans (himself noted for his womanizing ways) recalls attending a Mexican orgy with Flynn. Biographers assert that his home was also a veritable sexual playground, complete with two-way mirrors, peep holes and secret passages! He had numerous male lovers, including Tyrone Power, Truman Capote, Howard Hughes, Rock Hudson and–in a stunning 2010 discovery–future president Ronald Reagan! The authenticity of the letters remain in dispute, though they detail a passionate sexual affair.
8. Joan Crawford
Joan had a lingering reputation as a man eater well into her old age. At least three divorce filings name her as the “other woman,” and one of her latter-day directors recalls her trying to seduce him in a screening room. But for all her shagging men, she also enjoyed the company of women, a fact corroborated by her children who recall her having numerous affairs with women, one of whom was Marilyn Monroe! Transcripts released by Monroe’s psychiatrist in 2010 reveal an affair with Crawford, and Monroe spurning her. Crawford notoriously spoke ill of Monroe while she was alive, and then abruptly mourned her following her overdose. Another unconfirmed rumor posits the source of her long standing feud with Bette Davis was actually Davis spurning Crawford’s sexual advances. Joan didn’t like getting turned down!
7. Robert Reed
The dad of The Brady Bunch kept a very private life, even from his costars. Reed also liked to keep a low profile when it came to his fans. The reason: his homosexuality, which he always feared would hurt his career, even to the end of his life. He studied acting at Northwestern University and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, planning for a serious career in film. Along the way, he married a woman to disguise his sexuality. The marriage lasted only five years. He loathed working on The Brady Bunch, but enjoyed the paycheck and formed friendships with his costars, in particular Florence Henderson. Henderson knew Reed was gay, but never discussed the subject with him. Just after his death from colon cancer, Reed’s family acknowledged that he was aware he had contracted HIV. He died in 1992.
6. King David
The sexuality of the Old Testament king who, according to legend, slew the giant Goliath and lead the children of Israel to a nation of prosperity has long been a popular subject of debate among scholars. In particular, his life-long friendship with Jonathan. The Biblical accounts speak of their passionate, even erotic, friendship. According to David, he found “grace in Jonathan’s eyes” and enjoyed his “love” more than that of women. The Bible also speaks of the two getting naked together to get to know one another. Apparently they also lived openly as a couple; in the book of Samuel, King Saul criticizes his son Jonathan for being overly intimate with David, who, incidentally, succeeds Saul as King of Israel.
5. Marlene Dietrich
One of the greatest stars in film history, Dietrich had a blockbuster-sized libido! She made no secret of her many affairs with men–and women–even well into old age. Dietrich also never apologized for her love of women, nor did she ever keep it secret. She once told a reporter “in Europe we make love to whomever we like.” Dietrich also became something of a gay icon. In her classic film Morocco she stunned audiences by dressing in a man’s tuxedo, taking a flower from another woman and then kissing her on the lips! Censors at the time went ballistic over the pass, but both Dietrich and the film’s director, Josef Von Sternberg, refused to cut the kiss. Some of her female consorts included Edith Piaf and Greta Garbo. In particular, Garbo and Dietrich had a long affair which spanned both sides of the Atlantic and more than 20 years. Dietrich also complained to friends that Garbo wore dirty underwear.
4. Eleanor Roosevelt
Perhaps the greatest American First Lady of the 20th century had several bisexual affairs. Other than her utter devotion to President Franklin Roosevelt and the political agenda she shared with her husband, Eleanor had a long affair with an American reporter, Lorena Hickok. The two met during Roosevelt’s first presidential campaign, and remained passionately close for years thereafter. At Franklin’s inaugural address, Eleanor even wore a sapphire ring gifted to her by Hickok. Popular White House gossip at the time acknowledged that Hickock was an open lesbian–one of several kept in close employ by the Roosevelts–but presidential scholars remain divided as to if she and Eleanor ever consummated their relationship. Surviving letters between the two ladies reveal an intense love between the two, and Eleanor admitted to kissing Hick’s picture every night before bed, since she couldn’t kiss the real thing.
3. James Dean
One of the reigning sex symbols of all time, Dean came to embody the sensitive, tortured thinking man of the 1950s. His on-screen image was that of a ladies man, though behind the scenes, Dean lived his life a bit differently. While he had a few brief relationships with women, Dean’s longest love affairs were with other men. He and college roommate, writer William Bast, lived together long after graduation, and Bast admitted he and Dean had a long affair. Studio documents also lump him in with documented closet cases Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter as a leading man that needed pairing with a starlet for publicity purposes. Some time after his death, reports of his affairs with other men began to surface en masse, including Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and Rock Hudson. Even close friend Elizabeth Taylor insisted Dean was gay for the rest of her life.
2. Laurence Olivier
Often cited as the greatest Shakespearean actor in history, Olivier had a public image as a brilliant dramatist and ladies man. Those who knew him best, including his wives, however, painted a different picture: Olivier loved men! His surviving wife Joan Plowright has acknowledged that he had a number of affairs with men while they were married! Olivier’s numerous male lovers included Noel Coward, Marlon Brando (more on him in a moment), Danny Kaye and John Gielgud. Friends also revealed Olivier could act the primadona: he once derided John Gielgud’s delivery as “singing opera,” said he “hated” Marilyn Monroe and said he felt “ashamed” for Peter O’Toole after seeing him in Hamlet.
1. Marlon Brando
Brando was reportedly quite the player, marrying and divorcing three times. In his later years, however, Brando became more open about his true love: actor Wally Cox. Besides Cox, Brando also admitted to dalliances with James Dean, Paul Newman, John Gielgud, Rock Hudson and Merv Griffin. Brando reportedly also had an affair with fellow Actor’s Studio student Montgomery Clift which lasted several years. Actor David Niven recalls attending a party at the home of Vivian Leigh and Laurence Olivier, during which he walked in on Brando and Olivier having sex in their swimming pool! Rather than interrupt them, Niven decided to go back inside and pour himself another drink! Brando, in his final days, admitted he’d long wished he could marry Wally Cox, however, even calling Wally the love of his life. The two are buried together today.