Boze Hadleigh’s Hollywood Lesbians: From Garbo to Foster, the no holds barred companion to his classic Hollywood Gays, is an interesting examination of the history of Hollywood, with a specific focus on women connected to the LGBTQ+ community. His work opens the closet door and examines just what has been hidden inside the often secretive world of celebrity that surrounds the entertainment industry. Hollywood Lesbians blends interviews with narrative discussions of women who were seen as outside of the heterosexual norm they were expected to uphold in order to preserve their careers.
Hadleigh is a renowned entertainment journalist and historian, who is noted as the foremost writer on lesbian, bi, and gay Hollywood. In his newly updated Hollywood Lesbians, he divides the book into three parts. The first and third focus on women he was able to interview and the second provides a more narrative focused history of a variety of women who have come out as queer, many either identifying as lesbian or bisexual. Within his narrative focused section Hadleigh also presents some slightly more anecdotal moments, including rumors that spread through Hollywood. Some of these mention names, though frequently Hadleigh alludes to the woman in question without directly stating who she could be. This adds a bit of fun to the more historically focused text.
The interviews provide insight, not only into a variety of women, but also into the method with which Hadleigh used to speak with them. In many cases he was contractually obligated to not release any information from his interviews until after the subject had died. He was able to build relationships with some of the women, which created some less formal transcriptions, my favorite of which being his interview with Sandy Dennis. It is important to note that within the chapters that focus on interviews Hadleigh does provide a narrative element to discuss the woman’s history and some of the rumors that surrounded her identity over the course of her life.
What I found the most interesting within the interviews was that many of the women discussed very openly how Hollywood was indeed male dominated. Dorothy Azner mentioned that male headliners were often preferred and stated that women, as well as other minority groups, would have to work twice as hard to achieve the same success as a man in any field. Though some of the women did discuss being attracted to other women, a majority of them did not wish to discuss the topic or would not delve into particulars. They did not believe that it was appropriate or would end the interview if the topic was broached with persistence by Hadleigh. Some of the women within this book remained devotedly single or remained so after the death of or divorce from a husband. The desire to focus on their career without distraction was often cited, but they did note that not all women in Hollywood had the luxury of staying unconnected to a man.
Even though not all of them women discussed in Hollywood Lesbians ever came out of the closet I found the discussion of historical Hollywood engaging. I had heard of relationships for publicity’s sake being created, but the discussion of romantic relationships perceived as a necessity was not something that I had considered. I also enjoyed hearing the women compare the Hollywood of their heyday with the evolving image of Hollywood and celebrity. Anyone who wishes to learn more about Hollywood history should read this book and those who are seeking to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community are sure to glean some great insight from Hadleigh’s work. I also think this is a must read for anyone currently watching Ryan Murphy’s new series Feud, which focuses on the relationship between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.
You can find Hollywood Lesbians: From Garbo to Foster as well as other books by Riverdale Ave Books at www.RiverdaleAveBooks.com. Downloads of the books are also available on Amazon, Barnes & Nobles Nook, iTunes, Kobo and wherever e-books are downloaded.
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