Novarro, a rival to Rudolph Valentino as the top heartthrob of silent films, is remembered today, sadly, mostly for his brutal murder in 1968. Two brothers, one of them an occasional hustler, were convicted of the crime, about which many apocryphal tales have spread; read more about that here. But Novarro was also a capable actor and a major star of the silents who transitioned successfully into sound films. After his stardom waned in the mid-1930s, he kept on working in supporting roles, and he even did TV guest shots into the '60s. He had several same-sex relationships; one of the most important ones was with journalist and publicist Herbert Howe in the 1920s.
Studios occasionally concocted a straight "romance" for Novarro but most of the time attributed his bachelorhood to his devout Catholic faith — he did try at one point to enter a monastery — and his devotion to his parents, brothers, and sisters. He made many hit films, but the most notable and enduring one is the 1925 silent version of Ben-Hur. That movie may soon attract new audiences, as musician Stewart Copeland — the Police drummer turned film, television, and theater composer — has overseen a digital restoration of it and composed a new score for accompaniment. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, joined by Copeland, will perform the score when the film is shown Tuesday in the Windy City. Read a feature about the project and more about Novarro here. — T.R.
J. Edgar Hoover
Was J. Edgar Hoover a tyrant because he was a repressed, closeted gay man or was he simply a horrible person? That’s the question writers and directors have asked since the powerful FBI director died in 1972. Everyone from Ethel Merman to the Mattachine Society’s Harry Hay has been quoted as saying Hoover was gay, even if he didn’t himself acknowledge or accept it. While many have speculated on Hoover participating in gay sex parties and limo trysts with young men, there is little disagreement that he had a long, tumultuous, passionate relationship with his deputy at the FBI, Clyde Tolson.
They traveled everywhere together, held hands, and both helped cement the FBI’s status as a frightening bureaucracy that cracked down on minorities, including gays and lesbians. In Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, written by Academy Award-winning out screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, Edgar (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) lays a big one on Tolson (Armie Hammer), and there’s no doubt their real relationship crossed first base. — Neal Broverman
Rumors about Whitney Houston’s sexual orientation swirled throughout her lifetime, and were routinely rejected or hushed by Houston and those around her. However, a new documentary Whitney: Can I Be Me? shed a light on the pressures she may have faced to remain silent about her sexuality. Most tragically, at the end of her life, she was isolated from her beloved friend, manager, and protector, Robyn Crawford, who was also believed to be her partner.
“Robyn provided a safe space for her. She loved her, cared for her, was a friend to her, and didn’t want to ever disappoint her,” said Allison Samuels, a family friend, in the film. “In that, Whitney found safety and solace. I don’t think that [Houston] was gay; I think she was bisexual…Whitney loved to be held and she loved to be embraced and she wanted to feel protected.”
Samuels’ testament about the intimate relationship between Houston and Crawford corroborates information from Houston’s ex-husband, Bobby Brown. In his 2016 memoir, Every Little Step, Brown claimed Houston was bisexual and had a romance with Crawford. “I really feel that if Robyn was accepted into Whitney’s life, Whitney would still be alive today,” he told Us Weekly. “She didn’t have close friends with her anymore.”