Actor Farley Granger dies at 85

Posted on March 29, 2011

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By: Akshata Rao

Actor Farley Granger, well known for his roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s classics died on March 27, 2011 of natural causes at the age of 85 in New York. In 1951 Granger starred alongside Robert Walker in the film ‘Strangers on a Train’ as a tennis player who becomes embroiled in a reciprocal murder scheme. In Rope, released in 1948 he starred as one of two students of a dubious professor, played by James Stewart, who are persuaded to carry out an elaborate homicide. Yet Granger failed to sustain the momentum of those years, meandering into television, some stage work and often-indifferent European and American movies.

In 2007 he released his memoir, Include Me Out, in which he told of his bisexuality and flings with Ava Gardner, Patricia Neal, Shelley Winters and the composer Leonard Bernstein. His long-time partner Robert Calhoun, with whom he had been in a relationship since 1963, died three years ago. Granger refused to play the publicity or marrying game common among gay and bisexual stars and turned down roles he considered unsuitable, earning a reputation – in his own words – for being “a naughty boy”.

Granger was born in San Jose, California, on July 1, 1925 and appeared in a school play at the tender age of five. His dazzling good looks were spotted by a local talent scout, which brought him to the spotlight after years of working in theatres around Los Angeles. He made his screen debut at the age of 18 as a curly-haired Russian soldier in Lewis Milestone’s The North Star (1943). He was also cast in a role of a sergeant in The Purple Heart (1944) by Milestone, but by then the real war had caught up with the actor who, following his military service, took a long while to re-establish himself.

He bagged the leading role of They Live By Night, as the emotionally unstable crook Bowie. He also appeared in the feeble Enchantment (1948) and the bucolic Roseanna McCoy (1949). Granger and John Dall were cast as gay students who murder a friend to display a Nietzschean concept of supremacy. Granger played the highly-strung Phillip, who cracks under the probing of their tutor (James Stewart). The movie did not go down well with the public and the director Jean Renoir scathingly dismissed the movie, adding that it was “A film about homosexuals in which they don’t even show the boys kissing”.

In 1950 Granger starred in another Hitchcock movie with a gay subtext, Strangers On a Train. He took the more conventional role of a handsome tennis champion, Guy Haines, mentally seduced by the unhinged Bruno (Robert Walker). Granger was bland rather than urbane, perplexed rather than intimidated, and despite charm, good looks and an attractive voice, he found his career not taking off.

Movies such as Behave Yourself! (1951) and Small Town Girl (1953) followed. Even the sympathetic Vincente Minnelli made little of the star opposite Leslie Caron in The Story of Three Loves (1953). Granger was happy to be loaned out by Goldwyn to star in Visconti’s Senso as the embittered romantic Franz Mahler, an Austrian soldier who betrays the married woman besotted with him. The film took heady flight into a sumptuous period melodrama. Granger then starred in The Naked Street (1955) as a hoodlum taken under the overly protective wing of Anthony Quinn. He also played a role as the murderous roué in Richard Fleischer’s The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955).

He made a comeback to theatre with The Carefree Tree on Broadway in 1955, and touring with The Seagull, Hedda Gabler and She Stoops to Conquer. After a decade mainly in the theatre and TV and little-seen movies such as Rogues’ Gallery (1968), Granger returned to a more congenial Europe.

In 1970 he made a western, My Name Is Trinity, and then a complicated spy thriller, The Serpent, where he co-starred with Henry Fonda, Yul Brynner and Dirk Bogarde, all gentlemen of a certain age in search of elusive work. He again worked in American television, in popular series as Matt Helm, Ellery Queen, The Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote, and also contributed to the documentary The Celluloid Closet (1995), an examination of homosexuality in Hollywood movies.

In 2001 he appeared in his last film, The Next Big Thing, and came to London for his West End stage debut, in a revival of Noël Coward’s once-controversial play Semi-Monde. He had difficulties memorising and remembering his lines and hence later withdrew from the play. He finally devoted himself to his greatest love, the theatre, but this time as a spectator.

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Posted in: Film