William Haines – Hollywood’s Gay Trailblazer

Day 240 of Colourisation Project – January 2

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

He was the one of the biggest box office attractions in the USA in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Handsome, talented and at the top of his game, he gave it all up in a flash to remain true to himself and to his partner. He was not going to live his life on someone else’s terms.

Joan Crawford called them the “happiest married couple in Hollywood.”

She was talking about today’s subject for colorization, William Haines and his life-long partner of 47 years, Jimmy Shields. Theirs was a true and enduring Hollywood love story. Yes, it happens sometimes!

William Haines

MGM Publicity Still by Photographer:  G Hurrell – William Haines – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Haines was Hollywood’s first openly gay star…and the last one for at least another seventy years. 

Once upon a time in the Golden Era of Hollywood there existed a rich gay subculture. The closet door was thrust wide open.  William Haines epitomized the ‘anything goes’ attitude of the 1920s that other notable stars like Greta Garbo so easily subscribed to. That was before the The Motion Picture Production Code came along in 1930 making studio bosses keepers of the keys to the closet. A wave of conservatism engulfed Hollywood and righteous moral arbiters started calling the shots.

[The Motion Picture Production Code was the set of industry moral censorship guidelines that governed the production of  American motion pictures released by the major studios from 1930 to 1968. It is also popularly known as the Hays Code, after Hollywood’s chief censor of the time, Will H. Hays.]

MGM studio boss, Louis B. Mayer gave Haines an ultimatum; quit his unapologetically gay life and enter into a studio-arranged marriage, or  say good-bye to his career. Haines informed Mayer that he was “already married” to Jimmy Shields, his partner of seven years, and then watched as Mayer tore up his MGM contract.

Haines steadfastly refused to compromise. He even turned down an offer of a ‘marriage of convenience’ to help him keep his job, from close friend, Joan Crawford who was then still readying herself for her own ascent to Hollywood stardom.

Forced to give up acting, Haines rose to fame all over again as one of the 20th century’s most sought after interior decorators in Hollywood, with a client list that included Nancy Reagan, Claudette Colbert, Frederick March, Gloria Swanson and William Powell. 

And Haines and Shields lived happily ever after…until 1973 when Haines died from lung cancer in Santa Monica, California at the age of 73, with Shields by his side.

Almost 3 months later, a broken-hearted, Shields, put on Haines’ pajamas, took an overdose of sleeping pills, and left a suicide note explaining that he couldn’t go it alone. They were buried side by side in Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery.

Haines has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7012 Hollywood Blvd.

Note: William Haines Designs remains in operation today, with main offices in West Hollywood and showrooms in New York, Denver and Dallas.


“Joan Crawford thought we should get married. This was back in the 1920s, when I was a star and she was a rising flapper. It wasn’t just a crass question of her ambition; we were very good but platonic friends. I told her, “Cranberry” – my pet name for her – “that isn’t how it works in Hollywood. They usually pair men who like men and ladies who like ladies”. Because if we both liked men, where would we be as man and wife? She’d resent me, and that would be the end of our beautiful friendship.”     –  William Haines


This entry was posted in Colorization, Colourisation, Film, Hollywood, Photography, USA and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to William Haines – Hollywood’s Gay Trailblazer

  1. Pingback: Anna May Wong – Reluctant Dragon Lady | Random Phoughts

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