Scandalous Old Hollywood - Dundurn
Nov 26, 2021

Scandalous Old Hollywood

I certainly don’t set out to be controversial. But I’ve always loved Gloria Grahame’s story, and I’m fascinated that people so often refuse to tell it. If you had heard that a major Hollywood star slept with her 13-year-old stepson, then politely waited until he was 18, and consequently resumed the relationship — and eventually married him, and produced three lovely children — wouldn’t you remember that story? And wouldn’t you want to tell it over and over again? But Gloria Grahame’s story is the one that no one will tell; in the recent film about her (starring Annette Bening called Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool), Grahame’s scandalous marriage to her stepson is only mentioned once — glancingly, and nearly imperceptibly. But why talk about such things? Why should we care? Principally because Gloria Grahame’s life story is part of the human condition (what James Baldwin likes to call ‘the human riddle’). One critic has already compared my book to Lolita (I’m sorry, I haven’t read it, I find Nabokov unnavigable). But banning certain stories does not preclude the possibility that some may follow in Gloria Grahame’s scandalous footsteps, unwittingly, and they, at the very least, might learn from knowing that a person, once, was as screwed up as they intend to become. But art should not be redeeming; or at least not in that way. To be frank, what attracted me to Gloria was her lips, her eyes, and her hair. And by that I mean — not only imagining I had her lips, eyes and hair — but also imagining I had the incredible confidence in her own sexuality that went along with them. I know I’m a gay activist who writes about gay lives — but that is somewhat of a ruse — or should I say — part of an effort (always in vain) to convince myself that I am, after all, ‘ok’. Gay men my age may never love themselves enough because of all the hate they have encountered along the way.

Which brings me to Denton Moutlon. Denton shares the narration of my novel with Gloria Grahame — imagines ‘he’ is ‘she.’ He is what Dave Chapelle recognizes in The Closer as an old style, ‘glory hole’ faggot, not like the fragile young boys with painted nails today — the ones who can barely manage to admit they are ‘gender non-binary.’ So let’s get it out in the open: that is, the ‘trans issue’ in my book. When Denton Moutlon is intimidated by the gender non-specific arts administrators who control his arts funding, is he, as Chapelle calls it — ‘punching down’? I’m not going to make an argument here that older, sexual, effeminate gay men like Denton— who we imagine to be an affluent elite — are, instead, at the bottom of the privilege scale. No. I won’t say that. Not because it is not true, but because one has to attack this rot at the core. A discussion of privilege is not rotten, it is absolute necessary. But what is not only tiring but soul depleting — and what will end up destroying art and artists — is the notion that only the least privileged must be allowed a voice — and that those who are ‘more privileged’ must, necessarily shut up. One of my friends calls this the ‘Oppression Olympics.’ If we play that game, no one wins. Everyone who is oppressed feels their own oppression is the most oppressive; such a discussion may end up being a very wet pity party indeed — especially after the knives come out and no one is left alive. Is Denton Moulton more ‘oppressed’ than his trans counterparts at the arts council? When it comes to that kind of game I’d rather play strip poker. It would not only be more honest, but a helluva lot more fun.

Sky Gilbert is a writer, director, and drag queen extraordinaire. He was the founder of Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, has had more than forty plays produced, and published seven novels and three poetry collections. Toronto named a street after him. (Dr.) Sky Gilbert lives in Hamilton, Ontario. Learn more about I, Gloria Grahame here.