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Romance vs. Reality

Photo by Slobodan Dimitrov

Boze Hadleigh’s speaking voice is a mélange of proper grammar and crisp enunciation, softened by a subtle, singsongy hint of Continental origins. On the phone, the longtime entertainment journalist gives the impression of an older, distinguished gentleman, and when he offers his Beverly Hills address as the site for an interview, one imagines a silvered Hollywood lion — wealthy, regal and cordial in a noblesse oblige kind of way. But the Boze Hadleigh who opens the door looks far more youthful than his 49 years, beatnicky even, and he gives you a choice between Diet Pepsi and a beer before he politely seats you in an apartment that, though extravagantly decorated with East Asian and Egyptian art, is modest and redolent of curry. It’s a fitting introduction to an author whose work encourages readers to look past preconceived impressions and images.

Hadleigh has written 15 books, mostly on the movies and Hollywood, and most famously on gays and lesbians in Hollywood. Books such as The Lavender Screen: Gay and Lesbian Films and to-the-point interview anthologies such as Hollywood Gays and Hollywood Lesbians take on the lives and careers of featured players like the great Patsy Kelly (who, over cocktails with Hadleigh, spilled the beans on gal pal Tallulah Bankhead’s fondness for “pubic massage”) as well as reluctant stars like Cary Grant and Barbara Stanwyck (who angrily ordered the writer from her home). “People say, ‘You sure write a lot about gay people in your books,’” Hadleigh remarks, “but I’m writing about entertainment. I mean, if you want Protestant heterosexuals, write about banking or politics.” Hadleigh is quick to point out that he does write on other subjects, though with a slant. “Most of my books are not gay-themed,” he adds, “although they’re all gay-inclusive.” His Bette Davis Speaks, for instance, is a simple compendium of frank and entertaining interviews he conducted with the grande dame that only indirectly addresses homosexuality, by way of her status as a gay icon and her tendency to rib the author about his own gayness. Then there are books like Hollywood Babble On, a straightforward collection of quotations from celebrities — nasty, dopey, funny tidbits that go down with the self-intensifying pleasure of potato chips.

This summer saw the publication of two new books by Hadleigh, Holy Matrimony! and Celebrity Lies! Each returns to the quotation format, though each, particularly Celebrity Lies!, takes further Hadleigh’s fascination with the rift between perception and reality in the American preoccupation with celebrity culture. While Holy Matrimony! addresses the tricky subject of love and marriage among public figures (“from Homer to Ben Franklin to Jennifer Lopez”), Celebrity Lies! delves into even trickier ideas of image and persona among entertainers. Divvied up into chapters such as “Romance vs. Reality” and “Personal Claims,” the book typically offers a quote from a public figure, then debunks it. Some are one-offs, such as the snippet from Hogan’s Heroes star and amateur pornographer Bob Crane, who states for the record, “I do tend to think the raunchy aspect of movies has sort of gotten out of hand. When it comes to entertainment, I’m kinda conservative.” More persistent themes, however, emerge — Lucille Ball’s less-than-sunny personality, the pervasiveness of sham Hollywood marriages — and toward the end of the book, Hadleigh gets down to brass tacks. The quotes come more slowly, and he concentrates on presenting “Myths” — from specifics such as “Sixties star Jean Seberg committed suicide after it got out that she’d had a baby by a member of the Black Panthers” to more general items such as “Superstars cherish their uniqueness” — and then expounds. It’s in these more freeform setups that Hadleigh’s mission comes potently to the fore.

“I thought this was a good chance to point out the accumulated myth and lies about the media,” says Hadleigh, “to tell people, ‘Think for yourself, don’t always buy what you are told.’” What’s interesting about Celebrity Lies!, and Hadleigh’s work as a whole, is that, more than merely offering the old cliché that not all is as it seems in the entertainment world, his books shine a light onto the personal investment we make in the process, the desire to be deluded by a pretty fib, be it the enduring romance of the Hepburn-Tracy love affair or the happy times on the I Love Lucy set.

Hadleigh was first intrigued by that impulse when, as the son of a history professor, he became an avid reader of biographies and nonfiction, and a young gay male who devoured accounts of gay historical figures. He began to notice in otherwise solid works the glossing over of salient facts. “You will find biographers,” he explains, “and I saw this in my father’s own work, who may know the truth and probably did, but would cover it up because of their personal biases.” Personal bias was an idea to which Hadleigh was exposed at a tender age. Born in the Middle East to a half-Jewish Syrian father of British descent and a mother who was the daughter of a Mexican diplomat also of British descent, Hadleigh moved extensively around the world while still a child. Witnessing multiple cultures firsthand and being the progeny of international parents not only gave Hadleigh an idea of humanity’s diversity, it helped dispel whatever angst he might have personally felt over the concept of being different himself. He noticed, early on, the prejudices and narrow minds that sought to restrict knowledge and experience rather than embrace it. It became a sort of mission for him to fight that restriction, from his time in college, when he wrote a column for the school paper exposing corporate machinations, through the burgeoning of his entertainment career, which got its start with interviews of the stars who would come to film and vacation in Santa Barbara, where he lived as a teen.

While Hadleigh’s books are undeniably fun — and in person, he’s happy to dish (“You have a young gay actor who is playing a superhero from a comic book, and he’s pals with another big movie star, yet they each have beard girlfriends”) — he’s unwilling to deem them or the media trivial. “Holly-wood impacts not only on our lives in this country, but around the world.” (His books have been translated into 14 languages.) He is dismayed by the tendency to resist the truth, particularly when that resistance persists at the expense of identity, when a false idol is worshiped over one’s own cultural heritage, say, or religious or sexual orientation. Hadleigh has come under fire repeatedly for outing celebrities, not only from obvious antagonists such as Fox-network blowhard Bill O’Reilly, who took him on over a quote from Marlon Brando, but from gays themselves, who don’t want to see the images of their cherished icons ruffled. That, to him, is proof of the insidiousness of celebrity myths, and he doesn’t find that entertaining at all.

“It’s self-hatred,” he says firmly. “When you grow up in a culture that is anti-this, anti-that, you internalize it, you buy those myths that you’re not as good.” Such a purchase seems never to have crossed Hadleigh’s mind, and it’s his self- assurance that positions him as one of our breezier and more accessible Hollywood truth tellers. And that’s no lie.


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