Saturday, December 8, 2012

James Dean's Gay Lovers

 James Dean
 James Dean was parking cars at CBS Studios the day that he met Rodgers Brackett. It was 1951 and Dean was a struggling 20 year old actor and Bracket was a very successful 35 year old radio director of a prestigious advertising agency. The unlikely pair hit it off and it wasn’t long before Dean was living with Brackett in his stylish LA apartment. Brackett bought Dean nice clothes, took him to nice restaurants and introduced him to movie stars and other people who could help his career; it was a classic “kept boy” scenario.

Rodgers Dean, taken later in life.

When Dean’s agent expressed concern about the young actor living with a known homosexual, Dean’s only explanation was, “I have my own room.” When his straight friends would come over and whisper that his room-mate was “a queer”, Dean’s answer was “Yeah, I know.”  Some say that Dean was just using Brackett to further his career, sort of a “gay for pay” arrangement.  However, Dean and Brackett stayed close and in touch for the rest of his life; that wouldn’t have happened if it had only been a financial arrangement.

A year or so later, Brackett found a new job in the Television industry in Chicago. Dean was extremely upset and afraid of being abandoned, just like felt when his mother died when he was 9 years old. 

 Lee Strasberg's Actors Studio, NYC

Brackett generously financed Dean’s move to New York so that he could study at the Actors Studio under Lee Strasberg. .William Bast was Dean’s room-mate and closest friend, a fact confirmed by the Dean family. Bast revealed, later in life, that his close friendship with Dean was sometimes sexual. 

 William Bast

Through the Actors Studio, James Dean attended a class taught by Marlon Brandon. He stayed after the class to meet Brando, which lead to a sexual affair that lasted for several months and a friendship that lasted much longer.

  A young Marlon Brando

James Dean acting like Marlon Brando

 Later in life, Brando was quoted as saying, “Like a large number of men, I too have had homosexual experiences, and I am not ashamed.”  Friends noticed during this period that Dean’s acting style, gestures and even his walk were much like Brando's.”

 Marlon and Dean on the studio back lot.

 A Photoshop collage; sadly, this is not real.

Dean soon got a role on Broadway as a boy who seduces a male tourist in AndrĂ© Gide's The Immoralist in 1954. He quit The Immoralist after just three weeks and flew to Hollywood to begin filming East of Eden.  Dean had been introduced to the director, Elia Kazan, by his ex lover Rogers Brackett.  

 Noreen Nash, one of Dean's co-stars on Giant, recalled that the stars Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson had a bet over who bed him first.  According to Nash, Hudson won the bet just a few days into the shoot.

 Rock Hudson and James Dean on the set of "Giant."

There are conflicting reports about Dean’s sexuality; there are a few who try to deny that he had any sexual affairs with men, there are those who say that he was bisexual and some who say that he was exclusively gay (those include “Rebel without a Cause” director Nicholas Ray and screenwriter Gavin Lambert.)

 Clifton Webb

 Jack Simmons with James Dean

Dean publicly dated women and privately dated men such as the actors Clifton Webb, Brando, Jack Simmons, Bill Bast as well as the producer Rogers Brackett. James Dean avoided the draft by registering as a homosexual.  Later, when questioned if he was homosexual he is reported to have said, "No, I am not a homosexual. But, I'm also not going to go through life with one hand tied behind my back.”

 James Dean with Pier Angeli

Rumors about Dean’s sexuality began to spread as his fame increased and he quickly became engaged to the actress Pier Angeli.  Angeli abruptly broke off that engagement which led to further speculation.  At a time when it was impossible for male leads to be openly gay, it wasn’t at all unusual for gay actors like Rock Hudson to enter into sham marriages. 

 Rock Hudson and beard/wife, Phyllis Gates (his agent's secretary.)

Both the gay and straight communities want to claim Dean as one of their own, but I think it’s safe to say that he was gay.  Most of the accounts from those who were his friends and associates show that he had "very close" relationships with several gay and bi-sexual men. That an actor is gay or bi-sexually isn’t at all hard to believe, but when it conflicts with the on screen image, the public chooses to reject the truth.

For those who continue to insist that James Dean wasn't gay, check what his good friend and co-star, Elizabeth Taylor, had to say about it. Jump to the 3 minute mark on this Youtube clip: 

Too see some sexy photos of James Dean in leather, check out: 
Hot Vintage Men: James Dean 


  1. Thank you for this summary. There's far too much history-rewriting for gay men who could be role-models (etc) and its good to read some historical facts presented plainly.

  2. It will be a good day when people can lead their lives as they see fit vs. societal "norms" bullshit. RIP Dean, Brando, Hudson and friends.

  3. It is really sad that someone's sex life is no longer private, and everyone has to learn private things.

    1. Karen in many ways I understand just what you mean, When my Uncle Danny came out to me as a child, he referred to himself as my uncle, my friend, my loved one who happened to be gay. So, my reference point was that his entire identity, like my own, centered around his person-hood, and not his homosexuality. Mind you when he was murdered in a nationally publicized LGBT hate crime in 2001, he wasn't a person who lost his life, he was the "fag someone shot/" When it came time to mourn his passing, it was those outside the loop that reminded me just how different he, and I, were from everyone else. You see Karen, for those of us raised by parents in the LGBT community, we are constantly told to remain private, closed, and forgotten. The problem is that sometimes history cannot be a matter of private speculation, but must remain an open book of lives, memories, and actions. What makes me sad is that such an icons story is regarded as loathsome, instead of enriched by his love life. Be well!

    2. It is also really sad when you have to hide the people you love for your entire life.

    3. @Karen: Brando was very open about his sex life. In 1976, he told a French journalist, "Homosexuality is so much in fashion, it no longer makes news. Like a large number of men, I, too, have had homosexual experiences, and I am not ashamed. I have never paid much attention to what people think about me."

  4. @Karen, I doubt you would have objected to this story if James Dean's lovers had been women. This story is about validating who he was as real person; sorry if it burst your bubble.

  5. The Celluloid Closet was the best documentary I ever saw, it opened my eyes and my mind.

  6. I don't understand why this article questions whether Dean was gay; Elizabeth Taylor very publicly outed him at the GLAAD media awards in 2000....and, as she was his friend, I would think she would have known. Check out the link below at 3 mins 15 secs

  7. Hi Andy,
    Thanks so much for the link; I've never seen that clip! I get so many angry women sending me messages about how terrible I am for saying that James Dean was gay; maybe this will finally shut them up! LOL
    I think I'll have to copy and paste that clip into the post, thanks again.

  8. Hello! I just want to say that I love your blog and I find it so strange how so many people get angry at these types of posts! I love James Dean, and I don't mind whom he liked or went to bed with. I mean, I actually prefer it if he was not straight since I get kind of jealous thinking about him with a woman.. lol (Whereas I don't get jealous seeing two men together, I just find it hot haha) Once again, I love your blog! I hope you can post more of these stories of old Hollywood film stars (or singers etc)

  9. Thanks Clara,
    You can't even image how many crazy messages I get about this post. Apparently some people are shocked that there are gay actors! LOL

  10. Back in the day. .a problem. and let live.

  11. Thanks for this bit of Hollywood history....I'm sure had things been different...those...such as James Dean...Rock Hudson and others...would possibly been able to live as genuine queers out loud and proud....It is..a wonderful thought...our history is what it is...then....Thank you for giving their history some voice!!

  12. Great blog. The video of Elizabeth Taylor is very poignant. She was so supportive and publicly championed same sex marriage very early. I wish she had lived to see it a nation wide reality. I think about people like her, who have nothing to gain personally, who could continue successfully and beloved, without risking anything, but chose to do so because she loves her friends and believes in what is right. Compare that to my own family who can only manage excuses and embarrassment that anyone find out the truth.

    1. She was so supportive of gay men at a time where just the thought of hanging around someone with homosexual tendencies was deemed weird. She was comfortable around them because there were no sexual tensions. Which, I'm sure comforted her.

  13. In the book "Live Fast, Die Young : The Wild Ride of the Making of 'Rebel Without A Cause'" by Larry Frascella and Al Weisel, actor/opera librettist Jack Larson recounts how Dean and Simmons tried to pick him up for a three-way -- which freaked Larson out. After Dean's death Simmons who only took acting roles to hang around his Master Dean) went into real estate. He owned the Hollywood mansion Errol Flynn once inhabited and rented it to Warhol and the gang when they came to town and shot several films including "Imitation of Christ" with Patrick Tilden Close ad Nic.

  14. I adored James Dean who was my kind of post-teen. Bill Bast was no doubt James Dean's lover. I read his book back in the 1950s when he published his first, necessarily discreet, memoir. In 1960, I wrote this article, also necessarily discreet, about the potency of James Dean, only five years after the crash. It took a bit of time even to find a publisher. Here's the feature with an introduction. Enjoy!

  15. Hi Jack,
    I was huge fan of Drummer when I was young man in the 80s. Thanks for being brave enough to publish such a revolutionary magazine!

  16. Why would anyone be shocked that a male actor is gay, it pretty much goes with the territory, some don't see the real person, they see the actor acting a part and assume they are as they appear on screen.
    Having worked in television for 5 years I can safely say that at least 3/4 of the males I've come across are Homosexuals