Dreaming Biopics: Old Gay Hollywood Meets New Gay Hollywood

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday October 24, 2021
Originally published on October 18, 2021

Tab Hunter
Tab Hunter  (Source:Associated Press)

A few years back, it was announced that Matt Bomer would play screen icon and six-time Oscar nominee Montgomery Clift ("A Place in the Sun," "From Here to Eternity") in an upcoming biopic that would explicitly deal with his homosexuality, which was an open secret in Hollywood.

That project sadly has gone the way of Lindsay Lohan's career. But we at EDGE still think it's a great idea. (And I, personally, would like to volunteer to pen the script... but I digress.) While Bomer seems ageless and can probably still play the role, an alternate actor who might be as appropriate would be "Bridgerton's" Jonathan Bailey. He has that sexy swagger, as well as the appeal to all sexes that Clift exuded. 

And in that spirit, here are some other Hollywood Legends whose biopics we'd like to see made — but with queer actors taking on the parts. In addition, check out this earlier story about real-life gay actors and the gay roles they played.

Rock Hudson

Rock Hudson and Cheyenne Jackson
Rock Hudson and Cheyenne Jackson  

Sure, there was a cheesy TV movie in 1990 about closeted star Rock Hudson, and Ryan Murphy deemed to include him in his revisionist "Hollywood," but the Oscar-nominated "Giant" actor deserves his own saga. And who better to walk in the 6'4'' icon's shoes than the openly gay, 6'3'' Cheyenne Jackson ("The Green," "Hello Again"), who exudes all the sex appeal of Hudson and has the acting chops to match him?

Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo and Evan Rachel Wood
Greta Garbo and Evan Rachel Wood  

Gorgeous Greta Garbo ("Ninotchka," "Anna Karenina") is one of the most popular actors of all time, with four Oscar nominations. Yet, her career spanned only two decades, and then she notoriously gave it all up. This elusive figure has had many a doc made about her life, but no one has dared fashioned a feature. Who could portray her? Perhaps "Westwood's" Evan Rachel Wood, who identifies as bisexual, might be the one to tap into the enigmatic superstar who wanted to be alone.

Roddy McDowall 

Roddy McDowall and Ben Whishaw
Roddy McDowall and Ben Whishaw  

One of the greatest supporting actors of all time, and one of the few child actors to make the leap to adult thesp, was Roddy McDowall ("The Poseidon Adventure," "The Planet of the Apes"). Oddly, he was never nominated for an Oscar, and should have been for 1963's "Cleopatra" (a snafu in submission prevented him). Most people know his face (or his face in ape makeup). Roddy was never in the closet, but never out, either. There is one actor out there who would rock this part: Bisexual Ben Whishaw ("A Very English Scandal," "Surge"), who not only feels very Roddy in many of his roles, but has his charm, as well as his sensitivity.

Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich and Cate Blanchett
Marlene Dietrich and Cate Blanchett  

The stunning siren Marlene Dietrich deliberately defied conventional gender roles and had affairs with men and women. Dietrich was a marvelous actor ("Desire," "Morocco" — Oscar nomination, "Witness for the Prosecution") and one of the most alluring creatures ever to grace the celluloid screen. We nominate Cate Blanchett for the role; Blanchett has already tackled Katharine Hepburn and won an Academy Award for it in Scorsese's "The Aviator." Cate admitted to having had "many" past relationships with women, but then seemed to walk it back a bit. Still, those "past" liaisons are enough to make her our Marlene.

Barbara Stanwyck 

Barbara Stanwyck and Sarah Paulson
Barbara Stanwyck and Sarah Paulson  

Femme fatale Barbara Stanwyck's sexual orientation was also an open secret in Tinseltown, although, to this day, her online bios try to make it seem as if she had been straight. The four-time Oscar nominee's multifaceted career includes riveting turns in "Double Indemnity" and "Ball of Fire." The choice here is clearly the dynamic Sarah Paulson("Carol," "The Post," "American Horror Story"), who is about as diverse as Stanwyck was.

Cesar Romero

Cesar Romero and Wilson Cruz
Cesar Romero and Wilson Cruz  

Too often, when people think of Cesar Romero, they think of the Joker on the TV series "Batman," but the actor was the first real Latin Lover of the silver screen ("The Devil is a Woman," opposite Marlene Dietrich). He was also very gay, although, like most working in the Golden Age of Hollywood, closeted. We're betting Wilson Cruz ("Star Trek: Discovery," "13 Reasons Why") would be the perfect choice to play Romero.

Tallulah Bankhead

Tallulah Bankhead and Kristen Stewart
Tallulah Bankhead and Kristen Stewart  

Not enough people today know who Tallulah Bankhead was. But in her day (1920s-1950s) she was one of the most revered stage actors, a staunch champion of liberal causes when it wasn't popular, and had an enormous gay following. Oh, and she openly had affairs with both sexes. Bankhead made very few films (like Hitchcock's "Lifeboat," for which she received an Oscar nomination), but those performances are classics. And Bankhead was one of a kind. Since she dared to step into Princess Diana's shoes (and wear them quite well in the upcoming "Spencer"), we give this one to Kristen Stewart.

Tab Hunter

Tab Hunter and Brian J. Smith
Tab Hunter and Brian J. Smith  

Tab Hunter died in 2018, but not before semi-embracing his gayness. In the doc "Tab Hunter Confidential" he was quite honest about his life in the Hollywood matinee idol closet in the '50s and '60s. But the '80s brought a love for camp, and work for Hunter, who had roles in John Waters' "Polyester" and "Lust in the Dust." We think Brian J. Smith ("Sense8") could embody this stunner of a pretty boy well onscreen. He's done great work on stage ("The Glass Menagerie") and just needs that perfect movie vehicle in order to soar.

Dirk Bogarde

Dirk Bogarde and Russell Tovey
Dirk Bogarde and Russell Tovey  

British actor Dirk Bogarde excelled in roles where the protagonist was in some kind of psychological distress, and he did not shy away from queer parts, something atypical for actors of his generation ("Victim," Death in Venice"). Bogarde shared his home with a man for nearly four decades, but never publicly came out. On "Years and Years" and "Looking," Russell Tovey proves he's one of the most gifted and nuanced actors working today. And he's gay, out, and proud. We're sure he would rock the Dirk!

Sal Mineo

Sal Mineo and Ezra Miller
Sal Mineo and Ezra Miller  

At the age of 22, Sal Mineo already had two Oscar nominations under his belt (for "Rebel Without a Cause" and "Exodus"), but typecasting, along with rumors about his homosexuality, dogged his career. He continued to appear on TV and stage, but tragically, in 1976, at the age of 37, a mugger stabbed him in the heart. The crime is still shrouded in controversy. Now, while it would be nice to see an actual Sicilian-American in this role, we have to say that queer actor Ezra Miller has done so much exciting work ("We Need to Talk About Kevin," "The Perks of Being a Wallflower") that we'd like to see him step out of those superhero duds and step into something meatier.

Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep. Frank is a recipient of a 2019 International Writers Retreat Residency at Arte Studio Ginestrelle (Assisi, Italy), a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, a 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and a 2015 NJ State Arts Council Fellowship Award. He is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW, FIG JAM, VATICAN FALLS) and a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute