William Haines


Actor
William Haines

About

Also Known As
Bill Haines, Charles William Haines
Birth Place
Staunton, Virginia, USA
Born
January 02, 1900
Died
December 26, 1973
Cause of Death
Lung Cancer

Biography

An energetic male lead of the late silent and early talkie era, and one of MGM's most bankable stars, actor William Haines used his boy-next-door looks and charm to play young collegiates or military recruits in a number of successful pictures. Haines first made his name in a number of supporting roles in the mid-1920s with movies like "Three Wise Fools" (1923), "The Gaiety Girl" (1924) ...

Photos & Videos

Family & Companions

James Shields
Companion
Secretary, decorating partner. Together from c. 1925 until Haines' death; committed suicide on March 6, 1974.

Bibliography

"Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines, Hollywood's First Openly Gay Star"
William Mann, Viking (1998)

Notes

In his lifetime, Haines always claimed to have been born on January 1, 1900. While no birth certificate exists, biographer William Mann found his baptismal record at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Staunton, VA where the date of birth was entered as January 2, 1900. Social Secuirty records also support this date.

On his most famous role: "I didn't have to act. I was just myself. Brown was the sort of fellow I am...kind of lazy, good-natured, wise-cracking." --William Haines, quoted in newspaper interview from the late 1920s

Biography

An energetic male lead of the late silent and early talkie era, and one of MGM's most bankable stars, actor William Haines used his boy-next-door looks and charm to play young collegiates or military recruits in a number of successful pictures. Haines first made his name in a number of supporting roles in the mid-1920s with movies like "Three Wise Fools" (1923), "The Gaiety Girl" (1924) and "Circe, the Enchantress" (1924), before becoming a star in his own right with his breakthrough picture, "Brown of Harvard" (1926). His brash, wisecracking persona proved to be a big hit and Haines went on to star in a series of movies like "Spring Fever" (1927), "West Point" (1928), and "Telling the World" (1928), where he was often paired opposite Joan Crawford or Anita Page. Haines transitioned over to talkies with "Alias Johnny Valentine" (1928), but like so many of his silent era contemporaries, he failed to last long in the sound era. Making matters worse was his refusal to hide his homosexuality, which at the time was a major taboo and proved to be his ultimate downfall. After making his last movie with "The Marines Are Coming" (1934), Haines was effectively banished from making movies by censor William Hays, but soon launched a highly successful second career as an interior decorator with lifelong partner, James Shields, who was with him up till the very end.

Born on Jan. 2, 1900 in Staunton, VA, Haines was raised in a wealthy family by his father, George, a cigar store owner, and his mother, Laura. He became fascinated with movies as a child and spent a great deal of time watching silent films at his local theater. Recognizing his homosexuality as a young teenager, Haines ran away from home with a boyfriend to Hopewell, VA, where the two worked at a local factory and opened up a dance hall. He remained in the town until most of the place was burned down by fire in 1915. Haines moved briefly to New York City, until he was forced to return home following the family business filing for bankruptcy and his father's nervous breakdown. A few years after his father had sufficiently recovered, Haines returned to New York, where he worked a variety of odd jobs while settling comfortably into the gay community in Greenwich Village. While working as a bookkeeper for S.W. Straus, Haines started to model and was eventually discovered by a talent scout for Samuel Goldwyn. He was signed by the studio for $40 a week.

In 1922, Haines made his film debut with an uncredited bit part in the comedy "Brothers Under the Skin," and went on to play small credited roles in dramas like "Lost and Found on a South Sea Island" (1923) and "Souls for Sale" (1923). He soon attracted the attention of the newly-formed MGM studio and found his star beginning to rise with supporting roles in "Three Wise Fools" (1923), "The Midnight Express" (1924), "The Gaiety Girl" (1924) and "Circe, the Enchantress" (1924). Haines next portrayed an Irish cop in the Mary Pickford vehicle "Little Annie Rooney" (1925) before becoming a star in his own right with "Brown of Harvard" (1926), his breakthrough movie. The role established his brash, wisecracking but ultimately good-natured screen persona, which carried him through the remainder of the silent era. His films were enormously popular with the public at this time and often teamed him with either Joan Crawford in "Spring Fever" (1927), "West Point" (1928), "The Duke Steps Out" (1929) or Anita Page in "Telling the World" (1928), "Speedway" (1929), and "Navy Blues" (1929).

One of Haines' best films, and one of his best-remembered, was King Vidor's delightful comedy set in the world of Hollywood filmmaking, "Show People" (1928), in which his slapstick clown teamed memorably with Marion Davies' aspiring ingénue. He made the transition to talkies with "Alias Jimmy Valentine" (1928), and made a number of them with MGM, including "The Girl Said No" (1930), "Way Out West" (1930) and "Just a Gigolo" (1931). But as was the case with many silent actors, Haines found that his popularity waned with the advent of sound. He made his last picture with MGM, the romantic comedy "Fast Life" (1932), and his Hollywood career was near an end. Assisting his departure from the movie business was a 1933 arrest at a YMCA after being caught with a young sailor. Studio head Louis B. Mayer gave him the choice between entering into an arranged marriage of convenience with a willing starlet or continuing his relationship with Shields. Haines made a couple of Poverty Row pictures, including his last film "The Marines Are Coming" (1934), before being blacklisted for his lifestyle by Hollywood censor, William Hays. Meanwhile, Haines and Shields started a successful interior design business that catered to a number of celebrities throughout the years, including Gloria Swanson, Carole Lombard, and Ronald and Nancy Reagan. The business flourished until Haines died from lung cancer on Dec. 26, 1973 with Shields still his companion. He was 73 and had never made another film, but because of his refusal to compromise his true self during such a less-than-progressive era - not to mention the professional price he paid to do so - he became a something of a heroic figure in the LGBT community long after his death.

By Shawn Dwyer

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Young and Beautiful (1934)
Bob Preston
The Marines Are Coming (1934)
"Wild Bill" Traylor
Fast Life (1932)
[Sanderson] Sandy [Norton]
Are You Listening? (1932)
Bill Grimes
Just a Gigolo (1931)
Lord Robert Brummel
New Adventures of Get Rich Quick Wallingford (1931)
[J. Rufus] Wallingford
A Tailor Made Man (1931)
John Paul Bart
The Girl Said No (1930)
Tom Wardrobe
Remote Control (1930)
William J. Brennan
Way Out West (1930)
Windy
Estrellados (1930)
Free and Easy (1930)
A guest
With Byrd at the South Pole (1930)
Meteorologist
The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929)
A Man's Man (1929)
Mel
Navy Blues (1929)
Kelly
Alias Jimmy Valentine (1929)
Jimmy Valentine
The Duke Steps Out (1929)
Duke
Speedway (1929)
Bill Whipple
Excess Baggage (1928)
Eddie Kane
West Point (1928)
Brice Wayne
Telling the World (1928)
Don Davis
The Smart Set (1928)
Tommy
Show People (1928)
Billy Boone
A Little Journey (1927)
George Manning
Slide, Kelly, Slide (1927)
Jim Kelly
Spring Fever (1927)
Jack Kelly
Tell It to the Marines (1927)
Private "Skeet" Burns
Memory Lane (1926)
Joe Field
Mike (1926)
Harlan
The Thrill Hunter (1926)
Peter J. Smith
Lovey Mary (1926)
Billy Wiggs
Brown of Harvard (1926)
Tom Brown
Sally, Irene and Mary (1925)
Jimmy Dugan
A Slave of Fashion (1925)
Dick Wayne
The Denial (1925)
Lyman
Fighting the Flames (1925)
Horatio Manly, Jr.
Little Annie Rooney (1925)
Joe Kelly
A Fool and His Money (1925)
John Smart
Who Cares (1925)
Martin Grey
The Tower of Lies (1925)
August
Three Weeks (1924)
Curate
The Gaiety Girl (1924)
Owen Tudor St. John
The Midnight Express (1924)
Jack Oakes
Wife of the Centaur (1924)
Edward Converse
Circe the Enchantress (1924)
William Craig
True as Steel (1924)
Gilbert Morse
Wine of Youth (1924)
Hal
Souls for Sale (1923)
Pinkey
Three Wise Fools (1923)
Gordon Schuyler

Cast (Short)

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 1925 Studio Tour (1925)
Himself

Life Events

1920

Worked as bookkeeper for SW Straus

1922

Film debut, "Brothers Under the Skin"

1926

Breakthrough role, "Brown of Harvard"

1929

First talking film, "Alias Jimmy Valentine" (part-talkie)

1932

Last MGM film, "Fast Life"

1934

Last film, "The Marines Are Coming" (Mascot Studios)

1939

Was attacked by anti-gay lynch mob, along with 15 other gays living in Manhattan Beach, California

2001

Was subject of the documentary "Out of the Closet, Off the Screen: The William Haines Story", produced and directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato; aired on AMC in 2002

Family

George Adam Haines
Father
Cigar store owner. Born c. 1874; married Haines' mother in 1896; died on September 22, 1950.
Laura Virginia Haines
Mother
Born in 1878; married Haines' father in 1896; converted to Christian Science before her death on July 17, 1932.
Lillion Juliet Haines Stone
Sister
Born on December 11, 1902; died on September 29, 1993.
Ann Fowkes Haines Langhorne
Sister
Born on February 3, 1906; died in July 1986.
George Adam Haines Jr
Brother
Born in 1908.
Henry Haines
Brother
Born in November 1917.

Companions

James Shields
Companion
Secretary, decorating partner. Together from c. 1925 until Haines' death; committed suicide on March 6, 1974.

Bibliography

"Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines, Hollywood's First Openly Gay Star"
William Mann, Viking (1998)

Notes

In his lifetime, Haines always claimed to have been born on January 1, 1900. While no birth certificate exists, biographer William Mann found his baptismal record at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Staunton, VA where the date of birth was entered as January 2, 1900. Social Secuirty records also support this date.

On his most famous role: "I didn't have to act. I was just myself. Brown was the sort of fellow I am...kind of lazy, good-natured, wise-cracking." --William Haines, quoted in newspaper interview from the late 1920s

"After establishing a reputation for wise-cracking it isn't hard to keep it up. I don't have to do homework by reading joke books. People just laugh at anything I say from force of habit." --Haines quoted in newspaper interview, c. 1930

On his retirement from acting: "It's a rather pleasant feeling of being away from pictures and being part of them because all my friends are. I can see the nice side of them without seeing the ugly side of the studios." --William Haines, quoted in 1949 newspaper article