15 Old Hollywood Stars You Probably Didn't Know Were LGBTQ+
Queer actors have been a part of the film industry for many, many years!
Queer culture in Hollywood has been around as long as there's been a Hollywood — but due to social pressures and the interests of the entertainment industry, movie stars from decades past often had to keep their identities a secret (some more carefully than others). From salacious rumors and fun scandals to some pivotal names in LGBTQ+ history, here are just a few of the biggest stars.
If you go weak at the knees at the sight of a woman in a suit, you have Marlene Dietrich to thank for it. A product of the arts-centric Weimar culture in early 20th-century Germany, Dietrich lived freely and fearlessly. She regularly donned pants and tuxes on the silver screen at a time when it was unfashionable to do so and changed the the way women thought about pants forever. She was also unapologetic about her love for both men and women.
The movie legend locked lips with women on screen as early as 1930 and was romantically linked with Kay Francis, Edith Piaf, Mercedes de Acosta, and even Greta Garbo.
With a devilishly handsome smile and a towering height of 6'3", Cesar Romero was poised for leading man status. The Cuban-American actor appeared on the silver screen alongside Marlene Dietrich and Carole Lombard, was a lifelong best friend to actress Joan Crawford, and became a living legend after playing The Joker in the original film version of Batman. What’s not so well-known known about Romero is that he was gay. He remained in the closet to the public for the entirety of his career, but was out to friends and colleagues in the industry.
Once considered the most beautiful woman in the world, Greta Garbo was legendary for her expressive face, her need for privacy, and her sexuality. During her lifetime, it was never quite clear just where she landed on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, but history remembers her as being distinctly queer. She reportedly played a bit of lover’s ping-pong with Mercedes de Acosta who would flee into Marlene Dietrich’s arms whenever Garbo discarded her. It’s also been speculated that she had tender feelings for her childhood friend Mimi Pollack.
Renowned for his good looks and acting talent, Cary Grant quickly rose to stardom in the 1930’s. The British-American actor, whose credits included His Girl Friday and North by Northwest, was reportedly a ladies man whose five marriages didn’t do much to quelch his need for love. But in recent years, new information has come to light about Grant’s personal life. He lived with fellow actor Randolph Scott for a number of years and rumors have long circulated that the pair were involved romantically.
While Joan Crawford is most remembered for ankle-strap shoes, enlarged shoulder pads, and drinking 100-proof vodka, few of today’s modern movie buffs are familiar with the rumors surrounding her sexuality. It’s long been said that Crawford, who had a reputation for being something of a maneater, was actually bisexual. The jury’s still out on Crawford’s sexuality, but in the years since her death, it’s been reported that she had affairs with Barbara Stanwyck, Marilyn Monroe, Martha Raye, and an unknown actress by the name of Marion Morgan.
For the duration of his career, Rock Hudson was an American heartthrob. He wooed audiences with his good looks and impressive performances, and worked hard to keep his private life out of the tabloids. But when Confidential magazine threatened to expose his homosexuality, his career took a backseat. Soon after the Confidential incident, he married Phyllis Gates to keep any rumors from circulating. The marriage didn’t last, as Gates was aware of Hudson’s true sexuality and the two eventually parted ways. Just a few years post-divorce, in 1962, Hudson met stockbroker Lee Garlington with whom he shared a lengthy, intimate relationship. His story was even included in Ryan Murphy's 2020 Netflix series Hollywood.
Hudson died from AIDS complications in 1985.
Tallulah Bankhead was a theater actress, film star, and life-of-the-party socialite who enjoyed pushing the envelope as much as humanly possible. Like so many others on this list, she disregarded the conventions of her time and marched to the beat of her own drum. She, too, allegedly spent some intimate nights with Mercedes de Acosta as well as Greta Garbo, Hope Williams, and Barbara Stanwyck.
Known for playing the title role in the 1925 version of Ben-Hur, Ramon Novarro was a mainstay of the silent film era. Handsome and enthusiastic, the Mexican-born Novarro quickly earned a place among Hollywood’s rising stars. But behind the glitz and the glamour of the film industry, Novarro was struggling to reconcile his love of men with his Catholic upbringing and turned to alcohol to ease his inner pain. Unable to come to terms with his homosexuality, Novarro took to hiring hustlers in secret to stave off his loneliness. In the late sixties, Novarro’s life met a brutal end after he hired two young brothers to come to his home. The brothers reportedly tortured and killed Novarro and were later convicted, imprisoned, and then parolled.
Lizabeth Scott was what some used to call the "poor man’s Lauren Bacall." She was a sultry blonde bombshell with a smoky voice and stellar acting skills, much like the legendary Bacall herself. But she was so much more than an alternate version of someone else. She had a distinct style and grace that put her leagues ahead of her film noir counterparts. Unfortunately for Scott, her potential was cut short by a 1954 exposé in Confidential magazine. The tabloid rag accused her of being a deviant with a penchant for "baritone babes"—a euphemism for lesbians at the time. Although Scott sued the magazine, she was never able to recover from this perceived stain on her reputation and her career reportedly waned because of it.
Robert Reed may be best known for his role as head of the house Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch, but Reed kept his sexuality a close secret for fear of damage to his career. In his memoir, Sex, Drugs & Pilot Season, casting director Joel Thurm recalled memories of hookups he shared with Reed, and also said “most of the attendees” at industry parties in the '70s were gay.
We’ll be honest — this one’s hearsay, but there are multiple claims of homosexual activity from James Dean at the height of his career. In 2016, a book called James Dean: Tomorrow Never Comes" alleged that Dean shared a secret relationship with fellow heartthrob Marlon Brando. The authors, Danforth Prince and Darwin Porter, are known for crafting some exuberant stories about Old Hollywood, but Thurm’s claim of “most of the attendees being gay” at the parties Dean would have been at have re-fanned the rumors.
The other half of the James Dean secret relationship, Marlon Brando, was openly bisexual. In 1976, he told a French journalist, “Homosexuality is so much in fashion, it no longer makes sense.” He then confirmed that, “like a large number of men, I, too, have had homosexual experiences, and I am not ashamed.” Although open about his sexuality, Brando denied claims of his relationship with Dean in his memoir, Songs My Mother Taught Me.
Tab Hunter was a heartthrob of 1950s and 60s cinema who was first discovered, thanks to his good looks, at age 17 and put in the pictures. While Confidential magazine exposed an arrest in his past for “lewdness,” which at the time simply meant showing any signs of homosexuality in public, his movie studio dismissed the allegation and the public quickly forgot about them. While he remained closeted for most of his career he later opened up about his relationship with fellow actor Anthony Perkins in a 2005 memoir, ‘Tab Hunter Confidential‘.
Unlike many of her contemporaries in the '30s and '40s Patsy Kelly didn't hide her sexuality, going as far as to tell one publication that she was a "dyke" who lived with her girlfriend and would never marry. Kelly was romantically linked to actress Tallulah Bankhead, who was also very open about her bisexuality.
Leading man Montgomery Clift made his name in films like A Place in the Sun and From Here to Eternity. While Clift would later say struggles with his sexuality did not lead to his abuse of alcohol the actor struggled with substance abuse and led to a car crash that led to permanent injury. In the 2018 documentary Making Montgomery Clift which was co-directed by his nephew Robert Clift along with his wife Hillary, Clift's mother opened up about being aware of her son's sexuality from a young age, and in 2000 Elizabeth Taylor admitted publically he was gay during the GLAAD Media Awards.