If we're to believe Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, Cary Grant was very gay. In the new documentary based on his popular memoir, Full Service, Scotty Bowers, bisexual "pimp to the stars," claims that he would regularly hook up with Grant and his alleged longtime lover Randolph Scott—often at the same time. Bowers is hardly the first person to talk about Grant's gay relationships, but his ~honesty is salacious and refreshing. The documentary highlights the 1940 film that stars Grant and Scott, My Favorite Wife, and... guys... I watched the film for the first time last night, and it's so gay. It begs to be rewatched.
The film was promoted as a hot, spicy reunion between Irene Dunne and Cary Grant, who had previously worked together on Leo McCarey's The Awful Truth in 1937. (The duo would go on to star in Penny Serenade in 1941, but that would be their last movie as costars.) But the important pairing in this film isn't Dunne and Grant, it's Grant and Randolph Scott.
Cary Grant and Randolph Scott were some of Hollywood's most popular
gays bachelors in the '30s and '40s. This was a time when Hollywood's studio system aggressively controlled their stars' professional and personal lives—which I outlined in my piece on Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood—and subjected them to morals clauses. Nevertheless, Scott and Grant lived a very public life together after meeting on the Paramount set of Hot Saturday in 1932, the only movie besides My Favorite Wife that the two men appeared in together. They hit it off immediately and were soon living together. However, in 1934, in a move that seemed to be aimed at breaking the two men apart, Grant was allegedly ordered to marry Virginia Cherril. But Cherrill—maybe because Grant kept fucking Scott—divorced Grant 13 months after they married. Grant moved back in with Scott.
By the time My Favorite Wife premiered in 1940, the two men had been publicly living together for around five years. The American public was very aware of Grant and Scott's relationship, but viewed them as entangled in a celebrity bromance, mostly because the studio allegedly planted images of women going in and out of their house to the press. The two
lovers womanizers were viewed as having a "Bachelor Hall" together.
In Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, Scotty Bowers, when asked if he feels guilty about spreading all these Hollywood secrets, says: "It's not a secret, really. It may be a secret to some square who lives in Illinois—but in Hollywood, they knew these people." This quote really sticks out to me when watching My Favorite Wife. There are two stories being masterfully played out in the open here. The double entendres are so obvious, it's remarkable to think that audiences didn't view this film as an admission of a homosexual relationship between Grant and Scott.
My Favorite Wife was incredibly popular when it premiered in 1940. It was RKO's second highest grossing film of the year and nominated for three Academy Awards. It was—and continues to be—billed as a wacky screwball comedy. On the surface, it's about Nick Arden (Grant) remarrying after his wife (Irene Dunne) is lost at sea in a shipwreck. But it turns out she's not dead, she's just been living with another man (Randolph Scott) on an island for seven years. When she returns, Nick decides to abandon his new wife but finds himself increasingly preoccupied with the man his first wife shagged on an island. Some queer highlights:
• When his dead wife Ellen (Irene Dunne) shows up, she's dressed as a sailor. (Why, IDK.) She's asked by the children (her children, although they don't know it yet) if she's a lady or a man. "I used to be a lady," she says. It's weird.
• After Nick discovers Ellen lived on an island with a man named Stephen (Randolph Scott), he starts to rush out to find the man. Ellen yells that Stephen is at the YMCA (gay), and Nick (wearing a leopard print robe), rushes out to find Stephen at the YMCA.
• Nick has no luck at the YMCA, but he does discover Stephen at the pool (all of those embedded GIFs above). He swoons. It is incredibly and shockingly homoromantic. I don't know how this got produced in 1940.
• Nick cannot get Stephen out of his mind. It makes him sweat. Sitting in his office, he is tormented by the half-naked image of Stephen. (KEEP IN MIND THESE GUYS WERE ACTUALLY—ALLEGEDLY—FUCKING AND IT WAS—ALLEGEDLY—NOT A SECRET AMONGST HOLLYWOOD ELITES.)
• When Stephen and Nick do meet, Nick asks Stephen if he's the sort of man who eats raw meat. Stephen says he's a vegetarian and basically only eats carrots. Nick says Stephen is probably full of carrots (gay). During this meeting, Stephen says he has nothing to hide. Nick's wife (Dunne) says "I know, but he has," referring to Nick.
• Nick's new wife assumes he has an illness because he's acting so strange. She has a creepy therapist show up to help him. The therapist assures Nick that there are many men like him, but Nick says he doesn't need help. He then literally goes into the closet and puts on women's clothing. The therapist, shocked, follows him out to the car, where Nick's new wife and him fiercely argue, pulling the clothes between them, while Nick shouts that he could lose his career if any of this is found out by the public. She pulls him back inside and he finally yells, "I'm... MARRIED!" (Referring to his dead wife, who's not actually dead, who is his real wife, his favorite wife.) It's very difficult to watch this scene in 2018 and not see it as a coming out scene for Grant. It's heartbreaking.
Grant and Scott were never in another film together. Their relationship is still disputed. Grant's daughter, Jennifer Grant, wrote a memoir in 2011 in which she dismisses the notion that her father was gay: "Dad somewhat enjoyed being called gay. He said it made women want to prove the assertion wrong." Is that true? Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood and My Favorite Wife seem to offer a flamingly different answer.
Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood opens Friday, Aug 24 at SIFF Film Center.