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F. W. Murnau (1888-1931)

Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau achieved cinema immortality in 1922 when he directed the poetically haunting film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Terror. The first film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s legendary novel Dracula, Nosferatu was almost lost when Stoker’s widow sued the film’s distributors for copyright infringement courts at the time ordered all copies of the film destroyed. Fortunately, a few prints survived.

Ninety-five years later, Nosferatu remains available on DVD and Blu Ray, where viewers can appreciate Murnau’s stunning vision: parts of the film were shot on location in a desolate European castle.

A few years later, Hollywood called, and Murnau made the equally stunning Sunrise (1927). Murnau’s use of lighting and shadow created a mood unlike anything seen in films before or since. Janet Gaynor, leading lady in Sunrise, was honored as Best Actress that year, the first year of the Academy Awards.

F.W. Murnau was a gay man. In 1931, at age 42, he was killed in a car accident near Santa Barbara, California. According to tabloids, a 14-year-old boy was in the car with him. Murnau’s remains were returned to his native Germany for burial. In 2015 his grave was broken into and his skull was stolen.

Actor John Malkovich played Murnau in the 2000 film Shadow of the Vampire, a fictionalized chiller about the shooting of Nosferatu.

John Schlesinger (1926-2003)

Schlesinger was a fearless film director who refused to bow to the rules of political correctness. He lived as an out gay man throughout his life. His 1969 film Midnight Cowboy remains the first and only X-rated film to take home the Best Picture Academy Award. Considered shocking at the time of its release, Midnight Cowboy told the story of two down-on-their luck street hustlers in New York City who may have fallen in love with each other. One of them, Joe Buck (Jon Voight), was a sex worker who was willing to sell himself to both men and women.

Schlesinger followed this most daring film with the equally shocking (for its time) Sunday Bloody Sunday (1972). This was a tense drama about a young bisexual artist (Murray Head) who moves with ease between his boyfriend and his girlfriend (Peter Finch, Dame Glenda Jackson). In a scene that left 1970s moviegoers gasping, the young man leaves his girlfriend’s bed and drives to the other man’s house, where the two men kiss full on the lips. They are next seen in bed together.

Schlesinger never hesitated to push the envelope.

Montgomery Clift (1920-1966)

Clift became a sensation when his first films were released during the late 1940s. He was the first major star to employ method acting, a technique in which actors train themselves to actually “become” the character they are playing. Clift’s stunning good looks added to the intensity of his performances. Reportedly, Clift inspired Marlon Brando, now considered to be one of history’s greatest film actors, to become a method actor.

In 1956, while filming Raintree County with good friend and frequent co-star Elizabeth Taylor, Clift’s face was severely disfigured in a car accident. Numerous surgeries were needed to restore it. When he and Taylor co-starred in Suddenly Last Summer (1959), it was obvious that Clift’s looks were gone.

The combination of losing his looks and having to live a life in the closet sent Clift on a downward spiral from which he never recovered. Though he continued to appear in films, he became a severe alcoholic, often mixing his drinks with a deadly combination of pills. Reportedly he was trying to dull the almost continuous pain he was in as a result of his accident.

The booze and pills took their toll. Clift aged rapidly and died of a heart attack at age 46.

Jack Larson (1928-2015)

Larson was one of Clift’s boyfriends during the early 1950s. A contract player at Warner Brothers during the 1940s, he became a teen idol when he was cast as Jimmy Olsen on the 1950s TV series The Adventures of Superman. Larson soon found himself typecast and unable to find other roles. When the series ended, he quit acting and worked behind the scenes in films. He also composed operettas.

In 1958, Larson and film director James Bridges became partners in life. Their production company produced several successful films, most notably The China Syndrome (1979) and the John Travolta vehicle Urban Cowboy (1980).

Over the years, Larson occasionally returned to the Superman franchise. He appeared in an episode of the 1980s series Superboy and was seen as an aged Jimmy Olsen in a 1996 episode of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Ten years later he played a bartender in the film Superman Returns (2006).

William Haines (1900-1973)

Haines was a top box office star in Hollywood during the 1920s. A handsome, muscular jock, he was often cast as college students and football players—female movie-goers swooned over him, according to press reports at that time.

Haines had a secret. Not only was he gay, he was in a committed relationship with a young man named Jimmie Shields.

Haines made a successful transition from silent films to talkies and made millions for MGM, his home studio. In 1933, Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, delivered an ultimatum to Haines: marry a woman or stay with Shields and quit the movies. Haines chose Shields.

The two men started a successful interior design business that made them quite wealthy, and Haines never made another film. He was offered a small role in the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard but turned it down. He and Shields remained together for the rest of their lives.

F. W. Murnau (1888-1931)

Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau achieved cinema immortality in 1922 when he directed the poetically haunting film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Terror. The first film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s legendary novel Dracula, Nosferatu was almost lost when Stoker’s widow sued the film’s distributors for copyright infringement courts at the time ordered all copies of the film destroyed. Fortunately, a few prints survived.

Ninety-five years later, Nosferatu remains available on DVD and Blu Ray, where viewers can appreciate Murnau’s stunning vision: parts of the film were shot on location in a desolate European castle.

A few years later, Hollywood called, and Murnau made the equally stunning Sunrise (1927). Murnau’s use of lighting and shadow created a mood unlike anything seen in films before or since. Janet Gaynor, leading lady in Sunrise, was honored as Best Actress that year, the first year of the Academy Awards.

F.W. Murnau was a gay man. In 1931, at age 42, he was killed in a car accident near Santa Barbara, California. According to tabloids, a 14-year-old boy was in the car with him. Murnau’s remains were returned to his native Germany for burial. In 2015 his grave was broken into and his skull was stolen.

Actor John Malkovich played Murnau in the 2000 film Shadow of the Vampire, a fictionalized chiller about the shooting of Nosferatu.

John Schlesinger (1926-2003)

Schlesinger was a fearless film director who refused to bow to the rules of political correctness. He lived as an out gay man throughout his life. His 1969 film Midnight Cowboy remains the first and only X-rated film to take home the Best Picture Academy Award. Considered shocking at the time of its release, Midnight Cowboy told the story of two down-on-their luck street hustlers in New York City who may have fallen in love with each other. One of them, Joe Buck (Jon Voight), was a sex worker who was willing to sell himself to both men and women.

Schlesinger followed this most daring film with the equally shocking (for its time) Sunday Bloody Sunday (1972). This was a tense drama about a young bisexual artist (Murray Head) who moves with ease between his boyfriend and his girlfriend (Peter Finch, Dame Glenda Jackson). In a scene that left 1970s moviegoers gasping, the young man leaves his girlfriend’s bed and drives to the other man’s house, where the two men kiss full on the lips. They are next seen in bed together.

Schlesinger never hesitated to push the envelope.

Montgomery Clift (1920-1966)

Clift became a sensation when his first films were released during the late 1940s. He was the first major star to employ method acting, a technique in which actors train themselves to actually “become” the character they are playing. Clift’s stunning good looks added to the intensity of his performances. Reportedly, Clift inspired Marlon Brando, now considered to be one of history’s greatest film actors, to become a method actor.

In 1956, while filming Raintree County with good friend and frequent co-star Elizabeth Taylor, Clift’s face was severely disfigured in a car accident. Numerous surgeries were needed to restore it. When he and Taylor co-starred in Suddenly Last Summer (1959), it was obvious that Clift’s looks were gone.

The combination of losing his looks and having to live a life in the closet sent Clift on a downward spiral from which he never recovered. Though he continued to appear in films, he became a severe alcoholic, often mixing his drinks with a deadly combination of pills. Reportedly he was trying to dull the almost continuous pain he was in as a result of his accident.

The booze and pills took their toll. Clift aged rapidly and died of a heart attack at age 46.

Jack Larson (1928-2015)

Larson was one of Clift’s boyfriends during the early 1950s. A contract player at Warner Brothers during the 1940s, he became a teen idol when he was cast as Jimmy Olsen on the 1950s TV series The Adventures of Superman. Larson soon found himself typecast and unable to find other roles. When the series ended, he quit acting and worked behind the scenes in films. He also composed operettas.

In 1958, Larson and film director James Bridges became partners in life. Their production company produced several successful films, most notably The China Syndrome (1979) and the John Travolta vehicle Urban Cowboy (1980).

Over the years, Larson occasionally returned to the Superman franchise. He appeared in an episode of the 1980s series Superboy and was seen as an aged Jimmy Olsen in a 1996 episode of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Ten years later he played a bartender in the film Superman Returns (2006).

William Haines (1900-1973)

Haines was a top box office star in Hollywood during the 1920s. A handsome, muscular jock, he was often cast as college students and football players—female movie-goers swooned over him, according to press reports at that time.

Haines had a secret. Not only was he gay, he was in a committed relationship with a young man named Jimmie Shields.

Haines made a successful transition from silent films to talkies and made millions for MGM, his home studio. In 1933, Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, delivered an ultimatum to Haines: marry a woman or stay with Shields and quit the movies. Haines chose Shields.

The two men started a successful interior design business that made them quite wealthy, and Haines never made another film. He was offered a small role in the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard but turned it down. He and Shields remained together for the rest of their lives.