Gay Pride Month is celebrated nationally in June, but year-round it’s important to let young LGBT people, who might be conflicted about their sexual orientation, know that we’ve always been around — even in the background of classic movies.
Here are four actors you might not have known were gay who are worth remembering.
Richard Haydn was born George Richard Haydn in London on March 10, 1905. As a young man, he worked as a music hall entertainer and managed a banana plantation in Jamaica before joining a touring British theater troupe. His first appearance on film was in the TV movie production of Red Peppers in 1938. He moved to America and first appeared on Broadway in the 1939 production of Set to Music, and followed that up with Two for the Show in 1940. He made the first of his more than 50 films in 1941 – Charley’s Aunt. His better known films include Ball of Fire, Dear Ruth, The Late George Apley, Forever Amber, Sitting Pretty, The Emperor Waltz, Alice in Wonderland, Miss Tatlock’s Millions, The Merry Window, Jupiter’s Darling, The Lost World, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, Five Weeks in a Balloon, Mutiny on the Bounty, Clarence the Cross Eyed Lion, The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin, and Young Frankenstein. He is perhaps best known for the playing the role of Max Detweiler in the classic film The Sound of Music. His many TV appearances include The Twilight Zone, Shirley Temple’s Storybook, Burke’s Law, The Man From UNCLE, Bonanza, Bewitched and McCloud. Haydn was also a frequent performer on radio, and a regular on the Burns and Allen radio show. Richard Haydn was gay. He lived a quiet personal life, and was well-known in Hollywood for his cherished, and lavish flower gardens which he tended at his Beverly Hills home. His final acting role was providing the voice of Bookworm in the 1985 film The Hugga Bunch. Haydn suffered a heart attack at his home and died in Los Angeles on April 25, 1985. He was 80 years old.
Emmy Award nominated singer-dancer-actor Van Johnson was born Charles Van Dell Johnson on August 25, 1916 in Newport, Rhode Island. He was an only child. His alcoholic mother abandoned him when he was a child. He was raised by his father, who Van described as “chilly.” After graduating from high school, Van moved to NYC and joined the Off-Broadway revue, Entre Nous in 1935. He toured in a theater troupe and made his Broadway debut in New Faces of 1936. In 1939, he appeared in the hit Broadway musical, Too Many Girls and appeared in the film version in 1940. He appeared in the Broadway musical, Pal Joey, in 1940/41. He was lured back to Hollywood by his friend, Lucille Ball, and signed a six-month contract with Warners. He made several films there, but it wasn’t until he signed with MGM, that he became a full fledged super star. With his tall, all-American good looks, Van became enormously popular with the fans. His most popular films include The Human Comedy, A Guy Named Joe (during the making of this film he was nearly killed in a car accident that left him with a metal plate in his forehead and facial scars), Two Girls and a Sailor, The White Cliffs of Dover, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Till the Clouds Roll By, Easy to Wed, Mother is a Freshman, and In The Good Old Summertime, among many others. He was one of the most popular leading men during the WWII years. His accident prevented him from serving during the War. In 1945, he was rated #2 Box Office Star in America, and in 1946, he was rated #3. Van Johnson was gay. He married Eve Abbott Wynn on January 25, 1947, one day after her divorce from actor Keenan Wynn. The three had been very close friends. In 1948, the couple had a daughter named Schuyler, but Van maintained a close relationship with Keenan Wynn. Van and Eve separated in 1961, and divorced in 1968. Eve Johnson said that their marriage had been engineered by Louis B. Mayer at MGM. “They needed their big star to married to quell rumors about his sexual preferences, and unfortunately, I was it — the only woman he would marry.” Van worked steadily in films and TV (playing more than 125 roles during his 52 year career). He performed in summer stock and regional theater, and national tours including the musical, Show Boat. He returned to Broadway for Come On Strong (1962), Mating Dance (1965), and in 1986, the musical La Cage Aux Folles, in which he also toured. Van lived on Manhattan’s East side until 2002 when he moved to an assisted care facility in Nyack, New York. Van Johnson died on December 12, 2008 in Nyack at the age of 92. At this time of his death, he was long estranged from his only child. He was larger than life, utterly charming, hilarious, very flirty, and a true movie star.
John Megna was born John Ingolia on November 9, 1952 in Queens, New York City. His father was a pharmacist and his mother was a nightclub singer. He was the half brother of Connie Stevens. John made his acting debut in 1958 on Broadway in the musical Greeenwillow. The following year he starred in All the Way Home. His first feature film appearance was in the classic 1962 motion picture To Kill a Mockingbird playing the role of the “toothy” summer visitor, Dill Harris. His many TV appearances include Target: The Corruptors, Naked City, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Dr. Kildare, Ben Casey, Star Trek, I Spy, The Danny Thomas Hour, The Blue Knight, and Police Woman. He appeared in the provocative made-for-TV movies I Want to Keep My Baby, and The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. He starred as “Little Adam” in a series of educational short animated films titled The Big World of Little Adam that were produced by NASA. John’s other films include Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte, Blind Fold, Follow the Boys, The Godfather Part II, Go Tell the Spartans, Sunny Side, Butch and Sundance: The Early Days, Smokey and the Bandit II, and The Cannonball Run. As a young man, John graduated from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He majored in performing arts. In his later life, he taught English, Spanish and history in the Los Angeles public school system. He was the founding director of the nonprofit theater group, L.A. Arts. His final acting role was in the 1984 TV movie The Ratings Game. John was gay. He contracted HIV, and died of AIDS related illnesses on September 4, 1995 at Midway Hospital in Los Angeles. Megna was 42 years old.
Anton Walbrook was born Adolf Anton Wilhelm Wohlbruck in Vienna, Austria on November 19, 1896. He came from a family of entertainers, including circus performers. Anton studied with Max Reinhardt for several years and worked in Austrian theater and film. In 1936, he traveled to Hollywood to re-shoot some scenes for the 1937 film, The Soldier and the Lady. Anton Walbrook was gay. He did not return to Austria, but because his mother was Jewish, he qualified for the Nuremberg Laws as “half-Jewish,” and he was allowed to settle in England where he later forged a solid film career. His first film was Marionetten in 1915. He made 19 films in Austria and Germany, before making his transition to American and British films. His later films include The Soldier and the Lady, Victoria the Great, Gaslight, Dangerous Moonlight, 49th Parallel, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The Man from Morocco, The Queen of Spades, La Ronde, King for One Night, Saint Joan, and I Accuse!, among others. He is best known for playing the role of Boris Lemontov in the 1948 dance classic The Red Shoes. In the late 1950s, he retired from films and worked on the European stage and television. His final acting role was in the German TV movie, Robert und Elisabeth in 1966. Anton Walbrook died in Garatshausen, Bavaria, Germany on August 9, 1967 after suffering a heart attack. Walbrook was 70 years old.