Wil­liam Haines and Jimmy Shields

DNA Magazine - - CONTENT -

Wil­liam Haines said he was born on the 1st of Jan­uary, 1900. He was ac­tu­ally born on the 2nd of Jan­uary, but that flair for the dra­matic didn’t make him any less of a 20th Century man. His sto­ried life be­gan in Vir­ginia where, at just 14 years old, he ran away from home with his first boyfriend. Later, on the streets of Green­wich Vil­lage, he was a model and, for a time, the kept man of a rich dowa­ger. Af­ter win­ning a “new faces” con­test in 1922, he headed west to a con­tract with Hol­ly­wood.

In the silent film era, Billy Haines was a crit­i­cally-ac­claimed co­me­dian, the ar­ro­gant wise­cracker who al­ways got his come­up­pance by the last reel. He was a golden boy of the early cin­ema and worked with the likes of Lon Chaney, Mary Pick­ford and Joan Craw­ford, whom he had known since she was Lu­cille Le Seur (he nick­named her “Cran­berry”).

On a pub­lic­ity tour to New York in 1926, he met Jim­mie Shields who soon joined him in Los Angeles where they made no se­cret of liv­ing to­gether. Al­though Shields had lit­tle in­ter­est in pur­su­ing act­ing, Haines got him work as an ex­tra and stand-in on sev­eral of his films. Un­like many of his con­tem­po­raries, Wil­liam Haines had sur­vived the tran­si­tion from silent film to the talkies with his ca­reer in­tact. Ac­cord­ing to a 1930 pub­lic poll, Haines was the top box of­fice draw in the na­tion (“Cran­berry” was the top fe­male). He would not sur­vive, how­ever, the ad­vent of cen­sor­ship.

Haines and Shields en­joyed an open re­la­tion­ship and there are even re­ports of them cruis­ing to­gether, but in 1933 the press got wind of Haines’ ar­rest for pick­ing up a sailor in LA’s no­to­ri­ous Per­sh­ing Square. While it’s un­clear how Shields took the news, it was cer­tainly bet­ter than MGM’s tyran­ni­cal boss, Louis B Mayer.

Joan Craw­ford called Shields and Haines the hap­pi­est mar­ried cou­ple in Hol­ly­wood.

The any­thing goes, lib­er­tine 1920s had given way to arch con­ser­vatism and Hol­ly­wood was feel­ing the pres­sure. With the in­tro­duc­tion of sound, the film in­dus­try was not just more pop­u­lar than ever, its power to in­flu­ence the pub­lic was ever-more ap­par­ent. Not only did the pub­lic needed to be pro­tected from lewd sex­ual in­nu­endo, evil­do­ers, drugs, sin and nu­dity, Hol­ly­wood had to pre­tend to care – the in­dus­try was con­cerned about pos­si­ble govern­ment in­ter­ven­tion.

To ward this off, Hol­ly­wood in­stalled its own over­seers. It was called the Hayes of­fice and it was to de­cide what could and couldn’t be shown on screen. Their strict code of morals was an in­dus­try joke at first but, by 1934, was en­forced with an iron fist. In or­der for a film to pass for pub­lic con­sump­tion, it was in­tensely scru­ti­nized ac­cord­ing to a pu­ri­tan­i­cal list of pro­hi­bi­tions in­clud­ing: pro­fan­ity, ridicule of the clergy, mixed-race mar­riage, kisses longer than three sec­onds and “in­fer­ence of sex­ual perver­sion”. In or­der to main­tain that squeaky clean im­age of Amer­i­can whole­some­ness, an ac­tor’s off-screen im­age was white­washed by ex­ten­sion and stu­dio bosses reg­u­larly used their power to edit un­suit­able ma­te­rial from the lives of their stars.

Seek­ing to avoid fur­ther scan­dal, Louis B Mayer sum­moned Haines to his of­fice and gave him an ul­ti­ma­tum: leave Jim­mie Shields and en­ter into an ar­ranged mar­riage or suf­fer the con­se­quences. “Laven­der” mar­riages, per­formed ex­clu­sively for the press, were be­com­ing more com­mon. Un­til this point, male ac­tors like Haines could live (and love) to­gether in Hol­ly­wood, and this ap­plied to other cou­ples in­clud­ing their close friends: the in­creas­ingly talked about up-and-com­ing hunks Cary Grant and Ran­dolph Scott who bought a house to­gether and had a live-in (leg over?) ar­range­ment.

Haines, how­ever, re­fused to let Mayer change his script. He would not give up Jim­mie Shields. Al­though a ma­jor star, and there­fore an as­set to the stu­dio, no­body was ir­re­place­able. Mayer was the boss and al­ways got his way. He re-cast Haines’ in­tended roles with the dash­ing Robert Mont­gomery and let his con­tract ex­pire in 1934. That same year, a sim­i­larly pres­sured Cary Grant moved out of the home he shared with Scott and mar­ried a naïve ac­tress named Vir­ginia Cher­rill. She di­vorced him af­ter 7 months. Wil­liam Haines would never be friends again with Cary Grant, whom he later re­ferred to as a phony.

Wil­liam Haines would also never again ap­pear on film. He even de­nied a per­sonal re­quest by Glo­ria Swan­son to make a cameo as one of the “wax­works” play­ing cards in her 1950 clas­sic, Sun­set Boule­vard. In a 1949 in­ter­view he had said, “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.”

Al­though Haines and Jim­mie Shields could have eas­ily sunk into ob­scu­rity, they had in­dus­try friends who wouldn’t let them. His sense of style had long-charmed co-stars and when his film ca­reer abruptly ended, he and Shields set up an in­te­rior de­sign and an­tique busi­ness. Their celebrity clien­tele in­cluded lu­mi­nar­ies like Swan­son, Ca­role Lom­bard, Claudette Col­bert, Wil­liam Pow­ell, Frank

Si­na­tra, Ge­orge Cukor, and later ex­panded to Amer­i­can royalty: the Bloom­ing­dales, Rea­gans and An­nen­burgs.

With their thriv­ing de­sign busi­ness, the pair al­tered the way stars lived. They light­ened up the pre­vail­ing heavy-handed Gothic style of dec­o­rat­ing with sim­plis­tic, re­strained touches, pieces such as Chi­nois­erie pan­els, stun­ning ar­ti­facts and long sig­na­ture so­fas to fa­cil­i­tate en­ter­tain­ing. They soon opened a land­mark of­fice on Sun­set Boule­vard and Haines later be­gan to de­sign his own line of fur­ni­ture.

Life­long friend Joan Craw­ford had al­ways de­pended upon her friend Wil­liam to edit her jewels, her im­age and her ca­reer, now she re­lied on him to makeover her home. Christina Craw­ford said that af­ter Haines’ re-de­sign, Mommy Dear­est rarely al­lowed her in the liv­ing room be­cause it was al­most en­tirely white. But un­cle Jim­mie and un­cle Wil­lie, as she called them, are re­mem­bered fondly by Christina. “Mom was al­ways in a bet­ter mood when they were around. Her re­la­tion­ship with Haines was ex­tremely rare. She be­haved to­ward him like a best friend and al­lowed him to tease her. He was like her big brother, and I never saw her act that way with any­one.” Ac­cord­ing to leg­end, Joan Craw­ford also called Shields and Haines “the hap­pi­est mar­ried cou­ple in Hol­ly­wood.”

Their life to­gether was con­stant, de­pend­able and with­out in­ci­dent aside from one bizarre, well-pub­li­cised dis­rup­tion. On June 3, 1936, the cou­ple was out walk­ing their poo­dle (fa­mous for hav­ing been dyed pur­ple) when a six-yearold neigh­bour boy tagged along. When the boy was sent home with six cents, his fa­ther ac­cused the men of at­tempt­ing to propo­si­tion his son. That night, a group of lo­cal white su­prem­a­cists, the White Legion, sur­rounded their Man­hat­tan Beach home, dragged the cou­ple out­side and beat them in the streets. Haines and Shields quickly put their home on the mar­ket, but they de­clined to press charges against their at­tack­ers. The ac­cu­sa­tions against them were dis­missed as un­founded.

De­spite a brief in­ter­rup­tion while Haines served in WWII, the in­te­rior dec­o­rat­ing busi­ness pros­pered with com­mis­sions and the of­fice moved to Beverly Hills. Haines and Shields had be­come the pre­mier dec­o­ra­tors to the stars and their de­sign style, tran­si­tion­ing with the times, came to de­fine the move­ment known as Hol­ly­wood Re­gency.

The cou­ple lived to­gether un­til Wil­liam Haines died of lung cancer at the age of 73. In his LA Times obit­u­ary, there was no men­tion of Jim­mie Shields or the na­ture of his film re­tire­ment.

Just a few months later, on March 6, 1974, Jimmy Shields put on Haines’ pa­ja­mas, swal­lowed a bot­tle of pills and crawled into their bed for the last time. The note he left read, “Good­bye to all of you who have tried so hard to com­fort me in my loss of Wil­liam Haines, whom I have been with since 1926. I now find it im­pos­si­ble to go it alone. I am much too lonely.”

The cou­ple’s ashes are in­terred side by side in Santa Mon­ica’s Wood­lawn Me­mo­rial Ceme­tery. more: Their busi­ness, Wil­liam Haines De­signs, re­mains in oper­a­tion to this day. Haines life story is told in Wil­liam J Mann’s bi­og­ra­phy, Wise­cracker: The Life And Times Of Wil­liam Haines, Hol­ly­wood’s First Openly Gay Star.

life­long Haines and Craw­ford; friend, Joan De­signs Wil­liam Haines cho­rus Haines withand girls; Jim­miewith Joan Wil­liam Craw­ford .

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