Volume 76, Number 47 | April 18 - 24, 2007

Courtesy of Film Forum/Photofest

The ins and outs of Farley Granger

By Jerry Tallmer

Farley Granger was about as good-looking a young man as ever broke into movies. A nice good-natured unspoiled American kid whose tongue gets cut out under torture by the Japanese in the 1944 wartime flick “The Purple Heart.”

Today, tall, gangly, magnificently white-haired, a trifle slow of speech but totally with it, Farley Granger is about as good-looking a no longer young man as you might ever want to meet.

“The Purple Heart,” directed by Lewis Milestone, to this moment still one of Granger’s gods — and whose 1950s blacklisting Granger would deplore — is the movie in which the 18-year-old California-bred newcomer met Russian-born Sam Levene, 20 years his senior. The humor and smarts of the 1,000-percent New York 2,000-percent Jewish actor whose humor and professional guidance was what Farley mostly talked about at home at the day’s end. Until one night when his Depression-embittered father suddenly shouted across the dinner table: “At least you could get a white man for a friend!,” thus proving himself a double-bigot, in spades.

Did your father ever apologize, Granger is asked by a journalist last week. “No,” the actor says without further elaboration. Nor did his father ever apologize for answering in his own name an abundance of teenager Farley’s fan mail from star-struck teenaged (and older) women. “He loved doing it,” the son dryly says.

This Q&A is in the Upper West Side apartment where Granger and Robert Calhoun — his life’s companion since the Kennedy assassination week of 1963 — have lived together for many years.

On a table is the book “by Farley Granger with Robert Calhoun” that they are to talk and answer questions about this coming Monday, April 23, at Film Forum on Houston Street. It’s the plainspoken, unpretentious, enjoyable memoir “Include Me Out: My Life From Goldwyn to Broadway” (St. Martin’s Press, 2007), Goldwyn of course being the Hollywood titan, Granger’s first celluloid boss, who supposedly uttered a cornucopia of malapropisms like “include me out,” though Granger and Calhoun don’t believe any of that. “I think all those sayings were made up,” Granger says.

He and Calhoun were also rather stunned, they say, to find their title, “Include Me Out,” taken in the gay world and elsewhere as a confession — or boast — of bisexuality.

In actual intent the title is Granger’s kiss-off to all the Sam Goldwyns of Hollywood, and to Hollywood itself. Nothing more. The proudest moment in his life — the justification, he feels, of his whole career as an actor — was winning a 1966 Off-Broadway Obie Award for his Circle Rep performance in Lanford Wilson’s “Talley & Son.”

You know, the gay reading of that title would never have occurred to me, said this journalist. “Nor to us,” said Bob Calhoun with Granger nodding agreement.

It seems to me you’ve never actually been in the closet, the journalist said to the actor. “No, I never was.” Granger quietly replied. “That’s why he resents labels,” Calhoun said. “And ‘gay’ — in itself, destruction of a perfectly good word — is just another way of saying faggot.”

Monday evening at Film Forum — with film historian Foster Hirsch as moderator — promises to be interesting on several counts.

Some people will want to know all about cinema’s Alfred Hitchcock and Luchino Visconti and Nicholas Ray and Lewis Milestone and Sam Goldwyn.

Some people will want to know more about the films these legends made that Farley Granger was in: “Rope” and “Strangers on a Train” and “The North Star” — the very first one, in 1943.

And what some people will really want to hear more about is the glamorous unisex love lives that have delineated Farley Granger’s own life’s course like slalom poles. Beddings, early on, with gorgeous beauties like Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth and Shelley Winters and Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents — “Gorgeous Arthur Laurents, he’d love that,” says Calhoun. Playwright Arthur Laurents, that is, who lives right here in Greenwich Village.

In his own very readable memoir, “Original Story By” (Applause Books, 2001) — all the more readable when it gets bitchy — Laurents tells of his relationship with Granger, but also — as Granger now puts it — “made up a couple of uncomplimentary things about me and Shelley [Winters], in order to get back at Shelley, who’d walked out of one of his shows.”

Bob Calhoun explicates: “How Farley had used Shelley to get younger guys for himself.”

A little like Sebastian Venable in “Suddenly Last Summer”?

“Yes, a little like that. As if Farley at age 25 needed that!”

Shelley Winters figures strongly in Granger’s own memoir, but not the fact that Granger and Calhoun had helped her get an apartment downstairs in this very building.

“She was really startlingly smart, and original, and articulate. She was terrific, you know, when in a good mood, but when not in a good mood was totally impossible. She’d been freezing in her big old apartment on Riverside Drive, so when she got into this building she not only kept the curtains closed tight but put mattresses against all the windows and turned the place into a sauna.”

Granger and she had been in one movie together, “Behave Yourself,” a 1951 comedy. “She walked off the set one day. She said: ‘Jimmy Wong Howe [the cinematographer] is favoring Farley.’ And she once said to her housekeeper: ‘Don’t serve the wine in the good glasses. I think Farley is stealing the good glasses.’ ”

Alfred Hitchcock is famous for having purportedly said that actors should all be treated like cattle. Does that seem true, Mr. Granger?

“No, no. If I blew a line or made some other mistake, and apologized — ‘I’m sorry, Hitch’ — he would just say: ‘It’s only a mew-vie, only a mew-vie.’ The crews loved him, you know, because he had everything worked out all in advance, on paper. This shot goes from that point, that shot from this point.”

Robert Walker, Granger’s unforgettable costar in “Strangers on a Train,” had a lot of problems in his young life, medical and otherwise.
Granger: “Soon after ‘Strangers on a Train’ he was doing a movie with Helen Hayes. I saw him at a party and went over to say hello. He said: ‘We have to get together. Give me your phone number.’ Two days later he was dead.”

Farley Granger is alive.

You must have been something when you were a young guy, the journalist said.

“I was okay,” said Granger. “I was never actorish.”

He still isn’t.

AN EVENING WITH FARLEY GRANGER. Monday. April 23, 8 p.m. at Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, (212) 727-8110. Admission $10.50; for members, $5:50.

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