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Stage Actors and Actresses  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  

The Drag never made it to Broadway, and other gay- and lesbian-themed plays were closed. Sholom Asch's tale of lesbian love, God of Vengeance, which had long been a staple of Yiddish theater in its original version, Gott fun Nekoma, was another victim of the campaign of censorship.

This climate kept gay and lesbian characters largely absent from the stage since theater managers were reluctant to risk financial losses--much less prosecution and possible imprisonment. It also kept gay and lesbian actors mostly closeted.

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Eva Le Gallienne

British-born Eva Le Gallienne came to the United States at the outbreak of World War I to pursue her acting career. By the age of nineteen, she had become the lover of Russian actress Alla Nazimova. Le Gallienne began moving in lesbian circles.

She and fellow lesbian actresses Tallulah Bankhead, Estelle Wynwood, and Blyth Daly became known as "The Four Horsemen of the Algonquin" at the hotel's famous Round Table. When she moved to Hollywood shortly thereafter, she lived at Nazimova's "Garden of Alla" estate, a haven for lesbians in the film industry.

Like many of Le Gallienne's relationships, the one with Nazimova would not prove enduring. Returning to New York, Le Gallienne found professional success on stage and personal happiness with costume designer Mercedes de Acosta, whose other affairs would include ones with Nazimova, Katharine Cornell, Marlene Dietrich, and Greta Garbo.

While they were together, Le Gallienne and de Acosta often traveled to Europe, where they found the social environment somewhat less homophobic. They visited the salon of Natalie Clifford Barney, described by Axel Madsen as "a oasis."

Onstage Le Gallienne occasionally played masculine roles, including the title character in Edmond Rostand's L'Aiglon, about the Emperor Napoleon's son.

Like many other gay men and lesbians in the theater and film industries, Le Gallienne became the target of accusations of communism in the period after World War II. Her career suffered as a result, but she persevered. Late in life she received an Emmy award and was also nominated for both an Oscar and a Tony, the latter at the age of eighty-two.

In her memoirs Le Gallienne mentioned her various lovers--but only as professional colleagues. Public silence was the refuge of many, although insiders in the theater and film communities often knew the truth.

Tallulah Bankhead and Patsy Kelly

Tallulah Bankhead left her native Alabama at the age of fifteen after winning a beauty contest with an acting contract as the prize. By the age of sixteen she had appeared on Broadway and had also had an affair with another young actress, Hope Williams.

Although Bankhead may be remembered now mostly for her extravagant personality and as a camp figure or over-the-top diva, she was also a talented and accomplished actress. Perhaps her most brilliant performances were in Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes, Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth, and Noël Coward's Private Lives.

Bankhead associated with other lesbian actresses of both stage and screen. While in Hollywood, she was sometimes a guest at Nazimova's Garden of Alla. Her lesbian partners included Katharine Cornell, Laurette Taylor (also a lover of Nazimova and director Dorothy Arzner), Sybil Thorndyke, and Beatrice Lillie (who also had affairs with Le Gallienne, Cornell, and Judith Anderson).

Although she was not publicly out in the early years, Bankhead was famous for quips alluding to her lesbianism.

In her thirties, Bankhead married actor John Emery, apparently to please her father, whom she adored. She divorced a few years later, after her father's death.

Bankhead's companion in later life was comedienne Patsy Kelly, one of the first actresses to acknowledge publicly that she was a lesbian.

Lavender Marriages

Despite the pleasure Tallulah Bankhead took in shocking conventional people, most actors of the early to mid-twentieth century were keenly aware of the potential consequences of failing to conform--or at least to appear to conform--to the societal norm of heterosexuality. "Lavender marriages" provided cover for a number of gay and lesbian actors, including the team of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.

Lunt and Fontanne

Lunt and Fontanne, both classically trained, aspired to stardom in serious, sophisticated theater. They first acted together in 1924 in Ferenc Molnár's The Guardsman.

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