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Stage Actors and Actresses  
 
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The two appeared in plays with controversial sexual roles. Fontanne had the lead in Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude (1928), and the couple worked together in Noël Coward's Point Valaine (1934) and Jean Giraudoux's Amphitryon 38 (1938).

Lunt and Fontanne starred with Coward in the playwright's Design for Living (1933), a play about a love triangle. Critics--as well, apparently, as the censors--saw the two men simply as friends despite references to the physical character of their love.

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In the early years of their joint career, Lunt and Fontanne socialized in gay circles. Theater trade publications hinted at their sexual orientation, but no public scandal ensued.

Around 1940, in the wake of increasing homophobia, Lunt and Fontanne began to bolster their image as a conventional--indeed, ideal--couple. They chose less controversial roles--in part because fewer were available as they moved into middle age--and also granted interviews to magazines with a domestic slant such as Ladies' Home Journal and Coronet. The articles cast the Lunts as homebodies, most content when engaged in simple household activities on their farm in Wisconsin.

They maintained the myth to the end. The inscription on their tombstone refers to their fifty-five-year marriage and describes them as "inseparable both on and off the stage."

Katharine Cornell and Guthrie McClintic

Like Lunt and Fontanne, Katharine Cornell--"The First Lady of the American Theater"--used a lavender marriage to create the kind of persona that the contemporary public demanded of its stars. Cornell wed gay director Guthrie McClintic in 1921, just as her career was beginning to blossom.

The marriage lasted forty years, and in the course of it, the pair established themselves as a successful professional team, working together on some two dozen plays.

Cornell's greatest success came in Rudolf Besier's The Barretts of Wimpole Street. After playing a series of roles as sensual, sinister, or wanton women that had caused critics to compare her allure to that of film star Greta Garbo, Cornell opted to portray the romantic and definitely heterosexual poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. In appearances on Broadway and on tour, she played the role over a thousand times.

If Cornell's moving performances as Browning reinforced her public persona as a devoted wife, her decision to retire from the theater following McClintic's death in 1961 cemented it. The image was, however, far from the truth. Cornell's lovers included Tallulah Bankhead and Beatrice Lillie. After McClintic's death, she shared the remaining years of her life with another woman, Nancy Hamilton.

Ivor Novello and Noël Coward

From the 1920s to the 1950s, the London stage was dominated by two notably versatile gay actors-writers-composers, Ivor Novello and Noël Coward.

As an actor, Novello played a leading man made for romantic melodrama and adventure. He had a memorable stage presence, and his charisma and striking good looks attracted fans of both sexes. Although the press linked him romantically to a number of other actors, especially Gladys Cooper, the real love of his life was fellow actor Robert Andrews, with whom he lived for over thirty years.

Although Noël Coward is now best known as a writer and composer, he was also a master showman, among whose talents was acting. Indeed, he acted in many of his own--often queerly inflected--plays that attack normative heterosexual values.

In many ways, Coward's greatest role was the persona that he created for himself and that he assumed both on and off stage: the sophisticated, slightly world-weary wit who had a talent to amuse.

Sir Laurence Olivier

Sir Laurence Olivier, one of the greatest actors of the twentieth century, was married three times, but may most aptly be described as bisexual. Axel Madsen describes his first marriage, to actress Jill Esmond, as "a sham" and states that Esmond was a member of "the sewing circle," a group of lesbian and bisexual women in theater and cinema. He notes that she was particularly close to producer Cheryl Crawford, one of the cofounders of the Group Theater in New York.

After his divorce from Esmond, Olivier wed Vivien Leigh, but during their marriage, he became the lover of comic actor Danny Kaye, who was also married. According to Donald Spoto, Leigh "constantly upbraided" Olivier about the affair; but it was his third wife, Joan Plowright, who finally demanded that he end the ten-year relationship.

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