3 MAY 2008, Page 56

Fifties glamour


New York So there I was, at the Waverly Inn, Graydon Carter’s little toy, which has been the hottest ticket in the Big Bagel for two years, when the booth next to mine filled up with young people, all of them scruffy and dressed like the homeless, their girls rather plain and some of them even ugly. Par for the course, I thought to myself, then I noticed everyone looking at them. My son and daughter, with whom I was celebrating Greek Easter, set me straight. The boys were Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Robert Downey Jr, the last two unknown to me, Leo baby hiding under a 19th-century working-man’s hat. Truth be told, I was expecting the worst, but to my delight the large group was not only extremely quiet, but also very polite. I made sure no one at my table looked their way, but when I sneaked a look I was surprised how normal and undistinguished the group was. No glamour à la old Hollywood there, no one with looks like Bill Holden, stature like Gary Cooper or just plain allure like Burt Lancaster. No, this was real working-class stuff, salt-of-the-earth types, taller than those two midgets, Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino, but midgets nevertheless when compared to the stars of my age group.

Mind you, I’ve just read a harrowing piece about how nice it was back in the Fifties to be a movie star, that is. It was about Raymond Burr, who had just struck it rich with Perry Mason. Burr was big and burly and gay as they come. Back in those good old days to be gay was a big no-no, and the poor man was terrified about being outed once he became a pop-culture idol. He was a TV star, and did not have a big movie studio behind him to protect him, so he did the next best thing. He invented three deaths, one of his non-existent first wife, who, he claimed, had died in the same air crash as Leslie Howard, the death of his non-existent second wife, who supposedly died of cancer just after the birth of their son, and then, for good measure, he claimed his non existent son also died from the disease after having spent a year travelling around the world with his father Raymond.

Burr also fabricated military service during the second world war, including a nonexistent Purple Heart. Reporters didn’t dare ask any questions about Burr’s agony, which was just as well. Natalie Wood, as troubled a child star as it was possible to be, went after Burr, convinced their tragic lives had many things in common, including great sexual appetites. She was deeply disappointed but never let on — the sweet person that she was.

See what I mean by the good old days? They were good all right if one was white, heterosexual, a non-drinker, and preferably Christian. The great William Holden hid his alcoholism by always being on time on the set and never flubbing his lines. He was a good athlete which helps when staying up all night downing the stuff. Gary Cooper was a non-stop sexual athlete, knocking off one beauty after the next, but, as a Catholic convert and scared to death of his wife Rocky, he remained a loving father to his daughter Maria until his death age 60. Maria Janis, married to the pianist Byron Janis, told me recently how her dad smoked a minimum of four packets of unfiltered cigarettes a day for 40 years. I don’t know much about my favourite actor of them all, Burt Lancaster, but there were always rumours that he was a Raymond Burr, although married with children.

Which really must be hell on earth. How would you feel if you were a film star in the closet and every time you got horny you knew your career was on the line? Or if you were a boozer like me or a whore monger like so many of us are? Still, I prefer the Fifties because there was more privacy, more respect for institutions and the women were more feminine than nowadays. But I was never in the movies and always did whatever pleased me as I had a very indulgent father and my tastes were those of the mainstream at the time. Now everything is considered bad and we have rags like the News of the World that are out to ruin lives through lies. I was thinking of putting up Max Mosley for Pugs but I shall await the results of his libel case. But anyone who spends five hours with five hookers has to be a great man, and, as Pugs Club allows only great men as members, Max qualifies.