Tuesday 4 June 2019

Opinion: When William Haines decided against a sham marriage

A lavender marriage sought
A few days ago, I read of someone in a quandary of sorts. A young successful Nigerian man in his 30s under pressure to conform to tradition and in the parlance of his community become responsible, that is, get married.
This man knows in his heart, in his mind and in his body that he is not in any way predisposed to conventional marriage as he has no attraction to the opposite sex. Fully aware of this, he has no plans to escape the strictures of the society in which he exists, so he has a cunning plan.
He is looking for a lady who identifies as lesbian under the same pressure to get married with whom to contract a lavender marriage that would to satisfy the yearnings of community and involve having a child but with the broader freedom for each of them to live life on the down-low in an open relationship where either party is at liberty to fulfil their other desires.
This is not the solution
He is definitely not up for outing himself, he has already thought this matter through as a marriage of mutual convenience in which no one would get hurt.
I beg to differ, for I only wonder for how long this façade of a sham lavender marriage can go on for with its secrecy and scheming, before some unanticipated event breaks this neatly cobbled together alliance apart scandalising everyone involved, the child. the parents, their community and beyond. This man with his plan is building himself up to some crescendo for blackmail for which he would probably do very stupid things than damn the consequences.
Don’t complicate the complicated
If your life is complicated, it cannot be simplified by complicating another life with self-conceit, a complication doubled presages an unravelling that no one would be able to control when the duplicity finds the light of day.
Now, I know that the situation in Nigeria has led many people to contract lavender marriages, it might work, but I realised long ago that I would rather bear the burden of my sexuality alone than for the purposes of conformity and satisfying the desires of anyone else mess up the life of someone else to hide my true self.
A touch on Winfield House
This brings me to an interesting piece of history that shadows life. President Donald J. Trump is in the UK for a state visit and such heads of state would typically stay at the Buckingham Palace with the Queen. We have the convenient situation that the palace is undergoing extensive renovations and so he is staying at Winfield House, the residence of the US Ambassador to the United Kingdom, since 1955.
In the story of Winfield House which is situated in 12 acres of grounds making it the residence with the second largest private garden in London after the Buckingham Palace, it was built by the 7-times married American heiress Barbara Hutton in 1936 to whom Cary Grant was the 3rd husband. The house was sold to the US Government for $1 just after the war.
William Haines, a man apart
Whilst the house has undergone extensive renovations and alterations it is notable that in 1969, William Haines was engaged for this activity.
What makes William Haines remarkable is that he was one of the most successful film stars into The 1930s contracted to MGM Studios. At the height of his success, the head of the studio gave him the ultimatum to choose between his career that would have involved contracting a lavender marriage to hide his homosexuality, which was popular in those times, or James Shields, his ultimately lifelong partner.
He chose his partner and ended his film career, a decision to which he referred later in life with these words, “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.”
William Haines and James Shields formed a successful interior design and antiques dealing business and were together for 47 years until the death of the former in 1973. It is reputed that Joan Crawford described them as “the happiest married couple in Hollywood.”
Choosing your life over a required lifestyle
The moral of this story has many strands, from a man who from a young age in times of difficult societal pressures and ostracism decided to live his own truth, pursue his own happiness with passion, find love and refuse to give up that love for the sake of his career or anything else.
In being himself, he was able to leave the success of one career to another successful one with his partner, that friends noticed that they had one of the strongest relationship bonds in Hollywood. These friends supported them, respected them, patronised them and honoured them, not judging them for who they were that in the year of the Stonewall Inn riots, they were invited to renovate the palatial residence of the US Ambassador to the UK in London.
The difficult but true choice
We can make choices, the choices to be our true selves rather than try to serve a different normality that brings grief. Obviously, the biggest hurdle is one of acceptance. Accepting who you are first, then loving yourself enough to live your own life than live a lie. I admire all those who have found that essence of being, life and love.
In William Haines who I never knew of until I did some research on the lavender marriages, many big stars like Rudolph Valentino, Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, and Rock Hudson sacrificed their true selves for maintaining a façade and their careers.
Here was a man, principled, with integrity who followed his heart and lived a wonderful life. I hope many might find some truth in the story of William Haines.
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