While I was writing my first published book, The Peter Pan Chronicles, I decided that I would not discuss the sexuality of any of the performers, which, inadvertently, left out any discussion about gay or lesbian actors. While it was alright to write about the straight relationships of a Marilyn Miller or a Mary Martin, I was not going to touch any part of the romantic lives of Eva Le Gallienne or Maude Adams. Perhaps, and I am not really sure about this, perhaps I felt I did not want to taint the image the reader should receive of these great women of the theatre. That, in turn, might be due to being in the closet myself for so long. In the years since that publication (and out of the closet), I would find myself reading books where the writers, just coming to terms with their own sexuality, would impose their personal lives and views on the actor/actress they were writing about. Interesting, yes! But accurate and fair, I am not sure. By 2008, when I started the journey to create a revised and expanded version of Chronicles, I knew that I could not leave out this important aspect of person’s life; our sexuality, as much as any other factor in our lives, helps determine and mold who we are going to be when we grow up. Still, I wanted to be careful not to inflict any of the sense of my new personal freedom and politics on my readers.
For example, while interviewing Josephine Hutchinson, Wendy to Eva
Le Gallienne’s Peter, the 87-year-old actress basically told me that she and LeG were lovers. Aiming my book at theatre aficionados, I did not deem this information necessary. Anne Kaufman-Schneider, a close friend of LeG’s, once kidded me about the title of my book, suggesting that I title it Peter Does Wendy rather than The Peter Pan Chronicles. (And in the new edition, Julia Lockwood unwittingly suggested the same when reminiscing about the goings on backstage in the productions where she played Peter.) In my first book, I wrote about Maude
Adams, but not of an important part of her life; the time which she spent with her female companion. Charles Eaton of the famous Eaton family of Ziegfeld Follies fame was quite open about his adventures as a young man but instead I left out that aspect which, in retrospect, is like blotting out someone’s life. Of course there were all sorts of rumors about other performers like Mary Martin which could not be substantiated but then, I was not looking to do so. I felt that if this aspect of their lives was personal, I should keep it that way. I still feel this way. But…
Eva Le Gallienne wanted her biographer to know all about her relationships, in and out of the theatre. LeG was an open lesbian in the 1920s and sought female companionship and, sometimes, just a liaison. Indeed, a biography that eventually emerged using LeG’s diaries among other sources, was a full and detailed account of the life of one of the greatest women on the American stage. No, I was not going to dwell on any actor’s sexuality. But I was not going to ignore it either. Also, my guess is that anyone who is going to even pick up a book on Peter Pan is already an enlightened and sophisticated person, no matter his/her age or sexual persuasion.
About ten years ago I purchased a late 19th or early 20th
century silhouette framed in silver. Above the image behind the glass is an engraving in flowery script: “Maude Adams to Jennie.” The image at first appears to be a profile of a young man in a suit with a tie and a hat. However, a few moments of study reveals that it is not a man but a woman. And that woman is Maude Adams. What does this prove? Nothing really, but I’d like to think that the image of the artistic loner created by Maude with the aid of Charles Frohman (himself reputed to be homosexual) was not just for art or due to extreme shyness. Instead, it’s much nicer to think that Maude was a young actress who could also love, dress up, and have a little fun. Not as dignified perhaps, but oh so much more lovely.
My Dear Maudie,
I have written a play for children, which I don’t suppose would be much use in America. She is rather a dear of a girl with ever so many children long before her hair is up and the boy is Peter Pan in a new world. I should like you to be the boy and the girl and most of the children and the pirate captain….I can’t get along without an idea that really holds me, but if I can get it how glad I shall be at work for little Maudie again.
–J.M. Barrie, April 18, 1904