Farley Granger passed away on Sunday at the age of 85. Mostly known for his films with Hitchcock (Rope, Strangers on a Train), he had a decades-long career. I’ve only seen a portion of his work, but he seems to me to be the perfect choice if you need a regular guy who suddenly gets caught up in a situation beyond his control. He was able to portray that palpable sense of anxiety and confusion that turns a possibly melodramatic situation into something truly tense and psychologically shattering. By all accounts a nice man (you rarely hear anything bad about him), I like how Shelley Winters describes their relationship in her chatty gossipy autobiography. She was dying for an invite to a party at Ira Gershwin’s. Who would take her??
Finally, in desperation, I called Kenny Carter at UI and told him I had no one to take me to Ira Gershwin’s house, and I wanted very much to meet all the famous MGM musical people who would be there. Kenny told me that he knew a very nice young man who had just gotten out of the Navy and Sam Goldwyn was building him up to superstar status. He said he was very nice but rather shy, and if I didn’t mind a blind date, he would have him pick me up and take me to the party. I readily agreed. After I hung up, I realized I had forgotten to ask Kenny his name. But it didn’t really matter; I figured whoever knocked on my door at seven-thirty on Saturday night would obviously be the right fellow.
At seven-thirty sharp the doorbell rang. I opened the door, and in walked one of the handsomest young men I’d ever seen. He was stuttering with shyness and trying to be sophisticated and blase. He had bought me a corsage of gardenias, and the first thing he did was drop it, and when we both bent down to retrieve it, we hit our heads together. We’ve been hitting our heads together ever since.
Farley Granger and I became inseparable friends, sometimes lovers, certainly as close as brother and sister – and always there when we needed each other. We now live in the same building in New York, two floors apart. He prefers the theatre now, and he does movies and TV only when he has to. He is just as handsome as he was then, except that his beautiful black curly hair is now pepper and salt, and he is more disciplined about food and exercise than I am. It’s strange how our friendship has lasted through husbands and wives and fiances and lovers and children growing up and long and short separations. Once we were talking about something, then for some reason we didn’t see each other for about five years, and the next time we met we just continued the same conversation. There is almost nothing I can’t tell him, and I think he feels the same way about me.
Farley and Shelley went to the star-studded party, and Oscar Levant sat down at the piano and played some Gershwin tunes, intercutting it with vicious remarks about the guests present. Judy Garland broke into tears at one point, and so did Shelley. Levant had made some remark about Winters and Burt Lancaster, implying that Shelley was a loose woman. Shelley was humiliated. Judy and Shelley sat on the porch crying. Farley decided to take Shelley home.
Farley put me in his car and started to drive me home. I was crying so bitterly he must have known there was some truth to Levant’s vicious remark. He took me to a drive-in. (Why have so many of the important moments of my life taken place in drive-ins?) When the carhop brought us the trays and glasses of ice-cold water, Farley threw his ice water in my face and said, “If you cry anymore, I’m going to slap you.” I stared at him, stunned. So did the carhop. She got us a bunch of paper napkins, and he tried to dry me off. He then ordered two double hamburgers with everything and four cups of coffee. The carhop fled with the order.
He lit two cigarettes just like Paul Henreid, and gave me one. “Now listen, Shell. Everyone has to do what they have to do in this life. Everybody uses everybody else, and you just do your best not to hurt anyone. Don’t make everything such a big deal. Not every love affair has to be for always. I’m sure you’re not the first extramarital fling in Burt’s wife, and I bet his wife grits her teeth and waits. Just enjoy it, and it will help you grow. This is really a small town; I’ve been an actor here since I was fourteen, and if they ain’t got what to gossip about, they’ll make it up. The only thing that really matters is what you do up there on that screen, and you know that’s all you really care about.”
I’ve only written a couple of pieces on Granger movies, but here they are:
My review of Anthony Mann’s terrific noir Side Street.
Some thoughts on Hitchcock’s Strangers On a Train (although I mainly focus on Robert Walker).
And here, from Greg Ferrara, who attended an interview with Farley Granger, is a post you don’t want to miss.