Louis B. Mayer forced Jimmy Stewart and other male stars to go to a brothel?

… to prove they weren’t homosexual?

I’ve seen this link and one or two that seem to repeat the same story –

Recapping, this claims that Louis B. Mayer, autocrat of MGM studios, owned a brothel just outside the MGM lot and forced all his male contract stars to prove their heterosexuality through contacts with the sex workers therein. Is there any credible or reputable source that confirms anything like this?

What did he think would happen? They’d burst into flames?

Reported for forum change.

Don’t know if its true or not, but the more likely scenario is he sent them there so he could have some nice blackmail dirt on them for future negotiations.

I hear he was a right bastard.

Moderator Action

Even though this is a factual question, since this is about actors and producers (and presumably therefore about their craft, since it affects how movies would be made based on perceptions of hte actors involved), let’s move this to Cafe Society (from ATMB).

Mayer was the groper in chief, molesting the likes of Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe among countless others, so I wouldn’t put anything past him.

It was not that big a concern back then. News about stars came from the studio PR department and the gossip columnists cooperated by holding back stories in order to get later favors.

A word from Mayer would quash any articles by Hopper or Parsons, and Stewart’s life style and image kept it from being an issue in the first place. People outside of Hollywood in that era only knew what the fan magazines printed, which was 100% puff pieces. So they’d never think an actor was gay, especially since they homosexuality was so far in the closet that most didn’t even think of it as a possiblity.

The claim as presented is complete hearsay, so I doubt it on that basis, too.

I don’t get the logic behind this.

No actor could publicly say that he frequented brothels. None of the gossip magazines would print reports of actors going to brothels. Everybody knew they existed, but they weren’t anything you could talk about in public.

So how could this work? The movie audience could never know that Stewart went to Mayer’s brothel. Or to the multiple other brothels in Hollywood at the time. I could maybe see Mayer financing a brothel so that his stars had a safe place to go, but one that got the word out? Never. Even if the idea was to prove to Mayer personally that the actor wasn’t gay, the scheme is nutty. Mayer slept with starlets - not prostitutes - all the time. If he asked one to go with Stewart for an evening he’d have a dozen to pick from, eliminating all the expense of running a brothel. And if the actor did give the girl a good lay, so what? Many were bisexual. Only the most extreme homosexual actors couldn’t give a good performance if they had to.

This article on Hollywood sex cites William J. Mann’s book Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, a solid source, as saying that Ramon Navarro and Billy Haines “were scolded by MGM’s producer, Louis B. Mayer, for patronizing a male brothel on Wilshire Boulevard.” That’s miles away from the actions of a maniac who made his actors fuck on cue to prove they were hetero.

The whole thing is idiotic. I’ve read dozens of books on classic Hollywood, including many recent ones that have examined the large gay community, and never come across a sentence that backs this up. Marc Eliot’s book on Jimmy Stewart gets slagged on Amazon, too. I wouldn’t trust him as a source, especially since in the decade since the article was written, apparently no one else has backed him up on his assertions.

Random famous person at Louis B. Mayer’s funeral: “My god, have you ever seen such a crowd?”
Young Red Skelton: “You give the people what they want, and they’ll come out for it.”

(Also attributed to many many others, but I understand it was really Skelton)

Damn I am Now reminded of something I saw fairly recently where a plot point was someone having to sleep with someone else to determine their sexuality. Gah, can’t remember. Anybody?

It’s not recent, but it was a plot point in WKRP way back when.

A photographer took pictures of Jennifer undressing (without her knowledge, IIRC). Jennifer tried to seduce the photographer to get him to give her the photographs. When that fails, she thinks he’s gay. Herb agrees to try to seduce the photographer. In the next scene, Herb simply walks back into the station and says “He’s not gay” and doesn’t say much else.

I’ve heard this before. But I thought the idea was that he was watching how they reacted in the brothels so that he’d know they weren’t gay. It would be about making sure he wasn’t working with no homos–or, more practically, that they wouldn’t get caught up in gay scandal.

This doesn’t pass the sniff test for me.

Hollywood has always been full of gay people, and the studio system PR machines were adept at concealing any suspicions. Mayer would have had ample exposure to gay stars, writers, producers, directors, costumers, accountants, drivers, janitors (you get the idea). Ascribing a “gay panic” motive to Mayer sounds like the kind of ginned up story that was designed to play in middle America but is not a reflection of reality in Hollywood.

It’s a big leap from serial groper of women to indirect rapist of men.


Mayer: Stewart! Prove you’re not a pansy and fuck this whore right now!

Jimmy Stewart: Y-yes sir, Mr Mayer, sir! (removes pants)

End scene.

Yeah. I’m not buying it.

Can you name any actual gay scandals from that era? And I don’t mean “We now know that X is gay.” One that broke during that time in any media other than people’s memoirs after the fact.

I can’t think of any. Most gay actors in the studio system didn’t get outed, and the gossip columnists didn’t publicize their sexual proclivities. Their “scandals” were more like “X hates his co-star” or “Y’s marriage is on the rocks.”

It wasn’t until the 1950s, with the rise of Confidential that sexual scandals became fair game.

As the book I cited above shows, Mayer knew that many actors and actresses were either gay or bisexual, including many stars. The idea that he’d have to test them is nonsense. Everybody gossiped internally and he had spies everywhere. Nobody* hid their sexuality from other insiders. Mayer just wanted to keep a lid on the public knowing.

Acting had historically been far more accepting of homosexuality than most professions, which of course made it a magnet. Those who couldn’t act placed themselves in the trade professions that supported acting. In Hollywood set designers were mostly gay. (Art directors, by contrast, were mostly straight. I don’t know why.) An entire parallel gay ecosystem existed to the straight Hollywood world, complete with its own bars and party circuit and favorite resorts.

It was not a paradise. Gays did get quietly fired or, more frequently, not hired and blacklisted. So did heteros who crossed the bosses, of course. But for the most part, it took until the end of the century for the understanding of how pervasive the gay community was to start coming out, pun intended.
*OK, nitpickers, there was probably someone somewhere who was so successful that we still don’t know about him!

It’s a bizarre plot element in the second book (Mercenary, 1984) of Piers Anthony’s Bio of a Space Tyrant series. The main character has joined the North Jupiter Navy and discovers that it runs an organized prostitution service called “The Tail” that all members , male or female, are required to use to demonstrate heterosexuality.

A Piers Anthony book with creepy-weird sex plot points? I can’t believe it! :smiley:

It’s so wierd. I saw whatever this was probably less than 2 years ago. I recall it being a period piece and being new. But really the only thing other thing I recall about it (and only because of this thread) was somebody was sending hookers to sombody’s hotel room, not as favor, but to test if they were gay. The target might have been an actor, or maybe it was a spy thing. I don’t even know if it was a movie or a TV show. Argh. It must have not been very good if that’s all that remained.

Precisely. The asinine idea of “testing” them at a brothel would accomplish nothing but create an opportunity to whip up another scandal (either a “visiting a brothel” scandal or a “OMG he doesn’t like girlz!”* scandal).

*I suspect that being revealed as profoundly asexual would have seemed almost as freakyweird as being gay.