Hollywood's secrets

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The Independent Culture
Tinseltown kept gay movie stars in the closet. Photographer Laurence Jaugey-Paget aims to redress the balance.

When Rock Hudson died in 1985, and was subsequently outed as a gay man, one of Hollywood's most famous stars was exposed as having lived a double life. On the screen, Hudson was breathtakingly handsome - an icon of masculinity and poise - and the studios worked hard to protect the image of their bankable star as a clean-living heterosexual.

The Hollywood "publicity-and-protection" machine went into overdrive again last year over the publication of Axel Madsen's book, The Sewing Circle - Hollywood's greatest secret, female stars who loved other women (Carol Publishing, NY). Madsen outed many famous stars as lesbian or bisexual, and the book faced derision from the Hollywood establishment.

Now the photographer Laurence Jaugey-Paget, whose solo show Hollywouldn't opened in Paris earlier this month, is trying to prise open the doors of the closet to reveal the secrets within. By re-working famous stills from Hollywood movies - including Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Sunset Boulevard and the film-noir brooding of Philip Marlowe heroes - Jaugey- Paget has sought to redress the balance, putting a gay sensibility back into the glamorous world of movies whence it has so long been banished.

Icons are important to Jaugey-Paget. "I've been a movie buff for as long as I can remember and was always fascinated by heroes. But there came a time when I wanted to see heroines. There weren't any." She sighs. "I used to fantasise about being a man so I could be a hero, because I didn't think I could become one if I was a woman."

It was only after she came to London, at the age of nearly 20, that Jaugey- Paget first began to study photography. Before that, she had been training as a jazz dancer and actress in Paris, until a back injury put a stop to that as a future career. Yet she constantly draws on her earlier experience in her photographic work, directing and coaxing the best out of her mostly non-professional models, while tightly framing her shots as if for a movie camera. At her strongest when working in black-and-white, she uses her cinematic eye to pull focus on shape and form.

Taking the high-key lighting style and images from famous movies and using favourite queer contemporaries as models, Jaugey-Paget has created her own take on the studio system. "I got sick of all the gay actors still in the closet," she explains. "And all those who died in the closet because they had to. For Hollywouldn't, I wanted black people, feisty women and drag queens - my own kind of Hollywood with people Hollywood wouldn't let belong," she laughs.

For her "film stars", Jaugey-Paget picked gay mainstream figures like The Big Breakfast's Lily Savage, along with faces from the international lesbian and gay scene, such as the drag queen Regina Fong, actors Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw (from NY's Split Britches theatre company), club hostess Yvette and underground film-maker Jo Smith. But re-creating famous film scenes without a Hollywood budget was sometimes difficult. "I wanted to shoot the final image of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? correctly so I went out to buy sand. Unfortunately, I didn't realise it was wet sand used by construction workers. I ended up covering my living-room floor in plastic sheets and asking Lily Savage to lie down in all this soaking material. Lily was incredibly nice about the whole thing but my dog, Lottie, was very curious and kept jumping into shot."

Just as Lily Savage made the move from the gay club circuit into breakfast television, so too Laurence Jaugey-Paget is now gaining professional credibility by showing her work in an established (right-bank) Parisian gallery. Last year, she had a postcard book of Hollywouldn't issued by the HarperCollins imprint, Pandora, and is one of the featured photographers in a coffee- table tome, Nothing But the Girl - the blatant lesbian image, published by Cassell.

Although Hollywouldn't refers back to a "golden age" of cinema that forced many lesbians and gays into the closet to survive, Jaugey-Paget's photographs remind us that, even today, in an industry famous for its high quotient of gays, it is still nearly impossible to name a single gay star whose name appears above the titles.

n `Hollywouldn't' is at Gallerie Air de Paris, Paris (00 331 48 87 45 27) until 30 June