The bride and groom wore lavender

Some marriages are made in heaven ... but who did Cary Grant and Elton John think they were fooling?

Lavender marriages: donchajust luv'em? The entertainment machine does. The official coupling of two gay stars, or a gay star and a willing - or just plain naive - heterosexual is not only a proven PR asset (ask Michael Barrymore), it also has a convincing track record: see our examples.

Convincing is the word. The point of a lavender marriage is to fool all of the people all of the time, allowing the gay or lesbian name to have a career they feel, rightly or wrongly, they otherwise couldn't enjoy.

Would Cary Grant, for instance, have been allowed to make Cinemascope- sized love to Audrey Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman if the public had known he was in the pink? No.

Could the multi-millionaire Malcolm Forbes have commanded the respect of America's hard-nosed corporate community if ICM, GM and AT&T were aware that he messed with the hired male help, wife and children notwithstanding? Maybe.

Could Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone magazine, have played the hard rockin' editor (see his appearance - as himself - in the less-than- perfect Perfect) if his readers knew that involvement with a 23-year-old male model was about to detonate his 26-year-old marriage to wife Jane? Well, yes. That happened earlier this year, and Wenner is still editing and still seen at the best and hippest places.

Of course, Wenner is far from being the same sort of recognisable - and romantic - celebrity "face" as Cary Grant, but, like the general how-sad/so-what attitude to Michael Barrymore's "sham" marriage and "coming out", Wenner's undamaged career is a possible indication of changing times. And, perhaps, a signal to nervous big names that they are lagging behind an increasingly sympathetic and sophisticated public. A public that will make up its own mind about the glitzy mating of Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley, the vicious hounding of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman ("I'll bet everything I've ever made that my husband has never had a gay lover") and Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford's now redundant full-page Times ad announcing their heterosexuality, monogamy and lasting commitment.

Still, fear of exposure is a powerful threat when you're dealing in millions of dollars, and in the media, image and box office remain all-important, especially when your appeal is based on heterosexual allure. The acid test, and the end of the lavender cover-up, will come when someone of the stature of, say, Clint Eastwood - to take an improbable example - announces their homosexuality and survives to make a sequel to In the Line of Fire. Until that day, the rumour mill will work overtime, talented and otherwise honest men and women will live in perhaps unfounded fear, and the cynical masses will increasingly suspect that every star union is less a deep and abiding avowal of love and more a piece of product placement.

Rudolph Valentino The Twenties idol still holds the title as "The World's Greatest Lover". Which only proves that lavender is a colour that lasts. Denounced by the tabloids of the day as "a pink powder puff", the actor quickly hitched his name to Jean Acker (a lesbian) and, later, tothe Art Nouveau designer Natacha Rambova (guess what? a lesbian), which shut the papers up, enabled him to blackmail the moguls for more money - he was a married man now, remember? - and didn't interfere with his affair with Ramon Navarro, who played the lead in the 1925 Ben Hur and got a present of a black lead dildo from his beloved for his pains. Rambova kept Rudy out of the bedroom and herself busy with the stage goddess Alla Nazimova, so everybody, including the fans, got what they wanted.

Janet Gaynor

(emphasis on the gay) was petite - five foot nuthin' - but a giant at the box office, playing a series of simpering child-women (Seventh Heaven, Sunrise, Sunny Side Up, State Fair). Unfortunately, the word was out that Janet was rather butch in real life, so she had a couple of words with her pal Adrian, an MGM clothes designer, and those words were "I do". Adrian did, too, but with the film colony's most famous closet cases (including Cary Grant, and, gossip avers, the neurotic bisexual and biplane addict Howard Hughes). Still, the marriage was a true meeting of minds: Adrian made the trousers and Janet wore them. Roll that Happy Ending.

Elton John said he "slept with half of America" - the male half - but it didn't stop him from pledging his ring to Renate Blauel back in 1984. Elton says the vows of wedlock were taken solemnly - "I thought, 'This will change me, this will change who I am' " - but you have to wonder how serious he really was when you see what he's wearing in the wedding photos (a straw boater with a waiter's jacket? Please ...). Still, record sales, depressed by admissions of bisexuality, almost automatically went up, the marriage lasted four years, and Elton came out of it and, well, came out. Renate, however, has gone to that limbo where so many cast-off purple-tinged partners go - nowhere.

Rock Hudson was a Fifties leading man with a secret. So when Confidential magazine decided to break the big bad news about his flings with stuntmen, cameramen, any men, to his adoring female fans, Rock's studio, Universal, decided to hide its prime side of beefcake behind a confetti snowstorm. Rock chose his assistant, Phyllis Gates, as his bride; she says now that she had no idea that she was being used for PR and was hurt and angry when the truth finally, er, outed. Rock shut the gates after a mere 12 months, but that year saved his career, earned him sympathy (he told the press, quite truthfully, "It's all my fault - I should never have married") and kept his virile image alive for another three decades. Until Aids did what Confidential couldn't, and brought Hudson's sexuality into the spotlight.

Cary Grant was as gay as a goose, a fact of which the world was unaware until the comedian Chevy Chase blabbed on a US talk show: "I understand he was a homo - what a gal!" The masses wouldn't buy it, however (which saved Grant from pursuing a pounds 10m slander suit). Hadn't their romantic comedy hero wooed the world's most desirable women on screen and married five hot babes off? Count 'em: Virginia Cherrill, millionairess Barbara Hutton, Betsy Drake, Dyan Cannon and Barbara Harris.

But the love of his life was fellow actor Randolph Scott, with whom he maintained a relationship for close to 50 years. At one point they even lived together at the beach as - oh, those fan magazine headlines - "gay bachelors". While Scott got love, Grant's wives got bashed (Cannon), cashed (all of the above bar Harris, his widow) or emotionally abused (Cannon, Cherrill, Drake).

Hutton had nice things to say about him, though, once telling an entire dinner table that Grant was the only man in her life who had never wanted anything from her.

"Not even sex," said one bitchy guest, sotto voce. Just so.

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