Farley Granger: Actor best known for his roles in Hitchcock’s ‘Strangers on a Train’ and ‘Rope’
Wednesday 30 March 2011
Farley Granger's two best known roles – both for Alfred Hitchcock, in Rope (1948) and Strangers on a Train (1951) – were attractive, sexually ambiguous young men, but his range was far wider, though his independent spirit did not help his career.
His father owned a successful car dealership, but the family was wiped out by the Wall Street crash. The stress drove both his parents to drink and even after downsizing they had to sell up and drive to Hollywood in the last car on the lot.
Granger took tap-dancing lessons school and, on the advice of Harry Langdon, auditioned and landed a part in the play The Wookie. A couple of agents in the audience were impressed by his cockney accent and asked him to audition for a film. In fact The North Star (1943) was set in Ukraine and he was invited when Lillian Hellman and Lewis Milestone couldn't persuade Montgomery Clift aboard. The film's sympathetic view of Soviet collective farms meant that it was heavily re-edited for a 1957 re-release.
His next film was the very pro-US The Purple Heart (1944), about three sailors who are tortured by the Japanese but do not give in. With his career just starting Granger joined the US Navy but chronic seasickness meant that he worked onshore. He also had the revelatory experience of sleeping with a night club hostess and a fellow officer in the same night: it had never occurred to him that he was bisexual. He later wrote: "I finally came to the conclusion that for me, everything I had done that night was as natural and as good as it felt. I have loved men. I have loved women."
Back in civilian life he rejoined MGM and began to pick up his career, meeting many prominent film personalities. Nicholas Ray fought hard to cast Granger in Thieves Like Us, a noir based on Edward Anderson’s novel, but when Howard Hughes bought RKO the film was shelved for two years. While it was denied to the public it was seen by film people who included Alfred Hitchcock, then preparing his film Rope. In fact that film appeared before Ray’s, which was finally released in 1949 as They Live by Night.
Rope presented everyone with an unprecedented set of difficulties: Hitchcock wanted it to be shot in "real time" against a fake dusk cityscape and to conceal some of the reel changes to make each sequence a single 20-minute take. This meant that every reel had to be carefully choreographed and rehearsed, especially as there were problems with moving the large colour cameras and recording equipment around the set. In the face of these difficulties the performances of Granger and John Dall, playing out a version of the Leopold-Loeb murder case, are amazingly relaxed. The film has a strong homoerotic undercurrent and Granger embarked on a relationship with the screenwriter Arthur Laurent, that lasted a stormy year before lapsing into a long, friction-filled friendship.
Granger's favourite films were made with Ray and Hitchcock but the next few were unsatisfying in various ways, and Granger made things worse by voicing his opinions, turning down roles and refusing to put himself out for publicity. Suspended by the studio, he travelled and had brief flings with Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins and Ava Gardner.
In 1951 Hitchcock came to his rescue with an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train. In this twisted noir there is no femme fatale but rather Robert Walker's homme fatal, who backs tennis star Granger into a plot to "exchange" murders so that each will get rid of a troublesome relative while neither could be linked with the crime. Again there is a powerful undertone of sexual ambiguity. It was one of Granger's favourites of his films, on that he had enjoyed making and his first real hit.
Sadly another run of less than sparkling films followed. I Want You (1951) looks at a family dealing with the Korean War, but it was dully written and, even worse, by the time it appeared, peace negotiations were underway, robbing it even of topicality. Though it was not a great film, he did have second billing (after Danny Kaye) in the popular musical Hans Christian Anderson (1952).
After more inconsequential work Granger decided to take acting lessons with the intention of turning to the stage. However, his agent persuaded him to accept a role in Visconti's Risorgimento-set, baroquely romantic Senso (1954). As filming dragged on Granger temporarily escaped to Paris for a fling with Jean Marais, and took a cameo as a gondolier in Around the World in 80 Days (1956).
The break reinvigorated him and he returned to America with a much more positive outlook, so that even the average The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955), about a notorious murder case, didn't depress him. He was still determined to appear on stage, and after some lessons debuted on Broadway in The Carefree Tree, though it quickly closed. However, Granger and co-star Janice Rule were soon making wedding plans, before realising that they were probably simply carrying on the fictional romance from the play.
Granger turned to television,appearing in dozens of one-offproductions and popular series such as Get Smart and Ironside. Meanwhile he continued to hope for theatre success, finally finding it in productions of classics including The Seagull and The Crucible.
Like many actors he spent some time making low-budget Italian films and international co-productions, such as Night Flight from Moscow (1973). His last appearance was in the art-world satire, The Next Big Thing (2001). He wrote his autobiography Include Me Out (2007) with his long-time partner, the producer Robert Calhoun.
Farley Earle Granger, actor: born San Jose, California 1 July 1925; died New York 27 March 2011.
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