a-list confidential

10 juicy, must-read memoirs about the secret (and not-so-secret) history of gay Hollywood

A diptych featuring black-and-white images of Ramon Novarro and Tab Hunter in swimsuits.
Ramon Novarro (left), Tab Hunter (right) | Image Credits: Getty Images

Whether you’re looking for a scandalous tell-all from 1950s gay Hollywood, or a good, earnest tear-jerking memoir for your next read, you’ve come to the right place. As you plan your spring and early summer reading, make room for these biographies and memoirs from—or about—some of your favorite queer celebrities and Hollywood legends, from the Golden Age to present day.

Find here our top ten queer Hollywood memoirs and biographies that belong on the top of your reading list.

Beyond Paradise: The Life Of Ramon Novarro by André Soares

Gay screen idol Ramon Novarro is widely regarded as the first Latin American actor to become a star, and his brutal murder is one of the most talked-about tragedies in Hollywood. In Beyond Paradise, André Soares walks us through his vast film career, where he shared the screen with the likes of Joan Crawford (Across to Singapore) and Greta Garbo (Mata Hari), featuring interviews with those who knew him best.

Sexs, Drugs, And Pilot Season by Joel Thurm

Renowned casting director Joel Thurm recounts decades of experience as a Hollywood casting director, working on classics like Grease and Rocky Horror Picture Show. In his new memoir, he also dives deep into his own sexual experiences with stars Rock Hudson and Robert Reed, making for quite the eyebrow-raising, page-turning adventure.

In Bed With Gore Vidal by Tim Teeman

In his long career as a writer and intellectual, Gore Vidal pushed boundaries around sexuality, politics, and cultural criticism. His 1948 novel, The City and the Pillar, followed the story of a gay relationship, which outraged conservative literary critics. Teeman’s In Bed With Gore Vidal combines interviews with Claire Bloom, Susan Sarandon, and more of those close to Vidal, to tell the story of his advocacy for gay sexual freedom—including his famous feud with Truman Capote, and the latter’s refusal to fully identify as gay—from the peak of his career to his painful decline in health, and the legacy he left behind.

Full Service by Scotty Bowers

In 1946, Scotty Bowers arrived in Hollywood after serving in World War II, and quickly began a rousing life in Hollywood’s sexual underground. Full Service: My Adventures In Hollywood And The Secret Sex Lives Of The Stars chronicles his adventurous encounters—sexual and otherwise—with the likes of Tennessee Williams, Edith Piaf, Spencer Tracy, and more. Chronicling an era of supposed innocence in Hollywood, Bowers’ memoir takes us behind the (steamy) curtain of mid-century celebrity culture.

Baggage: Tales From A Full Packed Life by Alan Cumming

Alan Cumming needs no introduction, but his memoir dives deeper than you might expect on his life in Hollywood, relationships, hookups, and memorable encounters with celebrities such as Gore Vidal and Liza Minnelli. It also touches on exactly what the title promises—baggage! Regretful mistakes, traumas, and difficult memories… Alan Cumming balances it all for a compulsively readable page-turner.

I Was Better Last Night by Harvey Fierstein

As you would expect, Harvey Fierstein uses his memoir to combine humor and heart, chronicling his life from his early days in Brooklyn, his life in the theatre, “Torch Song Trilogy,” the gay rights movement, the AIDS crisis, and beyond. Packed with stories about gay culture, sex, and romance, Fierstein also tackles addiction, hardships, and some of the most meaningful moments of his life. To this day, Harvey Fierstein’s legacy can be found in queer theatre, cinema, and art, and his memoir work volumes to illustrate just how deep it runs.

Best-Kept Boy In The World by Arthur Vanderbilt

The head-spinning story of Denny Fouts, a famous male prostitute of the 20th century. Arthur Vanderbilt puts us in the room with Denny, where as a socialite he charmed the likes of Gore Vidal and Truman Capote, becoming a literary muse for each of them. Denny passed away young, at 34, but left a swirling impact on those who knew him.

Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making Of A Movie Star by Tab Hunter

A memoir from Tab Hunter, the queer movie star known for his good looks who ascended to fame at the very end of Hollywood’s golden age. Tab Hunter Confidential is Hunter’s first-hand account of the difficulties that came with stardom, and the pressures he faced through a tense first decade of working in Hollywood.

Wisecracker: The Life And Times Of William Haines, Hollywood’s First Openly Gay Star by William J. Mann

Capote,

The Midnight Express actor William Haines, often seen as Hollywood’s first openly gay star, faced innumerable challenges after being blacklisted by the film industry. Here, William J. Mann introduces us to Haines in a more personal sense, and lifts the veil on his second admirable career as a famous interior decorator. After all, what queer person doesn’t know how to pivot when faced with the impossible?

All About “All About Eve” by Sam Staggs

“The complete behind-the-scenes story of the bitchiest film ever made.” This book pulls the curtain back on the 1950 classic and reflects on its lasting impact on pop culture, featuring stories of its stars, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, Celeste Holm, Anne Baxter, and George Sanders. All About “All About Eve” is a true celebration of a movie the queer community has cherished for decades.

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17 Comments*

  • SDR94103

    this info has been out there for at least 50 years. who cares.

    • dadhc

      sourpuss; don’t think it’s your right to rain on someone else’s parade

    • storm45701

      Most have copyrights within the last 5 years. Are you ok? 1-800-GET-A-LIFE, honey.

    • DBMC

      The bigger error is that many of these are not memoirs.

    • Mary Jane

      So just because you were out there fifty years ago. It doesn’t mean that young or older gay or anyone else isn’t interested in these gorgeous men and the kind of love that has been going on since Adam and Steve first saw each other.

  • Kinkslola

    Obviously you do

  • DBMC

    I’ve read most of these but there are a few I’ll have to look into. Thanks for this!

  • DBMC

    Did you look at the books because none of them have been out there for 50 years.

  • Rambeaux

    My “gay card” must be expired.
    I had not heard of Denny Fouts.
    Sounds like an interesting read.

  • FreddieW

    Maybe include “Memoirs” by Tennessee Williams. When I was a kid, I would sneak it off my English prof. mom’s bookshelf and read it.

  • DBMC

    Most of these aren’t memoirs but they’re good reads.

  • winemaker

    Now that all the players in these scandals. that could have ended careers and were common knowledge for years have all passed away, come out what’s the point? Oh wait, it’s all about selling a few books, that’s it, anything for a buck. This was 60+ years ago, let the characters and past rest in peace

    • Mattster

      What a strange comment—many biographies and histories are written long after the subjects have died. Books are still being written about Napoleon, Picasso, and George Washington.

      The historical record does not get set in stone when someone dies. Indeed, when the subject is LGBTQ, that record must often be corrected so that things that were “common knowledge” during their lifetimes but never talked about due to shame and/or fear of lawsuits can finally be talked about.

  • Mary Jane

    Beautiful looking men.

  • dwick

    Who read the title of Harvey’s book in his voice?

  • Joshooeerr

    It’s a stretch to call Harvey Fierstein’s and Alan Cumming’s books “Hollywood” memoirs. They’re more about theatre and only tangentially touch on film.

  • TDA

    I’m afraid the journalist meant to refer to Billy Hayes, not William “Billy” Haines when they mention them as the starring in Midnight Express. I’ve read most of the books mentioned over the years. This glaring mix up makes me doubt the veracity of any information from Queerty.

Comments are closed.