November 29, 2020 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

In “Staircase,” Two of the World’s Most Prestigious Actors Played Gay Lovers

In 1969, 20th Century Fox had the bold idea of assigning “Singin’ in the Rain” director Stanley Donen to “Staircase,” a drama that (tried, at least) to paint a sincere portrait of a gay relationship without taking an inherently judgmental or pitying attitude.

Did it succeed? Well, not quite.

The legendary British actors Rex Harrison and Richard Burton took on the roles of lovers in “Staircase,” a bold move but not quite an unexpected one, especially for Burton, who had already played (sort of) gay in “Becket” five years before.

Taking place in London but filmed in Paris, “Staircase” tells the story of two men in a co-dependent, mostly unhappy relationship. The film opened to semi-decent reviews – although, in 1972, Rex Harrison told reporter Rex Reed that he considered the film “a disaster.”

Life magazine’s Brad Darrach marketed the film as “Rex and Dick in a Sick Gay Flick,” while other critics cattily commented that Harrison and Burton acted like several of their ex-wives. The response, from most viewers, was moot, and although the representation of gay life in “Staircase” was much more forgiving than previous mainstream “gay life” films like 1951’s “Detective Story” or 1961’s “The Children’s Hour” (both of which end with the gay character dying,) no one, gay or straight, was particularly thrilled by its portrayal.

Charles Dyer’s stage play, from which the movie was based, had opened to raves in 1966 in London. This was not the case with the Broadway production, which opened at the Biltmore in 1968 and closed after 61 performances. Although the appeal of “Staircase” hadn’t quite translated for an American audience, the film rights were quickly optioned off with Donen taking the lead and Dyer writing an expanded version of the stage production for the screenplay.

Photos via Adsausage

Stanley Donen offered Burton the part of the meek, put-upon lover Harry Leeds quite bluntly, saying: “You must think me stark raving mad, but I want you to play a homosexual.” To hammer home this (at the time) indecent proposal, certain ads disbelievingly proclaimed: “Richard Burton and Rex Harrison play what?”

The usual legacy actor trouble brewed on the set, with reports of Burton drinking and forgetting his lines – with his wife Elizabeth Taylor also in Paris at the time filming “The Only Game in Town,” Burton was understandably distracted. Harrison responded in kind, by walking offset several times. After shooting wrapped, the studio was desperate to find a way of marketing their very expensive and risky film with a gay theme. They landed on a number of taglines, the bluntest of which marketed “Staircase” simply as “a sad gay story.”

Research by J.J. Englender. Visit Adsausage for more classic Gay LA. 

Related Posts

City Of WeHo Celebrates Veterans Day 2020

November 8, 2020

November 8, 2020

The City of West Hollywood will honor veterans and active members of the United States Armed Forces during a virtual...

WeHo Carnaval 2020 Cancelled

October 29, 2020

October 29, 2020

One of the year’s biggest events in West Hollywood, The Halloween Carnaval, has been cancelled.  The massive Halloween party has...

“The Mismatch Game” Hosted By Dennis Hensley Is Going To Zoom

September 23, 2020

September 23, 2020

With COVID restrictions affecting several businesses and theater spaces throughout the Los Angeles area many have had to make adjustments. ...

Date Night In Times Of COVID

August 23, 2020

August 23, 2020

As things to do in times of COVID-19 dwindle down to staying in your home and watching a specific streaming...

Longest Running Escape Room In LA Goes Virtual

August 5, 2020

August 5, 2020

Escape Room LA, in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles, is the longest running escape room in Los Angeles going...

USC One Archives to Host Screening of Film on Black Trans Woman to Honor Black History Month

February 1, 2020

February 1, 2020

Meet Mary Jones, a black transgender woman born in New York in 1803. Described as a “man-monster” in the press. ...

HRC to Honor Dan Levy, Janelle Monáe at Award Ceremony in DTLA

January 27, 2020

January 27, 2020

Award Season is upon us, and the LGBTQ+ Community is not immune. HRC announced today that actor Dan Levy will...

VIDEO: South Coast Chorale’s Tribute to Gay & Civil Rights Activist

January 24, 2020

January 24, 2020

67 years ago, openly gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin was arrested on a discriminatory, anti-gay “lewd conduct” charge for...

IN PHOTOS: WeHo Dodgeball at Sin City Classic LGBTQ+ Sports Festival

January 23, 2020

January 23, 2020

Hosted annually by The Greater Los Angeles Softball Association (GLASA), Sin City Classic brought together the United State’s finest athletes last weekend for three...

GUEST COLUMN: Queer Mindfulness Meditation

January 22, 2020

January 22, 2020

InsightLA is a non-profit meditation center offering practices of mindfulness and compassion that are both secular and Buddhist in origin. ...

Honoring Gay Rights & Civil Rights Activist Bayard Rustin

January 21, 2020

January 21, 2020

On this day in history 67 years ago, gay civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin was arrested on a discriminatory, anti-gay...

LONG BEACH PRIDE Unveils New Logo, Drops “Lesbian & Gay” From Name

January 16, 2020

January 16, 2020

Formerly known as  the Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Pride, the new and improved Long Beach Pride – the organization...

LGBTQ+ Ally Taylor Swift to Receive GLAAD’s Vanguard Award

January 7, 2020

January 7, 2020

GLAAD announced Tuesday, Jan. 7 that Taylor Swift with receive the Vanguard Award at the 31st Annual GLAAD Media Awards. ...

PLAY PREVIEW: A Queer Tribute to Frida Kahlo

January 3, 2020

January 3, 2020

Frida Kahlo was born July 6, 1907 and died July 13, 1954. Her death certificate alleges cause of death as “pulmonary...

2020 Golden Globes Nominations Gayer Than Ever

January 2, 2020

January 2, 2020

Awards season is just around the corner, and the LGBTQ+ representation is bigger and better than ever before. The 77th...