Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines

Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines

In 1930, William Haines was the Number One box-office-star in America. By 1933, he was forgotten — kicked out of an industry where he once was king. The reason was simple: he had refused to play the game. While he romanced leading ladies like Joan Crawford and Marion Davies onscreen, in real life he was unapologetically gay — living openly with his partner, Jimmie Shields. Together they hosted some of Hollywood’s trendiest parties, in an era far more tolerant than most historians remember.

But once the Production Code was enacted, forever changing the political climate in the movie capital, the studios began insisting their stars live up to certain images. When MGM chief Louis B. Mayer insisted Haines give up Shields and get married for publicity purposes, Haines refused. Some three years before Edward VIII renounced his crown for the woman he loved, Billy Haines gave up his own Hollywood throne for the man he loved. William J. Mann brings back an important figure in both film and gay history, setting Haines fully in context with his times, illuminating a whole era of Hollywood, contrasting the free-living 1920s with the conservative backlash of the 1930s.


“Haines’ story is told solidly, even gracefully… Mann has dug into some pretty dusty old archives without getting buried by their contents… Anyone keen about film history will enjoy Wisecracker’s window on the celebrity milieu of the late silent era.” — USA Today

“An illuminating portrait of early Hollywood’s gay underground…a trenchant, sensitive bio.” — Entertainment Weekly

“A lively book that fans of Hollywood gossip will love.”— New York Times Book Review

“An authoritative and exhaustively researched examination of a singular life, Wisecracker also succeeds at illuminating an entire era in Hollywood history.” — The Advocate

“From cradle to grave, Mann pieces together Haines’ life like an archaeologist unearthing fragments of lost films buried in the studio vaults…To serious students of American cinema, as well as American gay history, Wisecracker is a godsend… a definitive sourcebook on both the era and the creation of Hollywood’s far-reaching censorship of sexuality in America.” — Lambda Book Report

“Haines’ story is more than a movie-star biography. Mann turns it into a distinctive portrait of 1930s Hollywood –one the movies haven’t given us yet.” — The Seattle Times

“For film buffs and those interested in gay issues Mann’s book is a must, but its appeal easily transcends those categrories…As much a love story as anything else, this often moving chronicle, liberally spiced with period flavor and beguiling though never salacious dish, gives extra dimension to the term ‘gay liberation.’” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“In this breezy bio, Mann reveals what really transpired offstage when Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant and Claudette Colbert let their hair down at swell Beverly Hills soirees.” — Out