1900 – 1973
Who was William Haines?
Haines was the third child of George Adam Haines, a cigar maker, and Laura Virginia Haines (née Matthews). Two older siblings died in infancy. He had four younger siblings: Lillian, Ann, George, Jr., and Henry. He was baptized at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Staunton at the age of eight, where he later sang in the choir. He became fascinated with stage performance and motion pictures at an early age, spending hours watching early silent films. Haines ran away from home at the age of 14, accompanied by an unidentified young man whom Haines referred to as his boyfriend. Haines and his boyfriend got jobs working at the local DuPont factory. To supplement their income, the couple opened a dance hall. His parents tracked him down, but he did not return home with them, instead sending money back home to help support the family. The couple remained in Hopewell until most of the town was destroyed by fire in 1915. Haines moved to New York City. Whether his boyfriend accompanied him is unclear.
Following the bankruptcy of the family business and the mental breakdown of George, Sr., the family moved to Richmond in 1916. Haines returned home in 1917 to help support them. With his father recovered and employed, Haines returned to New York City in 1919, settling into the burgeoning gay community of Greenwich Village. He worked a variety of jobs and was for a time the kept man of an older woman before becoming a model. Talent scout Bijou Fernandez discovered Haines as part of the Goldwyn Pictures' "New Faces of 1922" contest and the studio signed him to a contract. He traveled to Hollywood in March of that year.
Haines' career began slowly, as he appeared in extra and bit parts, mostly uncredited. His first significant role was in Three Wise Fools (1923). He attracted positive critical attention and the studio began building him up as a new star. However, he continued to play small, unimportant parts at Goldwyn. When his home studio lent him to Fox in 1923 for The Desert Outlaw, he got the opportunity to play a significant role. In 1924, MGM lent Haines to Columbia Pictures for a five-picture deal. The first of these, The Midnight Express (1924), received excellent reviews, and Columbia offered to buy his contract. The offer was refused and Haines continued in bit roles for Goldwyn. Haines scored his first big personal success with Brown of Harvard (1926). It was in Brown that he crystallized his screen image, a young arrogant man who is humbled by the last reel. It was a formula to which he was repeatedly returned for the next several years.
On a trip to New York in 1926, Haines met James "Jimmie" Shields. Haines convinced Shields to move to Los Angeles, promising to get him work as an extra. The pair soon began living together and viewed themselves as a committed couple.
Haines found box-office success with Little Annie Rooney (1925), and Show People (1928). Haines was a top-five box-office star from 1928 to 1932. He made a successful transition into "talkies" in Alias Jimmy Valentine (1928). The 1930 Quigley Poll, a survey of film exhibitors, listed Haines as the top box-office attraction in the country.
In 1933, Haines was arrested in a YMCA with a sailor he had picked up in Los Angeles. Louis B. Mayer, the studio head at MGM, delivered an ultimatum to Haines: choose between a lavender marriage or his relationship with Shields. Haines chose Shields and they remained together for 47 years. Mayer subsequently fired Haines and terminated his contract. He made a few minor films at Poverty Row studios, then retired from acting. His final films were made with Mascot Pictures, Young and Beautiful and The Marines Are Coming in 1934. Haines never returned to acting, but continued to receive offers for film roles. During production of Sunset Boulevard (1950), Haines was offered a cameo role in the film, which he declined.
Haines and Shields began a successful dual career as interior designers and antique dealers. Among their early clients were friends such as Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson, Carole Lombard, Marion Davies, and George Cukor. Their lives were disrupted in June 1936 when about 100 members of a white supremacist group dragged the two men from their El Porto, Manhattan Beach home and beat them, because a neighbor had accused the two of propositioning his son. The incident was widely reported at the time, but Manhattan Beach police never brought charges against the couple's attackers. The child-molestation accusations against Haines and Shields were unfounded and the case was dismissed due to a lack of evidence.
The couple finally settled in the Hollywood community of Brentwood and their business prospered until their retirement in the early 1970s, except for a brief interruption when Haines served in World War II. Haines and Shields remained together until Haines' death.
On December 26, 1973, Haines died from lung cancer in Santa Monica, California, at the age of 73. Soon afterward, Shields took an overdose of sleeping pills. His suicide note read in part, "Goodbye to all of you who have tried so hard to comfort me in my loss of William Haines, whom I have been with since 1926. I now find it impossible to go it alone, I am much too lonely."
Use the citation below to add to a bibliography:
"William Haines." Biographies.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2019. Web. 17 Jun 2019. <https://www.biographies.net/biography/william_haines/b/ef3de922>.