Jul 12, 2011

Five Things I Learned From Farley Granger’s Autobiography

I have liked Farley Granger since I first saw him freaking out in his role as a young killer in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948). When he died earlier this year, I was surprised to realize how little I knew about him. In order to remedy this, I picked up a copy of his 2007 autobiography, Include Me Out: My Life From Goldwyn to Broadway, which he wrote with his long-time partner Robert Calhoun. Granger’s story was a lot richer than I’d expected. The book was so fascinating that I felt like I was reading a novel.

Granger’s Hollywood movies were a significant, but small part of his life. Stardom simply gave him the money and prestige to pursue his dreams of stage success and world travel. Farley Granger lived his life with honesty and vigor and never hesitated to indulge in all the opportunities his success gave him.

Here are some of the bits from his story that grabbed me:

1. James Mason was the original choice for James Stewart’s role in Rope

I almost wish I didn’t know this one. Stewart did a fine job, but he was terribly miscast. Mason had the smooth, sinister allure needed for the role of the professor who unknowingly inspires his students to kill. I’m convinced that Rope would have been a classic with Mason, rather than the solid, but uneven effort it is. This bit of information will probably gnaw at me forever.

2. He had an enduring and very flexible relationship with Shelley Winters

Winters and Granger met early in their careers and embarked upon a chaotic relationship that lasted until the end of her life. It seems to have been whatever they felt was needed at the time. For a brief while it was a romance, then a sex buddy thing, then a friendship. They were even engaged briefly, sort of, but Granger didn’t seem to mind when Winters married Vittorrio Gasman soon after they discussed the possibility.

Some of the best stories in the book are about the crazy adventures he had with Winters. He seemed to feel equal parts exasperation and love for her, which I could appreciate, because that’s how I feel about her as an actress.

3. He had his first female and male sexual encounters on the same night

I think this is the most thorough loss of virginity story I have ever heard. While Granger was in the service during World War II, he went to a private club where he had his first sexual experience with a hostess who worked there. Then he met a soldier by the pool and ended up in bed with him shortly after.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this story is how wholesome he makes it all sound. He just seems like a playful young man having a very active night. By the end of it, he decided he would be happy to go with either team. One of the most admirable things about Granger is that he never allowed his sexuality to be an issue, even though it was certainly an issue in the society surrounding him.

4. He slept with a lot of famous people

Granger got around. In addition to Winters, his bed partners included Leonard Bernstein, Barbara Stanwyck, Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner and the screenwriter of Rope, Arthur Laurents, with whom he had a live-in relationship early in his career. Though Granger did do a lot of romping in the sack, he was still selective and most notably turned down Noël Coward, though he clearly admired him. Once Granger settled down with Calhoun, their relationship lasted from 1963 until the latter’s death in 2008.

5. He was passionate about the arts

Music, art, opera, the stage, Granger adored them all, and his fame gave him the opportunity to absorb culture all over the world. He seems to have attended every cultural event he could over the course of his travels and he describes these lovingly in several passages of the book. His friendship with Aaron Copeland in particular gave him enviable education in and exposure to music.


  1. James Mason in Rope makes total sense. I could see him as a man so seductively cynical that two of his students would commit murder just to please him. Jimmy Stewart -- one of my very favorite actors, mind you -- is someone you bake cookies for.

    Like me.

  2. I'm also a fan of Farley Granger. I think my favorite performances of his, was early on in his career, like in the Alfred Hitchcock films: Rope (1948) and Strangers On a Train (1951).

  3. MM--Yes, I agree with everything you said about Mason. He would have been perfect. Ha--the cookie thing is hilarious. You and Mr. Stewart would be depressed if you ever ate my cookies. There's a *very* good reason why I'm not the cook in the house.

    Dawn--you ought to check out Granger in "Senso" if you haven't yet. It's a huge departure from those early roles. I thought it was interesting to see him in a different light.

  4. Here's Katie-Bar-The-Door's favorite cookie recipe, if that would help (note: don't accidentally use reduced-fat peanut butter, otherwise the cookies turn into a gooey mess in the oven ...)

    Butterfinger Cookies
    adapted from Food.com
    (Printable Recipe)
    1/2 cup butter, softened
    3/4 cup sugar
    3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
    2 large egg whites
    1 1/4 cups chunky peanut butter (or smooth)
    2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    5 (2.1 ounce) Butterfinger candy bars, chopped

    Preheat oven to 350°F degrees. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars. Add egg whites; beat well. Blend in peanut butter and vanilla. Combine flour, baking soda and salt; add to creamed mixture and mix well. Stir in candy bars. Shape into 1 1/2-inch balls and place on a baking sheet.

    Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes, or until cookies just start to turn brown. Do not over bake! Let sit on cookie sheet for a few minutes, before transferring to a wire rack. Cool completely.

  5. Oh that does help! I'm giving this recipe to my husband right away!

    That looks like a darn good cookie recipe Ms. Katie.