Writer: Claudio Macor
Director: Bryan Hodgson
William Haines may be the most famous Hollywood actor you’ve never heard of. Starring in over 40 films, Haines found success with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios in the 1920s and 30s, adroitly managing the move from silent movies to talkies. After refusing to deny his homosexuality, MGM fired him, and Haines struggled to find more acting work. However, his story remains a happy one, and Claudo Macor’s fine biographical play, first seen in the 1990s, is full of detail and intrigue.
Born on January 2 1900, Billy Haines really is the child of the century grasping all the opportunities that came with it. He also grasps the men that come with the confident new era, and he and his partner Jimmie Shields have an arrangement that Billy can sleep with whoever he likes as long as he comes home each night. Haines rarely hides his sexuality behind the camera, but in front of it he’s a matinee idol, pulling in good money for the studio.
Played by Mitchell Hunt, Haines is eminently likeable even if he does screw Jimmie around, coming home late, coming home drunk. Hunt gives the film star a charming energy, and a pleasant self-assurance when it would have been so easy to turn him into a predatory bore. As Jimmie ,Tom Berkeley is perpetually forgiving, but his stability and level headedness keep Haines grounded. Berkeley just manages to prevent Jimmie from being too much of a sap.
The villain of the piece is Louis B. Mayer, a wonderfully belligerent and scarily formidable Dean Harris, who tries everything he can to keep his star’s sexuality a secret. More sparkling comedy comes from Yvonne Lawlor as Marion Davies, another actor who sailed easily from silent to sound, and Lawlor demonstrates that this flapper does, somewhere under her vacuity, have a heart.
The cast is small, and yet the play’s scope is wide, even in the small space of the White Bear Theatre where this revival was filmed. For such a tiny auditorium the filming is impressive using at least three cameras, all of which seem able to zoom in for close-ups, and for a play about the movies, its filming is very apt. Occasionally, a few lines are muffled and towards the end a scene is ruined by the tinkling of ice cubes in an audience member’s glass, but other than that, it’s an easy watch on the laptop.
From time to time, there is too much detail in the conversations about the period and other movie stars, as Macor probably wants to show off his research, but in the end you can’t blame him, and The Tailor-Made Man feels studiously authentic. But it’s also a lot of fun, and a reminder that things in Hollywood haven’t changed an awful lot in 100 years.
Available here to stream