It was tiny — “a navel filled with sweat,” Gore Vidal once called it — and it didn’t offer high-end amenities such as cabanas. But for decades the pool at Chateau Marmont was the only public meeting area in a hotel that had no bar or restaurant or even much of a lobby. So it was a truly hot spot.
Indeed, it was even more than that. Per the dictates of Erwin Brettauer, the anti-Fascist German banker and film financier who bought the hotel in the 1940s and built the pool soon after, the Chateau was a place of tolerance and welcome for all. It would become Hollywood’s first racially-integrated hotel. And it was always welcoming to queer men and women. Meaning that, intentionally or not, the hotel’s tiny pool became a popular gathering place for Hollywood’s (largely closeted) gay community.
Among those gatherers was Anthony Perkins, born 87 years ago today, a New York prep school kid turned stage actor in the footsteps of his father, actor Osgood Perkins. Tony came to Hollywood in 1955 to star in the Civil War drama Friendly Persuasion. He took a small room at the Chateau and developed a reputation as a kook: hitchhiking to the studio, keeping a pet bird which he sported on a shoulder, walking Sunset Blvd. barefoot — harmeless, semi-bohemian stuff.
He dated starlets — it was practically a condition of a movie contract — and he also dated men. Perkins was bisexual his whole life, and he kept the part of himself that was attracted to men hidden from the press, his movie studio bosses, and anyone else who might use it to derail his career. He attended all-male social events at the Chateau, for instance, and, according to others, behaved in an aloof, faux-naive manner, as if pretending he didn’t know that everyone around him was gay.
So when Perkins met another young gay actor at the Chateau pool that summer, and they began an affair, he did everything he could to keep it secret.
His new lover was Tab Hunter, an even more popular young star, a heartthrob with a thriving big-screen career, a perennial spot on the covers of movie magazines, even a string of hit pop records. Hunter, like Perkins, dated women — for publicity purposes. In heart and practice, though, he was gay.
The two were introduced poolside and quickly began an intense affair — always keeping an eye peeled to ensure that the press didn’t learn of, or share, the true nature of their connection. They often double-dated, each with a starlet on his arm, per studio publicity dictates, but really out on the town together. Perkins was the more chary of the two — a real careerist, as Hunter later recalled. And you can see it in a number of photos of the two: Hunter is often captured staring at his beau; Perkins is looking around as if to see who’s watching them.
The relationship fizzled after a couple of years through unfortunately predictable circumstances: Perkins grabbed up the lead role in Fear Strikes Out — a baseball movie for which Hunter, who had become famous in Damn Yankees — was also being considered. When Hunter confronted his lover about it, Perkins shrugged it off. His career was his greatest love. The affair was over.
You can read more about Tab, Tony, the “navel filled with sweat,” and other tales of the Chateau in my book The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art and Scandal at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont, which will be published on May 7 by Doubleday and June 13 by Orion.