Adapted screenplays may follow books very closely, or may be completely different. When characters are gay or lesbian – or have had some significant same-sex experiences – screenwriters sometimes sidestep those facets of their stories entirely when it comes to the big screen. Here are twelve of those instances.
1. Corporal Fife, The Thin Red Line
The third chapter in James Jones’ World War II novel, originally published in 1962, depicts a green-behind-the ears Corporal Fife bunking in a shelter tent next to Private Bead, a fellow member of Charlie Company, during a rainy night. (The two are played by Adrien Brody and Nick Stahl, respectively, in Terrence Malick’s 1998 film adaptation.) It’s a pretty in-depth exploration of one of the realities of war that American mothers and housewives at the time maybe didn’t want to face: Their men had needs.
What could a guy do? Nothing, that was what … Unless guys helped each other out now and then. It was either that, or find yourself a queer cook or baker someplace, or it was nothing. Guys could help each other out, Bead supposed.
“Well, what do you say?” he said cheerfully. “Shall we help each other out?” I’ll do it to you if you’ll do it to me.”
Bead, finding that he was not rebuffed, now became more confident in his voice and in his salesmanship. Apparently it made no difference to him and did not worry him that he was suggesting something homosexual … As he started to crawl over to Fife’s side of the little tent he stopped and said: “I just dont want you to think I’m no queer, or nothing like that.”
“Well, dont you get the idea I am, either,” Fife had answered.
2. Justin McLeod, The Man Without a Face
The title character in Mel Gibson’s directorial debut, also played by Gibson, was originally gay in Isabelle Holland’s 1972 novel. “The fact that the (McLeod) character was gay was prohibitive in selling the book,” Holland’s book agent Lisa Callamaro told the Los Angeles Times in 1993.
3. Pussy Galore, Goldfinger
Ian Fleming’s seventh 007 book has Pussy Galore running an outfit of lesbian cat burglars. In the third James Bond film of the same name, actress Honor Blackman’s Bond girl has a far more suppressed sexual orientation. (Her character’s hair is also switched from brunette to blonde.) Although in both the novel and the movie, Bond has no issue proving his own heterosexuality by forcing himself on her in a barn. Fleming’s novel suggests his super spy holds enough sexual prowess to make any gay woman hop the fence.
4. Don Birnam, The Lost Weekend
Billy Wilder’s character study of Don Birnam, a failed writer turned alcoholic, swept the Academy Awards in 1946, winning Best Picture, Director (Wilder), Actor (Ray Milland) and Screenplay (Wilder, Charles Brackett). But author Charles Jackson didn’t connect the boozing to a losing career in publishing. In his ranty novel, Birnam tormented himself over memories from his adolescence.
Excerpted from “Part Two: The Wife” in Jackson’s novel:
When, at what time, had he deliberately ignored the responsibility and opportunity that beckoned him? Oh, he could put his finger on a dozen such moments … Some were more revealing than others; one he would never forget.
What went on between them in the carriage-sheds back of the Presbyterian Church, several afternoons a week, in the backseat of an abandoned carriage that hadn’t been used for years—used for anything but this …
5. Paul Varjak, Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Screenwriter George Axelrod updated Truman Capote’s WWII-Era novella to fit into 1961 Manhattan. “Nothing really happened in the book,” the scribe has been widely quoted. “All we had was this glorious girl—a perfect part for Audrie Hepburn. What we had to do was devise a story, get a central romantic relationship, and make the hero a red-blooded heterosexual.”
George Peppard’s leading man in Blake Edwards’ silver screen classic was hardly the same love interest on celluloid as he was in Capote’s text. In section 16 of the novella, Holly Golightly (played by Audrey Hepburn on film) referred to him as a “Maude”—which was understood in the gay underworld at the time as slang for male prostitute.
6. Rorschach, Watchmen
Writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons’ archetypical Batman character had a soft spot for his partner in crime, Nite Owl, although it was never explicit (it is, however, the subject of much fan speculation). In the movie version, there simply was no time for the love that dare not speak its name, even though it was only whispered in the comics at best.
7. Ruth Jamison, Fried Green Tomatoes
Fannie Flagg’s 1987 novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe has a pretty clear-cut intimate relationship defined between Ruth and Idgie. The 1991 movie? Zilch. Flagg’s screenplay has Ruth (Mary-Louise Parker) hung up on the deceased Buddy Threadgoode (Chris O’Donnell).
8. Ben, Ben-Hur
As far as his Hollywood career went, Gore Vidal had a reputation for taking liberties with original source material. When it came to the chariot epic starring Charlton Heston, the historian made an exact effort at finding a romantic connection in Lew Wallace’s 1880 manuscript between the title character and his friend Messala (Stephen Boyd in the 1959 film). According to a letter Vidal received from Heston, he and director William Wyler roundly rejected the loose interpretation from Lew Wallace’s 1880 manuscript. Ben stayed as straight as they could make him in a sandal drama.
9. Brick Pollitt, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Another Hollywood alcoholic inexplicably drowned in his own sorrows. Brick (Paul Newman) grieves the loss of his friend Skipper, who committed suicide, and won’t sleep with his wife Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor). He just drinks whiskey on the rocks and leaves Maggie to wonder how she’s “gone through this horrible transformation.” But Tennessee Williams’s play remains ambiguous, pushing its audience to raise questions about Brick’s sexuality.
10. Celie Johnson, The Color Purple
Steven Spielberg’s 1985 Oscar bait let Celie (Whoopi Goldberg) and Shug (Margaret Avery) steal a smooch which Goldberg characterized as “about love and tenderness … It has nothing to do with lesbianism. It has to do with, her eyes are opened, now she understands.” Alice Walker’s epistolary novel takes the pair way further than a kiss.
11. Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter
People just know he’s gay because J.K. Rowling said so, but it’s not really in the text.
12. Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln
This one’s a bit of a stretch, but biographer Carl Sandburg famously wrote in 1926 that the 16th president had “a streak of lavender, and spots soft as May violets” in specific reference to the connection between Lincoln and his roommate Joshua Speed. The details of the Illinois boys’ relationship have been highly contested for years, although last month Lincoln screenwriter Tony Kushner stated in an interview that, after the six years he spent working on the script for Steven Spielberg, “there is some reason to speculate that Lincoln might have been bisexual or gay.”
Kushner left that part out. “I find it difficult to believe that Lincoln was [with] anybody,” during that time, Kushner said, because the president was likely “ground to a pulp by the war and by the pressures of his job.”
INTERVIEW, CITED ABOVE, WITH TONY KUSHNER: