Many things happened in 1941Pearl Harbor was attacked, the Wonder Woman comic began publication and Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn in for his third term as U.S. president.
It was also a pivotal year for Alan Shayne, 94, an openly gay man who started in the entertainment field as an actor ( eventually landing on Broadway ) and who later became president of Warner Brothers Television. In The Rain May Pass, Shayne looks back on being 15 in Massachusettsa year when he embarked on same-sex experiences and found his first love.
Windy City Times: Before we discuss your book, I have a general question: Many feel that Hollywood is a bastion of liberalism, although there still seem to be some lavender relationships and marriages happening. What do you think?
Alan Shayne: [Laughs] I don't know. I tell you that we [Shayne and longtime partner Norman Sunshine] lived happily there. Everybody knew we were gay, certainly, and we lived openly.
When I took over the television division at Warner Brothers, they said they were going out of business and they just wanted someone to finish it off. I didn't really realize that, so I made it successfulbut then people tried to offer [the position] to other people and we went through a whole list. One day I said, "What about me? I really did it all." The problem for them was that I was gay; they weren't homophobic, but they felt that a gay man couldn't hang with the old-boys network, going to basketball games and things like that. So things weren't as open then as they are now. Actors can be in gay relationships now, openly.
Some may be in sham relationships, but that's a holdover from the past. I guess if you're a romantic actor, they want you to have everybody [as fans]. You know all the stories about Rock [Hudson] and how he was married; well, I married a woman [actress Mary Fickett].
WCT: So, as Warner Brothers president, you were a trailblazer.
AS: [Pauses] Yes. I didn't mean to be, but I guess I was.
Going back to your first question, actors have been primarily Democrats. John Wayne wasn't and some other stars weren't, but generally they were [Democrats]. Many of them came from nothingand I think if you come from nothing, you tend to be more liberal and more Democratic. It's a theory I never thought of before but, in a way, it's true, you know?
WCT: What spurred you to write a memoir? I not sure that I ever could do such a thing.
AS: It meant so much to me; it was very important time in my life, and I kept going back to itand I thought it was a really good story. In fact, I started working on it years ago as a movie script. I worked for [director] Mike Nichols in those days, and he read the script I worked on, contacted me and said, "I love itlet's do it!" Then he never mentioned it again. [Laughs] I learned later in life that he expected me to go to the studios and sell it; well, I didn't have any contacts at that time.
Then, I tried to do it as a novel. Then I realized it was all true, so I wondered why I was hiding. So I decided to do it as a memoirand the reason you write a memoir is because you want to recapture the past, in a way, and figure out what happened. When I wrote it, I figured out why Roger [Shayne's first love] couldn't have a relationship with me: The age difference was incredible [Roger was 30 and Shayne was 15] and he knew it, even though I was all gung-ho.
By the way, it's very important for people to know this relationship wasn't abuse.
WCT: Did the age difference make you reluctant to write this memoir? I can see some people saying, "This older man took advantage of this young boy."
AS: One of the reasons I wrote it was to show there are young gays who can have relationships with older guys, although there are certainly terrible cases of abuse that do happen. In the memoir, I took a while to get to the love story with Roger to show a boy who was fascinated by something he didn't understand. This was 1941 and there was no internet; now, you can find out everything about someone. Also, there were no books and there was no Will & Grace. This young boy is exploring his own feelings. That's not abuse. By the way, people who read the book never talk of abuse; it's people who hear of the book who wonder if there was abuse. The book is about love.
WCT: Looking back at the time period this book covers, what did you learn about love?
AS: I learned that such a thing existsas well as that I could feel love and that someone could love me. However, I clearly didn't know about love. My parents weren't God-awful people, but they didn't really pay that much attention to me, either. Finally, someone came along who said, "You're wonderful," helped me grow and believed in me. That changed my whole life. When that ended, I was determined to find love again.
WCT: There's a point in the book when an actor wanted to have sex with you without loveand you didn't want that.
AS: No. As I grew older, I went through a period of sex without love, as many people do. But I believed strongly in love; I experienced it with Roger, and I thought that was what life is all about. I searched for love and I finally found itand we've been together for 62 years.
WCT: Sixty-two years?!? What's your secret?
AS: [Laughs] You decided what you want in life, and you go after it. It's not easy, but it's so rewarding. I'm very fortunate.
WCT: As an aside, there are a lot of interesting details in the memoir. For example, I had no idea that soy burgers existed back then.
AS: [Laughs] My father was crazy, impossible and unloving. He was actually a vegetarian and he died at age 100. My mother died at 92; he said, "If she had been a vegetarian, she would've lived longer." [Both laugh.]
WCT: I know you never spoke with Roger againbut you never heard anything about him from anyone else, either?
AS: No. I never heard from him again. I didn't know anyone who knew him, and I didn't remember the name of the city where his mother's farm was. But I realized, through writing the book, that he was protecting me by leaving mebut he gave me my dream of being an actor.
WCT: If you could reunite with Roger, what would you ask him?
AS: I think I would ask him why he never contacted me. Many people who have read the book have said, "GeeI wish I had a Roger in my life," so he's not a heavy. He was a good person.
WCT: Ultimately, what would you like readers to take from this book?
AS: I'd like them to understand gay people. I want them to understand us more. When we [Shayne and Sunshine] wrote [the dual memoir] Double Life in 2011, young gay people were killing themselves. It seemed that they felt they couldn't be in relationships, so I wanted people to know that our relationship was something they could have. With The Rain May Pass, it explains what a young gay person goes throughand you see a relationship where a young person is helped by an older man.
Once, our mother visited [Sunshine and myself] in our Connecticut house and she said to the handyman, "Isn't it wonderful that Alan and Norman have this friendship? It's like the Greeks of yore." [Interviewer laughs.] Everyone has a first love, and we learn through our loves and relationships.
The Rain May Pass is now available for purchase.