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With secrecy and the fear of discovery still engulfing gay actors in 2011, is it any wonder that the career – and life – of the entirely closeted Dirk Bogarde was a conundrum and a contradiction?Actress Glynis Johns, a contemporary most famous as the suffragette mother in Mary Poppins, tartly observed, "I never believed more than one sentence of what Dirk wrote." She should know: she was once married to Tony Forwood who had divorced her and subsequently lived with Bogarde as his "manager" for almost 40 years. Born in 1921, for his first 46 years homosexuality was against the law.Posthumously, the man behind the painstakingly maintained mask was uncovered in home movies and commentaries from family and friends in a BBC documentary The Private Dirk Bogarde (2001) and John Coldstream's biography.The great irony of Bogarde's position, however, is that no other screen actor has given such affecting and extraordinarily powerful gay performances.Even now, the industry regards playing gay as being potentially career-damaging, an act so "brave" that your Oscar virtually comes with the contract – step forward William Hurt for Kiss of the Spiderwoman (1985), Tom Hanks for Philadelphia (1993), Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote (2005), Sean Penn for Milk (2008).Probably the only reason Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal didn't win for Brokeback Mountain was that their dual presence cancelled one another out. Take Sir Ian Mc Kellen and Rupert Everett out of the picture and now try naming another out gay male movie star. All that from a man who as early as 1958 was the biggest draw at the British box office – pulling bigger audiences than Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn and Elvis Presley. " The laugh that gets in Douglas Carter Beane's 2006 play The Little Dog Laughed reveals its truth. A seriously handsome, bona fide star who had made 35 films by the age of 40, Bogarde was both British and knighted and made more arrestingly bold choices than any actor of his generation, taking name-above-the-title roles in The Servant and Accident with Joseph Losey, Death in Venice and The Damned for Luchino Visconti, The Night Porter for Liliana Cavani, Providence for Alain Resnais and Despair for Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
In the central scene – whose dialogue was rewritten to more explicit effect by Bogarde himself – Farr is confronted by his distressed wife (played by Sylvia Syms).
Regardless of the authenticity – or lack thereof – of those performances by straight actors, they pale beside the still astonishing impact of Bogarde's shockingly truthful performance back in 1961 as a barrister embroiled in a secret gay affair in Victim.
Bogarde plays married barrister Melville Farr who discovers that a blackmailed young man who loved him has hanged himself in police custody rather than reveal their relationship.
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