Double Life: A Love Story from Broadway to Hollywood
Gay marriage is at the forefront of America’s political battles. The human story at the center of this debate is told in Double Life: A Love Story, a dual memoir by a gay male couple in a 50 plus year relationship. With high profiles in the entertainment, advertising and art communities, the authors offer a
Gay marriage is at the forefront of America’s political battles. The human story at the center of this debate is told in Double Life: A Love Story, a dual memoir by a gay male couple in a 50 plus year relationship. With high profiles in the entertainment, advertising and art communities, the authors offer a virtual timeline of how gay relationships have gained acceptance in the last half-century. At the same time, they share inside stories from film, television and media featuring the likes of Marlon Brando, Katharine Hepburn, Rock Hudson, Barbra Streisand, Laurence Olivier, Truman Capote, Bette Davis, Robert Redford, Lee Radziwill and Frances Lear.
“We both grew up at a time when homosexuality was not even spoken about,” the couple writes. “There were certainly no books that could help a young person understand that two people of the same sex could build a happy, productive and loving life together. When we entered our 50th year, another same sex couple told us we were ‘an inspiration’, so we began to feel we had the responsibility to make what we’ve experienced available to others. We also wanted to show people who were not gay that our life was not unlike theirs. We are all pretty much the same, so we deserve equal protection under the Constitution.”
Alan Shayne retired as President of Warner Brothers Television in 1986, following a career that included Broadway, playing opposite Lena Horne and spanned forty years. As a leading casting director, he worked on such films as Catch 22, All the President’s Men and many others. At Warner Brothers, he shepherded such long-running television series as Alice, Night Court and The Dukes of Hazard.
Norman Sunshine was a successful magazine illustrator in New York who went on to be a painter and sculptor whose works are in museums and in important collections. In the early years of his career, he was vice president, creative director of an advertising agency, and coined the phrase, “What Becomes a Legend Most?” as well as “Danskins are not just for Dancing.” He interrupted his painting career when Frances Lear asked him to spearhead Lear’s Magazine in the 1980s.
Upon the two men meeting in New York in 1958, “We didn’t want to live together,” says Shayne. “We didn’t have any examples of what a good love relationship between two men could be. And there was always the problem of hiding so no one would know we were gay. There was no question that if I were known to be gay, living with another man, it would make it more difficult for me to get work as an actor.”
As an artist, Sunshine was able to maintain a moderately out lifestyle. But when the first exhibition of his paintings in New York brought on a profile in The New York Times in 1968, he was photographed in the apartment that he admitted sharing with Shayne. At both his advertising agency and Shayne’s television production company, the article was met with absolute silence.
Even in the 1970s, when Sunshine won an Emmy for the graphics and title design he had created for one of Shayne’s television productions, “Alan and I agreed it was not a good idea for us to be seen together at an industry event,” he remembers. “Alan, after all, was one of the very few homosexuals who had such a powerful, high profile job, and who lived openly with a man. Homophobia had its adherents and some ruthless climber up the executive ladder would certainly love an opportunity to use it…’Better to be seen with a woman,’ we were advised by a very trusted friend, ‘Makes everyone more comfortable.’”
Happily, in 2008, the State of Massachusetts allowed the opportunity for the couple to be married on a beach in Nantucket. “We were like a long, empty, closed-up house where the windows have just been opened,” writes Shayne. “The fresh air thrilled through us, and after years of only being who we were in the privacy of our homes or with a few friends, we were out in the world, under the sky, no longer pretending. We were at last free.”
Double Life is a trip through the entertainment world and a gay partnership in the latter half of the 20th century. As more and more same sex couples find it possible to say “I do,” the book serves as an important document of how far we’ve come.