The Golden Age of Hollywood brought a number of blockbuster movies that would change the industry forever. movies like The Wizard of Oz at Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the number of films produced by Hollywood studios was high and, more impressively, the quality of said films was equally high. Although this has diminished over the years, it has set the bar for future films to meet certain standards in terms of content and overall quality of form.
While LGBTQ+ representation may seem like a new concept in the media, the truth is that LGBTQ+ representation has been around for decades, albeit heavily censored. For example, the character of Alex in The womenwas supposed to be lesbian, according to the stage set, but the studio unfortunately changed that in the film. That being said, there are a number of LGBTQ+ characters spread throughout classic Hollywood — here are eight movies from that era that feature LGBTQ+ characters.
8 Christina – Queen Christina
Inspired by the real Queen Christina of Sweden, Greta Garbo plays the real bisexual royal in queen christina. While the film’s main plot revolves around Christina refusing to be forced into marriage and running away just to end up falling in love with a Spanish envoy, queen christina shows a lot of queer subtext. From Garbo wearing pants to kissing women, this old Hollywood character has been a stepping stone to LGBTQ+ representation of women in movies. Many of the interactions between the women, especially the more intimate encounters, throughout the film were inspired by the American theatrical performance of Madchen in uniform.
seven TE Lawrence — Lawrence of Arabia
Whereas Lawrence of Arabia broke ground for Hollywood as a great epic in Technicolor, there’s more to the film than meets the eye. Lawrence of Arabia is strung with plenty of queer subtext surrounding the nature of the relationship between TE Lawrence and Sheriff Ali. While Lawrence’s sexuality has remained ambiguous over the years, director David Lean has admitted to instructing Peter O’Toole to play the character as gay. This may come as a surprise to some older audiences, but it just goes to show that the LGBTQ+ community has always strived to be more represented, however subtle its presence.
6 Martha – Children’s Hour
In children’s time, a young student accuses two teachers of having a lesbian relationship at an all-girls school. With Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine, children’s time is a true testament to the past discrimination of the LGBTQ+ community as the ladies’ friendship becomes strained and their school enrollment dwindles due to gossip. Despite all of this, MacLaine’s character, Martha, is forced to come to terms with her feelings for Hepburn’s character, Karen, knowing that those feelings can get them into even more trouble. This classic film shows both sides of the story in a more uncensored light than was previously allowed on screen.
5 Jo – Walk on the wild side
Walk on the wild side revolves around a Texan Dove Linkhorn (Laurence Harvey) and his companion Kitty (played by Jane Fonda) who find Dove’s long-lost love, Hallie, working at a brothel in New Orleans. When Dove tries to lure Hallie (Capucine) away from the brothel, the brothel’s aggressive Madame Jo (Barbara Stanwyck) isn’t ready to let Hallie go. Jo’s attachment to Hallie may seem like just an employer unwilling to lose one of their best, but it goes much deeper than that. Jo may be in love with Hallie and although it’s never explicitly revealed, the subtext offers us a lot to understand about Jo’s feelings for Hallie.
4 Jerry – Some Like It Hot
While trying to escape the Mafia, Jerry and Joe dress up as women to join an all-female gang. Some like it hot was one of the first films to show men disguising themselves as women to evade capture. While the film also stars Marilyn Monroe alongside Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, the film opened the eyes of viewers around the world to consider the two perform in drag without shame. Jerry is hilariously chased by a millionaire who truly believes he’s a woman. Lemmon’s phenomenal performance as a man disguised as a woman even earned him an Oscar nomination.
3 Amy Jolly – Morocco
Morocco is a classic starring Marlene Dietrich as Amy Jolly, dressed in a tuxedo, traditionally worn by men. Throughout the film, Amy can be seen courting both men and women, giving the audience a quick glimpse into the world of bisexuality. In addition to this, Amy wears pants for most of the film, an unusual occurrence at the time of the film’s release. Morocco solidified Dietrich as a star in Hollywood by emphasizing her insistence on wearing pants as well as her habit of bending socially constructed concepts of gender into every role she takes on.
2 Mrs. Danvers – Rebecca
Rebecca is an Alfred Hitchcock classic that revolves around the story of the new Mrs. De Winter, who must try to live up to the standards of former mistress Rebecca. If Mrs. De Winter already has a hard time managing her husband’s secrets, she must also face the disapproval of Mrs. Danvers, Rebecca’s former servant who refuses to accept a new mistress. In this psychological thriller, Mrs. Danvers forces new Mrs. De Winter to live like her former mistress, conjuring up memories to keep Rebecca alive. Mrs. Danvers’ obsession with turning the new Mrs. De Winter into Rebecca shows the nature of her relationship with Rebecca, which obviously went much deeper than just friendship.
1 Theodora – The Haunting
The haunting tells the story of an anthropologist, Dr. John Markway, who takes two psychically special women to a supposedly haunted mansion called “Hill House”. Eccentric Eleanor and ESP titular Theodora are immediately overwhelmed by the strange things happening in the mansion. The character of Theodora is a more obvious representation of the LGBTQ+ community as her relationship with Eleanor becomes much closer than it should be. There are even implications Schuyler might have a girlfriend back home. On top of that, Schuyler is not seen as a lowly bachelor when she admits to being single, but is instead seen as a capable woman who can take care of herself.