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Anderson Lawler (May 5, 1902 – April 6, 1959) was an American film and stage actor and producer, who had a career lasting from the 1920s through the 1950s. He began on Broadway, before moving to featured and supporting roles in Hollywood over a ten-year career at the very beginning of the talking picture era. After the end of his acting career, Lawler would move to the production end of the film industry, as well as becoming a producer of legitimate theater in the late 1940s and 1950s.
Lawler was born Sidney Anderson Lawler on May 5, 1902, in Russellville, Alabama, to Earnest H. and Dona C. Lawler. He was named after his maternal grandfather, a captain in the Confederate army. He attended both the University of Alabama and Washington and Lee University, where he was a member of the glee clubs. At Washington and Lee, he became friendly with Jesse Lydell Peck, director of the Dramatic Club, and later the first husband of Janet Gaynor. After graduation, Lawler's theatrical aspirations led him to Fritz Leiber's company, with whom he toured in "Everyman."
Prior to 1927, Lawler moved to New York City, and changed his professional name to Anderson. He walked right past the theater doorman and into actor Basil Sidney's dressing room. Lawler always had a knack for finding well-placed and often homosexual friends. He became close with the dancer Ted Shawn, who'd also boosted Mitchell Leisen's career. By the late 1920s, Lawler was a member of George Cukor's stock company in Rochester, NY, playing the leads in several productions. There were also parts on Broadway.
In 1927 he had a featured role in the Broadway production Her First Affaire, which premiered at the Nora Bayes Theatre in August 1927. In early 1929 he moved to Los Angeles, where he began his career in the film industry. Lawler hooked up with old friend Lydell Peck, then an assistant director to Cecil B. DeMille. Peck helped him get a contract at Paramount. His first role would be in 1929's River of Romance. In his second film, Half-Marriage (1929), Lawler's character jumps to his death from an apartment window in distress over losing Oliver Borden.
At this time he started a relationship with Gary Cooper. In letters to his mother in Virginia, Lawler wrote of slipping away with Cooper to Catalina Island for the weekend, a break from the studio and Gary's volatile girlfriend, Lupe Velez. It would just be the two of them. Just the guys. Yet Lawler sounded like a schoolgirl. Cooper was "a fine boy," he wrote, assuming his mother she'd like him. He described their idyll on the island, scaling a mountain, sitting shoulder to shoulder and looking down at "the sea as blue as the sky."
Lawler was in love with Gary Cooper. In one scrapbook Lawler pasted pictures of Cooper carefully cut from fan magazines. Beside them is mounted every clipping mentioning the two of them together, along with every photograph and every telegram Gary ever sent him, all carefully pasted and preserved.
A few months before their Cataline excursion, Lawler had moved in with Cooper at 7511 Franklin Avenue, just a few blocks down from Zoe Akins and Jobyna Howland. Andy and Zoe were tight: she would always be on the lookout for parts for him in her plays and films.
Michael Pearman, close with Cole Porter and George Cukor, recalled coming to Hollywood in 1929 for a party at William Haines' showplace home on North Stanley Drive and seeing Anderson Lawler and Gary Cooper there together. Other friends corroborate, recalling the stories Haines would tell of the It Boy mixing with his crowd. Certainly Cooper wasn't blind to the impression he was creating by consorting with Lawler. "Andy Lawler was probably the best-known homosexual in Hollywood during that time," said Robert Wheaton, who knew Lawler through Cukor.
Lawler and Cooper met in mid-1929, soon after Lawler's arrival on the Paramount lot. Lawler was witty, erudite, and free with the bottle. With sandy hair that was thinning prematurely, he was cute rather than handsome, a freckle-faced puck with blue eyes. Cooper was then filming Betrayal with Emil Jannings. Lawler, strolling by, evinced fascination with Cooper's charcoal drawings of Jannings and Esther Ralston, and asked the star if he could see his other work. That night Cooper took Lawler home to show him his etchings. They became inseparable. For The Virginian, Cooper needed to adopt a Southern accent, so he asked the Alabama-born Anderson Lawler to coach him. When Gary decided it was time to move out of his parents' home, Lupe Velez suggested they move in together. But instead he decided to get his own place, and Lawler moved in with him.
After Cooper became an American icon, the facts of his relationship with Anderson Lawler were denied, ignored, and then forgotten. What stories survived mutated into tales of an older, wealthy homosexual who "kept" Cooper in the early days. In these accounts, Cooper was not the homosexual himself, but rather an ambitious boy consenting to reap the benefits of his patron's influence, as so many straight actors have done troughout Hollywood history.
But Anderson Lawler was neither wealthy nor influential; if anything, it was Cooper (the far biggest star) who gave the boost to Lawler's career, not the other way around. When Lawler took a part in the ironically named play "Let Us Be Gay," (William Haines wired him for the L.A. premiere, "Now that Duse is dead, you are supreme"), the press items hyped the show by touting Lawler's "leisure time hunting with Gary Cooper... They have a joint collection of stuffed birds of prey."
The two friends had pet nicknames for each other: Lawler called Cooper "Jamey", and Cooper called Lawler "Nin". On nights Cooper wasn't out with Lupe Velez, he and Lawler attended the theater and concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. "Touched that you use your first moment of leisure to write me, thought I was forgotten," Cooper wired to Lawler on August 2, 1929. Cooper was in Hollywood, Lawler on the East Coast for a play. "It will be nice to see you again. So far I never approved of long-term contracts. Don't worry. G." On September 4, an attempt at reassurance of some kind: "Thanks for the nice letter," Cooper wrote to Lawler at the Biltmore Hotel in Providence. "Sorry you think I turned out bad. Will write. Love, G." A month later, it's Cooper who's on the road, writing Lawler on October 23, 1929, at the home they shared: "Flying to Tampa, arrive tomorrow. Let me know dope if any. Be home next week, old sock. Gary."
Their family did know about the relationship, said Lawler's relatives, and at least some believed it to be sexual. "Andy's brother Ernest knew," a nephew said. "Well, he knew what Andy told him. In his last years, he revealed a lot to me. I think he felt that he had an obligation to pass on certain bits of "historical" data and I seemed to be the only one interested at the time."
A blind item, clearly placed by press agents, follows up interestingly on itself, saying Gary Cooper and Lupe Velez "are more "that way" than ever," perhaps to reassure fans skeptical of the "chumming" with Lawler. The item then immediately segues to Lawler and Nils Asther sunbathing "stag" on the Hollywood Athletic Club roof. Perhaps, an in-joke from a scribe who knew more than he let on.
By the middle of 1930 Lawler was freelancing: his dreams of fortune and fame were not to be. He and Cooper would remain friendly, but Lawler moved out of "Jamey's" and into George Cukor's. Soon after, Cooper quarreled with Velez and with his parents, then suffered a breakdown. His weight dropped from 180 to 148 pounds. Blaming it on overwork, the studio sent him to Europe to recover. There Cooper met the considerably older Countess Dorothy di Frasso, one of Hollywood's most delicious hostesses. He'd return to screenland several months later on the countess' arm, her very public gigolo.
After being let go by Paramount, Lawler's friend George Cukor gave him a spritely part in Girls About Town, but all that led to were friendships with starts Lilyan Tashman and Kay Francis. By 1932 he was doing just walk-ons, but it didn't matter, for Lawler became Hollywood's most reliable "walker," escorting Kay Francis, Ina Claire, Zoe Akins, Ilka Chase, Hedda Hopper, Ruth Chatterton, Marlene Dietrich, Paulette Goddard, Constance Bennet, even the Countess di Frasso, after Cooper dumped her. Studio heads entrusted their wives to him: "He was considered "very safe,"" remembered Joseph Mankiewicz. One of Lawler's most frequent dates, and a close friend, was Virginia Zanuck, wife of Darryl Zanuck of 20th Century-Fox. Mrs B.P. Schulberg, also a fan, was delighted by Lawler's backgammon game. In her column, Louella Parsons called Lawler "the backgammon champion of Malibu Beach," but said he "denies he is thinking of giving lessons."
Flipping through his scrapbooks is a walk through gay Hollywood: he arrives with Zoe Akins and Kay Francis at a party thrown by Lilyan Tashman and Edmund Lowe, and at another with Francis, William Haines, and Edmund Goulding. He welcomes David Manners back to Hollywood with George Cukor. Zoe Akins telegrams from New York asking him to give George her love and to "kiss all the supervisors for me." Lilyan Tashman writes to George Cukor, asking if he's seen "Ilk and Zoo and Andy" and to give them all her love. The Hollywood Reporter notes that, after a luncheon at Mrs. B.P. Schulberg's, the "sophisticated" clique headed to Lawler's for dinner: Ina Claire, Jobyna Howland, Tom Douglas. At a Countess Dorothy di Frasso gala, Lawler arrives with Kay Francis, Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant, and the Earl of Warwick (rumored lover of Edmund Goulding). He poses with Dietrich as part of her clique of "male admirers"; among the other gathered around her, Goulding and his handsome earl. In one notable clip in Lawler's scrapbook, we get a near-panoramic snapshop of gay Hollywood, circa 1932: "Greta Garbo and Mercedes de Acosta, well-known New York authoress, attending a performance at the Filmarte Theater. Sitting in the same row on the same night: Ina Claire, Anderson Lawler, George Cukor, and Lylian Tashman. Glimpsed at the same theather: Marlene Dietrich, her husband, her daughter, and Josef von Sternberg, all dressed in tailored white flannel suits."
In 1938, Lawler resided at 1801 Angelo Drive in Beverly Hills, CA. While in Hollywood, he appeared in almost thirty films during this time, mostly in supporting roles, before moving behind the scenes in 1939. In 1941 Lawler worked for Sam Jaffee's talent agency, and had a Beverly Hills residential address of 8439 Sunset Boulevard, where he lived as a lodger of the actor Louis Mason.
Aside from his professional career, he was also popular with many Hollywood actors including William Haines, George Cukor, Gary Cooper and Katharine Hepburn. Lawler produced the 1946 film, Somewhere in the Night, which was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and starred John Hodiak, Nancy Guild, and Lloyd Nolan. Lee Strasberg adapted the screenplay, and was an assistant director on the project. Shortly after this, both Lawler and Strasberg were transferred to the New York office of Twentieth Century-Fox. Lawler and Strasberg had a close friendship, Lawler becoming the Godfather of Strasberg's daughter, Susan Strasberg. In New York, Lawler worked in Fox's talent department, but he also began a second career as a producer of legitimate theater. At least one of those plays, Oh Men, Oh Women, would be turned into a film by Fox in 1957.
Lawler was gay, although he was frequently linked with women. In 1934 he accompanied Kay Francis on a trip to Europe, ostensibly sent by the studios to keep her out of trouble. At one point, Walter Winchell started a rumor that the two were engaged. Lawler told the writer George Eells that while they were in London, Kay, roaring drunk and totally nude, walked into his hotel room and declared, "I'm not a star, I'm a woman, and I want to get fucked." Asked by Eells how he "handled the crisis," Lawler replied: "I earned my ten thousand dollars."
Lawler purchased Donald L. Linder's house in West Hollywood, California, designed in the Streamline Moderne style by architect Edward B. Rust. When he moved to New York City, he rented it to actors Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. Lawler seems to have owned the house from about 1940 until 1955. It seems likely that Lawler did not live in the house but bought it as a rental investment, allowing Sam Jaffee's clients to use it for various periods of time. On April 6, 1959, Lawler died suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart attack. He was buried in the Spring Hill Cemetery, Lynchburg, VA.
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