Partner James Whale, buried together
4565 Dundee Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90027, USA
788 Amalfi Dr, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272, USA
Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks & Mortuaries, 1712 S Glendale Ave, Glendale, CA 91205, Stati Uniti
David Lewis (14 December 1903 in Trinidad, Colorado – 13 March 1987 in Los Angeles) was a prominent Hollywood film producer in the 1940s and 1950s, who produced such films as Dark Victory (1939), Arch of Triumph (1948), and Raintree County (1957). He worked for Warner Brothers, Paramount and M-G-M and was elected a vice president of Enterprise Productions, Inc. in 1946. James Whale and Lewis were an obvious couple. They rented a Mediterranean-style house at 4565 Dundee Drive, in the Loz Feliz area of Los Angeles. At one point Lewis' agent, Phil Berg, asked him if he "had" to live with Jimmy Whale. Lewis' response: "I don't have to. I want to."
David Lewis was born David Levy in 1903 in Trinidad, CO, the second son of Russian Jewish immigrants. His father, Phan Levy, was a real-estate and insurance salesman, arriving in the US in 1892 and crisscrossing the country from Utah to Colorado and finally to Seattle, where the family settled when David was about five. They were middle class but on the edge: in Seattle they lived in a neighborhood of civil engineers, business managers, and laborers. In addition, the Levys, like the Greenbergs in Connecticut, were the only Jews, and Phan Levy's fierce determination to succeed should be understood within this context.
After graduation from the University of Washington, Lewis headed to New York and enrolled in the American Laboraty Theater on 57th Street, presided over by Richard Boleslawsky. One of Lewis' acting teachers was the great Maria Ouspenskaya. If success on the stage was measured by looks alone, David should have become a big star. In 1928, after a few parts onstage, he came down with a severe bronchial affection that impaired his voice. He moved to California to recover and managed to get a job as an assistant to producer Bud Lighton at Paramount. It wasn't long before story editor Eddie Montagne nabbed him for other duties. "Montagne said I had done the best synopses he had ever seen and had the best story mind that you could ever imagine," Lewis remembered. Promoted to script supervisor, he developed an expertise on "how stories were formed and what the essence of story was."
Lewis met James Whale soon afterward, during the director's brief tenure at Paramount. Lewis, just 25, enjoyed playing tour guide to the older man, then 40, who was dazzled by California and the film colony. Whale was even more smitten with Lewis himself, although their romance seems not to have started immediately. After Whale left Paramount for Universal, they stayed in touch, and quite soon had fallen in love. By 1931 they were living together in Loz Feliz, and in 1937 bought a house on Amalfi Drive. Whale and Lewis held on to the tradition of same-sex cohabitation that had been fairly common in the 1920s and early 1930s, but largely abandoned by the middle part of the decade.
At MGM, Lewis was an associate producer, working under Irving Thalberg, whose own influence on all of his production was, of course, undeniable. But Thalberg left to his associates many of the fine details, one of which, for Camille, demonstrates the formative role producers like Lewis could play. Not only did Lewis suggested Zoe Akins for the script, but he provided the necessary direction to make the story relevant to modern audiences. "We have to live within the mores of the day," Thalberg told Lewis. "Audiences will think Armand is an awful little prig if his life can be ruined by marriage to Marguerite." Lewis supplied the solution. "It isn't a question of his life being ruined by her past," he said, after giving the matter some thought. "It's a question of his jealousy ruining his life."
Considering the work of classic Hollywood's gay directors and gay producers, a small but vital subset of the studio system, suggests "queer cinema" might not be such a modern postulate. Occasionally, a convergence of director, producer, writer, and star came together, such as happened with Camille (1937). The gay writer DeWitt Bodeen said that Camille "represents a meeting of talents that were perfect for its interpretation." In fact, wags like to call the picture a rare "all-gay" studio production, and in some ways it comes close: producer David Lewis, director George Cukor, screenwriter Zoe Akins. Greta Garbo, too, and Mercedes de Acosta had a hand in the early draft of the script before Akins took over. Robert Taylor, who played a stunningly beautiful Armand, was rumored to be having an affair with the film's set decorator, Jack Moore. There was also Adrian on costumes and Sydney Guilaroff doing hair. Rex O'Malley infused his Gaston with a natural feyness, a quality perhaps intended by Cukor and Akins, and another gay actor, Rex Evans, played several bit parts. ("Who is that big man and what part is he playing?" Garbo asked Cukor. "That man is Rex Evans," the director replied, "and he's playing the part of a friend who needs a job.") Cukor also manuevered the hiring of another friend, and another gay man, as the picture's true art director, supplanting the ubiquitous Cedric Gibbons, whose contract nonetheless decreed screen credit. This was Oliver Messel, esteemed scenic and costume designer from the London stage, whose outsider status evoked suspicion in the competitive world of the Hollywood studios. It wasn't Messel's first encounter with the studio bureaucracy; in 1935, during the filming of Romeo and Juliet, Cukor had caused a near war by insisting Messel design the costumes instead of Adrian, whom Cukor, according to several friends, viewed as pompous and pretentious. Cukor, as discreet as he was, never tried to obfuscate either his Jewishness or his gayness in the way Adrian did. "I get annoyed with statements that call George "closeted",", said his longtime friend and Los Angeles Times film critic Kevin Thomas. "George was never closeted. He never pretended to be anything he wasn't. He lived according to the rules of his time, that's all."
Working with Irving Thalberg had onviously left a lasting influence on his view of filmmaking. When he worked with directors and writers he admired, a harmony would occur, resulting in films of lasting impact that trascended mere studio product. Camille, of course, but others, too, after he'd left Metro and moved over to Warner Bros.: Each Dawn I Die (1939) and King's Row (1942). It's interesting to note that three of his most successful films, Camille, Dark Victory, and Frenchman's Creek, were made with gay directors. On Dark Victory, Edmund Goulding was appreciative of Lewis' input, one more queer confluence on a film that has become an enduring part of the gay canon. But he clashed with Mitchell Leisen on Frenchman's Creek (1944). In his memoirs, Lewis wrote he went into the picture disliking both Leisen and his work: "A former art director, Leisen was much more interested in the costuming and decor and spent days in the wardrobe department sewing chain mail on the costumes."
In the 1940s one of his friends was the young screenwriter Arthur Laurents, who, like Lewis, shared his home with another man, the actor Farley Granger. "I became friendly with Lewis," Laurents recalled, "and I was surprised at how scared he was. He lived in mortal terror of someone finding out that he was gay when of course, everyone knew. It was fear of not doing the right thing or messing up the image, I suppose."
There are other suggestions that Lewis may have felt this way: his archedback reaction to Whale being called a "queen" ("He wasn't a fairy," he insisted, "he was a man"), and his subtle disdain for George Cukor's crowd. Although friendly during Camille and an occasional dinner guest of Cukor's, Lewis "did not particularly like the atmosphere" at Cukor's house. "There was a lot of gossip and chitchat, and I hate that," he said. "I probably said something to George, because he always said thereafter that I was a square."
There's also Lewis' claim to have nearly married Norma Shearer after the death of Irving Thalberg. He wrote that they had an affair (curiosly, a number of Hollywood homosexuals would claim affairs with Shearer, including Eugene O'Brien and William Haines) and that Whale worried he was going to lose him. But it didn't happen: as Lewis would write to a friend, "It had become completely impossible to untangle the web that life had spun around Jimmy and me."
As Whale's career declined, Lewis assumed more and more responsability for him, calling his daily worries about Jimmy "monumental." By the late 1940s, however, Lewis was having his own career problems, facing a massive depression following the failure of Arch of Triumph (1948). Lewis didn't work for 7 years. When Whale suddenly indulged a midlife attraction to a much younger man, Lewis move out of their Amalfi Drive home.
Still, their bond was never really broken. Lewis continued to visit, and when Whale committed suicide in 1957 by jumping headfirst into his swimming pool, it was Lewis who was called and Lewis who took charge of arrangements. He hid Whale's suicide not for many years, not wanting his lover's memory shamed. Whale was cremated per his request and his ashes were interred in the Columbarium of Memory at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale. When David Lewis died in 1987, his executor and Whale biographer James Curtis had his ashes interred in a niche across from Whale's.
Lewis was portrayed in the 1998 film Gods and Monsters by David Dukes.
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