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Irving Rapper (16 January 1898 - 20 December 1999) was an English-born American film director. According to Scotty Bowers, who wrote the book Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars, Rapper was one of his clients. Plying his trade based out of a gas station on Hollywood Boulevard, beginning after World War II, Bowers set up same sex dates for such Hollywood luminaries as director George Cukor, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant and Rock Hudson, to name but a few.
Irving Rapper was born on January 16, 1898, in London, to a Jewish family and the only boy among five sisters. Rapper emigrated to the United States with the family, settling first in Boston, when he was ten. Uncertain of his future, Irving studied law at NYU and, concurrently, journalism at Columbia.
He became an actor and a stage director on Broadway whilst studying at New York University. His early connections came through a homosexual network. With pal Moss Hart, he went out in search of acting jobs; Guthrie McClintic allowed the inexperienced undergraduate to watch him direct. British producer Gilbert Miller, who would later direct the lesbian-sympathetic play "The Captive" on Broadway, hired Rapper to direct "The Animal Kingdom" and "The Late Christopher Bean" in both London and New York. In London he directed "Grand Hotel", always produced by Miller.
In 1936, he went to Hollywood, where he was hired by Warner Bros. as an assistant director and dialogue coach. He proved invaluable in translating and mediating for non-native English-speaking directors. According to the 1930s census he is living with Julius Evans, a theatre manager, listed as his partner. By the early-1940s, Rapper had metamorphosed into one of the hottest directors on the Warner Bros. lot.
Irving Rapper was an occasional guest at George Cukor's poolside parties; they shared several mutual friends.
He made his directing debut with the 1941 film Shining Victory, in which his friend Bette Davis appeared as a show of support for him. He would go on to direct her in four more films, Now, Voyager (1942), The Corn Is Green (1945), Deception (1946), and Another Man's Poison (1952). In later years, Rapper admitted that he found Davis very difficult to work with and that she would, "...hold the whole set hostage, stopping production for a day, because of her mood." "Irving Rapper seems to fit best the stereotype of the gat director," said Gavin Lambert, "with all his melodramas and star actresses. I know Bette Davis liked him because she was able to tell him what to do. And he didn't mind very much."
Rapper's film One Foot in Heaven (1941) was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Film.
His gayest film, and his masterpiece, remains Now, Voyager (1942). Few gay men fail to relate to Charlotte Vale, the sheltered, browbeaten ugly duckling who blossoms triumphantly when she discovers her true, beautiful inner self. Rapper sought the kind of fulfillment his heroine rejected. "He was a lonely man," said one friend, "always looking for love." Robert Wheaton, a young, handsome serviceman when he arrived in Hollywood in 1943, recalled being picked up while hitchhiking one day on Sunset Boulevard. Wheaton didn't know the driver, who took him up to a house in the Hollywood Hills. "It was Irving Rapper's house," Wheaton said. "He was in the midst of making Rhapsody in Blue (1945), I remember. He asked me if I wanted to hear the sound recording from the film. I said yes, and then I looked around. My ride had taken off." With a wartime gasoline shortage, Rapper protested he couln't make a special trip into town. He asked shyly if Wheaton would be willing to spend the night. "So I did," Wheaton said. "That was my introduction to Hollywood directors."
"He was bitter, an old loudmouth," remembered another friend. "He used to tell some nasty untruths about John Dall (whom Rapper had made a star with The Corn Is Green (1945)). He'd go on about Dall being involved in all sorts of affairs, fooling around with boys on the set. These things weren't true. I think he was just envious. It was quite sad."
Recalling the shoot of Deception (1946), again with Davis, he said he liked the script by John Collier. "It was supposed to have gay, light, natural, "so what?" ending," Rapper remembered, with the three principals walking off together as friends. But La Davis insisted on melodrama, with her character shooting Claude Rains and being hauled off to prison: "Bette wanted a dramatic conclusion; she insisted on it; and I didn't care very much either way, so I gave in."
Additional credits include The Voice of the Turtle (1947), The Glass Menagerie (1950), Marjorie Morningstar (1958), and The Miracle, a 1959 remake of the 1912 hand-colored, black-and-white film The Miracle.
The Voice of the Turtle (1947) written by gay playwright John Van Druten and starring Eleanor Parker and Ronald Reagan, offers a rather unorthodox take on sex, with an implicit refusal to condemn promiscuity.
Biopics directed by Rapper include: The Adventures of Mark Twain (1944), Rhapsody in Blue (1945), Pontius Pilate (co-director, 1962) and his last film, Born Again (1978), about convicted Watergate conspirator and former Richard Nixon aide Charles Colson.
The actor John Gilmore recalled a sloppy seduction attempt by Rapper in the early 1950s. Arranging a nighttime "interview" with a good-loking teenager, Rapper proceeded to get drunk. "People must fall in love with you all the time," he gushed. "What if I was in love with you?" The director dropped to his knees in front of Gilmore, his hands on the youth's legs. When Gilmore declined his offer to spend the night, Rapper lost all interest in him for whatever picture he'd had in mind.
Perhaps his best film in a studio other than Warner Bros. was The Brave One (1956) about a Mexican boy who must rescue his bull from a brutal fight against a top matador, which earned the then-blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo an Academy Award for his original screenplay despite being a box office failure.
Rapper died at the grand old age of 101 on 20 December 1999 at the Motion Picture and Television Fund home in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, where he had been a resident since 1995.
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