Born in Staunton, Virginia, Haines left his home while in his teens and moved to New York City. After winning a talent contest he moved to Hollywood where he played bit parts for several years until MGM Studios began casting him in more prominent roles.
By 1925 he was MGM's most important male star, and his films were very profitable for the studio. He was cultivated as a romantic leading man, and his combination of good looks and flair for comedy won him many fans.
He appeared in successes such as Sally, Irene and Mary (1926 with newcomers Joan Crawford and Constance Bennett), West Point (1927 also with Crawford), and scored his biggest personal success with Show People (1928), opposite Marion Davies.
Haines lived openly as a homosexual man, and from 1926 lived with Jimmy Shields, whom he had met during the production of a film. Studio publicists were able to keep this information from the press, however studio head Louis B. Mayer pressured Haines to end his relationship with Shields and marry. He made a successful transition into talking pictures and maintained his star status until 1934 when Mayer finally delivered him an ultimatum, and forced him to choose between Shields and his career. Haines chose Shields and Mayer terminated his contract, quickly recasting Robert Montgomery in roles that had been planned for Haines.
Haines and Shields began a successful career as interior designers and antique dealers. Among their early clients were friends such as Joan Crawford and Carole Lombard, Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst. Their lives were disrupted in 1936 when homophobic neighbours, dressed in sheets and wearing hoods to hide their faces, dragged the two men from their home and beat them. Crawford, along with other stars such as Claudette Colbert, Kay Francis and Charles Boyer urged the men to report this to the police. Marion Davies asked Hearst to use his influence to ensure the neighbours were prosecuted to the full extent of the law, but ultimately Haines and Shields chose not to report the incident. The couple finally settled into the Hollywood community in Malibu, and their business prospered until their retirement in the early 1970s.
Haines never returned to films. Gloria Swanson extended him a personal invitation to appear with her in the film Sunset Boulevard (1950) but he refused.
Haines and Shields remained together for the rest of their lives. Joan Crawford, a lifelong friend described them as the happiest married couple in Hollywood. Haines died from lung cancer in Santa Monica, California. Shields committed suicide soon after. They were interred side by side in the Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery.
William Haines has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to Motion Pictures, at 7012 Hollywood Boulevard.
William Haines Facts
|January 2, 1900
|Staunton, Virginia, USA
|Date of death
|December 26, 1973 (age 73)