Vintage Hunk: Lon McCallister

By: Mike McCrann

"The cutest boy the movies have hauled out of obscurity since Mickey Rooney." - Hedda Hopper
"The perfect choirboy." - George Cukor
"Favorite movie star? Lon McCallister - Ellen Burstyn in Same Time Next Year

Okay, so who in the hell is Lon McCallister? And why should even have him as a Vintage Hunk?

To start, he was my first movie crush. I used to watch the movie The Red House on TV just to see this cutie in a bathing suit.

But why is he important to gays? Because he was pretty openly gay in 1940s Hollywood and his partner was movie star William Eythe.

Lon McCallister is hardly a household name even to movie buffs of a certain age, but when I was a teenager his best film— 1947's The Red House— was on TV constantly as it had fallen into public domain. This wonderfully twisted thriller with Edward G. Robinson and Judith Anderson (Rebecca) followed the tortured story of a farmer who tries to shield his niece from a terrible secret. Gorgeously young Rory Calhoun and Julie London were in the movie, but it was sweet little Lon who hooked me forever.

McCallister made his film debut at 13 in George Cukor's Romeo and Juliet. Calling him "the perfect choirboy," openly gay director Cukor later cast him as a pilot in 1944's Winged Victory. Apparently McCallister was also one of the up-and-coming (no puns intended) male stars who attended the famed Cukor Sunday "for men only" parties that have become the stuff of gay legend. In 1943's Stage Door Canteen playing the shy recruit, "California" Lon got to play the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet again, this time with legendary theater star Katherine Cornell in her only film appearance.

His first starring role was in 1944's Home in Indiana. This rural drama of a bad boy who reforms and becomes a jockey was a huge hit for the war-weary audience of mainly women. The film made Jeanne Crain a star, and both McCallister and June Haver teen favorites.

McCallister would do other features (usually featuring horses, for some reason) including Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!, which not only featured a young Natalie Wood but has the distinction of being Marilyn Monroe's first film, even if it was just a second of screen time. McCallister also co-starred with former child star Shirley Temple in The Story of Seabiscuit.

During this time McCallister met and fell in love with William Eythe (right), who was being groomed for stardom by 20th Century Fox. He had not only co-starred with Tallulah Bankhead in A Royal Scandal but starred in the tense docu-drama The House on 92nd Street. He was also the boy who loved Jennifer Jones in Song of Bernadette before she gets hauled off to the nunnery. But when Fox honcho Darryl Zanuck got wind of the Eythe/McCallister "bromance" he went ballistic and threatened to end their careers. He even forced Eythe to marry starlet Buff Cobb, though this marriage was a disaster for obvious reasons. Finally Eythe and McCallister ended up living together, and both their careers were kaput. McCallister retired in 1953 and successfully went into real estate. Fox dumped Eythe, and he managed only sporadic stage work. He died at age 38 in 1957 of hepatitis, due primarily to his heavy drinking. Their relationship may have been rocky but they were a couple for almost ten years.

McCallister lived to be 82. He was quoted in a 1992 interview: "Being a movie star was great, but I wanted to be myself." Myself included being an openly gay man in an era where few dared, and having a great second act in his life. When Ellen Burstyn says her favorite movie star was Lon McCallister in the 1979 hit film Same Time Next Year most people in the audience looked blankly at each other. Not me. I had my lifelong crush. You could parade all the muscle bound beauties past me, but if forced to pick just one actor to be stranded with on an island, I would still pick Lon McCallister.