Vintage Hunk: Tom Drake

By: Mike McCrann

The Boy Next Door

Tom Drake's claim to motion picture fame comes from a single performance. He played Judy Garland's love interest (The Boy Next Door) in the classic 1944 musical Meet Me In St. Louis. Tom Drake played opposite a number of great MGM beauties including Donna Reed (see link), Elizabeth Taylor, Janet Leigh and Lana Turner. Tom Drake was never a powerful actor but he was tall and incredibly cute. But The Boy Next Door also had a secret - he was gay.

Born Alfred Sinclair Alderdice in Brooklyn in 1918 Tom Drake got his big break on Broadway in 1942 playing in the hit comedy Janie. As most of Hollywood's biggest stars were off serving in the war, Tom Drake and fellow gay MGM heartthrob Van Johnson were 4-F. Drake's big film break came when he was selected to play John Truett in Meet Me In St. Louis. This great Vincente Minnelli musical is one of the true classics of the 40s. Judy Garland sang the great song: “The Boy Next Door” about sexy new neighbor Tom Drake. Apparently off screen Judy had her sights on the hunky actor as well. In Gerald Clarke's Garland biography: GET HAPPY he quotes composer Ralph Blane: "She was mad about him. She had to have him - that's all there was to it." But their one time sexual experience was a disaster. Clarke states: "Drake was an all-American boy, all right, but an all-American boy who liked other all-American boys." Judy Garland's propensity for gay men would lead her to marry a number of them.

Tom Drake's other MGM movies were all pretty mundane except for the sentimental Courage of Lassie starring teen age Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor who was always sensitive to gay men would later have Drake in her starring films Raintree County and The Sandpiper. Tom Drake's best film of this era was The Green Years. Based on the A.J. Cronin novel, Tom played the Irish orphan (grown to a young man) who entered a Scottish home at the turn of the century. Typical of most critical reviews of Tom Drake's performances was the NY Times who stated: "Tom Drake is exceptionally pleasant as the orphan as a grown-up lad." There was no edge to Tom Drake as an actor. He was just handsome, low key and sexy.

Tom Drake had a quick marriage of less than a year and when his MGM contract was terminated he drifted into supporting roles and television. Drake battled with alcoholism and died of lung cancer in 1982 after moving in with his sister in Torrance, California.Tom Drake will always be remembered for his charming characterization of the Boy Next Door. One of the sexiest scenes in movie history is he and Judy going through her house after the party extinguishing the gas lights. Boys next door don't come much cuter than Tom Drake.