Farley Granger, who played the likable tennis pro who was thrust into a murder exchange in Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train in 1951, died Sunday of natural causes in New York. He was 85.
Two years earlier in 1948, Granger had won acclaim for another Hitchcock murder thriller, Rope, in which he played a young pianist who perpetrates a Leopold Loeb-type murder with a fellow school chum. Under contract to producer Samuel Goldwyn during his relatively short Hollywood career, he typically played a confused or neurotic young man, always facing a series of melodramatic problems. After appearing opposite Danny Kaye in Hans Christian Anderson in 1952, he bought out his Goldwyn contract and traveled
to Europe in 1954 where he starred in Luchino Visconti’s Senso.
But although he returned to Hollywood once more in the mid-’50s for a couple of more films, he soon relocated to New York, where he parlayed his good looks and cool image into appearances on live TV as well as a successful Broadway career: He starred in Warm Peninsula with Julie Harris and in First Impressions, a musical adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with Polly Bergen and Hermione Gingold. In 1980, he returned to Broadway to stage in a production of Deathtrap.
In 2007, Granger published a memoir, Include Me Out, in which he told of being bisexual, documenting affairs with Shelley Winters, Ava Gardner and Patricia Neal as well as playwright Arthur Laurents and a two-night fling with Leonard Bernstein. Since the 1960s, he lived with his longtime partner Robert Calhoun, a soap opera producer, who died three years ago.
Farley Earle Granger II was born July 1, 1925, in San Jose, Calif., the son of a well-to-do auto dealer, who lost his business during the Depression and moved his family to Los Angeles. Actor Harry Langdon, a friend of his father, suggested that Granger try out for a play called The Wookie. A casting agent spotted him and brought Granger to the attention of Samuel Goldwyn. While he was still a student at North Hollywood High School, Granger signed to a seven-year contract.
Granger made his movie debut playing a Russian in Lewis Milestone’s The North Star, a war propaganda moved about the Soviet Union’s resistance to Nazi Occupation, written by Lillian Hellman. He next appeared in another World War II film, The Purple Heart, as a U.S. flyer court-martialed by the Japanese before joining the Navy in 1944. While stationed in Honolulu, he had his first sexual experiences — with both a man and a woman on the same night.
“I finally came to the conclusion that for me, everything I had done that night was as natural and as good as it felt,” he later wrote. “I have loved men. I have loved women.”
After the war, he was cast by Nicholas Ray in 1949’s They Live by Night, playing an escaped convict. In the films that followed, he appeared as a petty thief who gets in over his head with the mob in Side Street; a young man who kills a priest with a crucifix in Edge of Doom; and an adopted orphan in Our Very Own.
After his detour through Italy, he starred in two 1955 movies: The Naked Street with Anthony Quinn and The Girl on the Red Velvet Swing with Joan Collins and Ray Milland.
Determined to become an established stage actor, he moved to New York, where he appeared in several plays, including The Heiress, Advise and Consent and The King and I.
He spent two years with the National Repertory Theatre, starring in such plays as The Crucible, The Seagull, She Stoops to Conquer and Hedda Gabler. During that period in New York, the halcyon days of live TV, he performed on a number of leading programs, including Playhouse 90, The U.S. Street Hour, Studio One, Climax and Kraft Theater.
He subsequently appeared on many of the top TV dramas of the ’50s and ’60s: Ironside, Hondo, Wagon Train, Get Smart, Hawaii Five-O and Medical Center, among others.
In the early ’70s, Granger went back to Europe and appeared in several films: The Man Called Noon, They Call Me Trinity and The Serpent.
Granger also appeared in the daytime soaps As the World Turns in 1986-87 and The Edge of Night in 1980. During the ’80s and ’90s, he also made frequent guest appearances on such shows as Tales From the Dark Side, The Love Boat, Murder, She Wrote and Monsters.
His last film appearance was in the art world satire The Next Big Thing in 2001.