Apr 25, 2024

Junior Durkin and Henry Willson: Hollywood's First Gay Romance

When 15-year old New York boy Trent Durkin was contracted by Paramount Pictures, his name was changed to "Junior" to make him seem more wholesome and All-American. 

The ploy worked: Tom Sawyer (1930) was the #1 box office hit of 1930, in part because of the palpable buddy-bond between Tom (16-year old Jackie Coogan) and rascallion Huck Finn (15-year old Junior Durkin).  

Huckleberry Finn followed (1931).

Then Hell's House (1932),  in which a boy (Junior) is framed for bootlegging and sent to juvenile hall, where he falls in love with the younger Shorty (Junior Coughlan).  

And Man Hunt (1933), in which a junior detective (Junior) and his boyfriend (Arthur Vinton) solve a murder.

Before World War II, boys were expected to become interested in girls at the end of adolescence, not at the beginning, leaving adolescent actors free to star in amazingly overt "two boys in love" or "boy in love with older man" movies.

But Junior wasn't just acting.  In 1933, the 18-year old met 22-year old Henry Willson at a gay bar on Sunset Strip.  Willson had just arrived from Pennsylvania, and was writing for movie magazines.  The two became lovers, and when Willson became a talent agent for the Joyce and Pollimer Agency, he hired Junior.

Or maybe he hired Junior before they became lovers.  Accounts vary.

Willson got Junior to leave Paramount for some meatier roles, such as Ready for Love (1934) and Little Men (1934), and suggested that he go back to Trent: a tough, masculine, single-syllable name.  He appeared in Chasing Yesterday (1935) as Trent.

On May 4, 1935, Junior was killed in an automobile accident near a ranch owned by his friend Jackie Coogan's family in San Diego.  He was 19 years old.  Jackie's father and three other people died in the accident as well.  Jackie survived to become a major box office draw, and near the end of his career, Uncle Fester on The Addams Family.

Henry Willson went on to become an important talent agent, creating the beefcake fad of the 1950s by signing on innumerable hunks and changing their names to something tough, masculine, and single-syllable: Rock, Doug, Chad, Nick, Van.  Most were gay or gay-friendly, and many knew their way around a casting couch.


  1. I've been reading the Rock Hudson bio which has plenty of gay gossip

    1. There was a bio that came out several years ago which was mostly about his gay identity,and how it affected his career.

  2. I thought it was more Cold War than World War II that led to this heterosexist attitude that all boys want is a girl. (Frankly these days it's gross when the little sex maniacs haven't even hit puberty yet and we see them obsessed with girls.) It was the 1950s when Sexual Behavior in the Human Female sparked controversy. (Note the male volume was met with relatively little fanfare, it was seen as more "unfair" that masturbating together counted toward your Kinsey score when the average hetero American viewed only sucking and being fucked as "counting".)

    To understand the extent of the heterosexism, in the 90s, a middle school kid knocked up his own teacher and people still didn't see the problem.

    1. I trace the origin of the "girl crazy" adolescent to the post-War period. Before that, teenage boys were not expected to be interested, or if they were, they were a cause of concern to their parents and ridiculed by their friends. In the Andy Hardy movies, for example, Andy's friends are constantly complaining about his "weird" interest in girls. This carries over into the Archie Anddrews of the 1940s, who was basically an Andy Hardy clone. His desire for girls was a wacky, humorous trait.

    2. 1950s also saw the rise of the teen idol and the love song. (Think Neil Sedaka.)


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