Farley Granger, Actor of Stage and Screen, Dies at 85

Obituaries   Farley Granger, Actor of Stage and Screen, Dies at 85
Farley Granger, an edgy youthful lead in films following World War II, particularly two notable Hitchcock thrillers, died March 27 in New York. He was 85.

Farley Granger
Farley Granger

Mr. Granger's dark good looks and air of vulnerability lent an All-American-Boy-Gone-Wrong quality to his roles in Hitchcock's "Rope" and "Strangers on a Train," in both of which he was unwillingly drawn into murder plots by the evil influences of strong-willed male companions.

"Rope" was based on a play by Patrick Hamilton, which drew its inspiration from the sensational Leopold and Loeb "thrill killing" of 1924. The movie was one of Alfred Hitchcock's grand experiments. The director shot the 1948 film in one long, unbroken scene, on a single set, cutting only to reload film. The thriller was set in the apartment of Mr. Granger and John Dall, just after they have murdered a fellow student as an intellectual experiment, and are preparing for a dinner party. Hiding the body in a wooden chest (which is used as a buffet table), they entertain a group of friends, including the victim's father and the student's former prep school housemaster, played by James Stewart.

Three years later, Mr. Granger starred in "Strangers on a Train," based on a Patricia Highsmith novel. He played a tennis star who is unwittingly ensnared in a byzantine murder plot by Bruno Anthony, a man he briefly meets on a train. Bruno (played by Robert Walker), believing he has agreed to a mutually beneficial deal with Mr. Granger's Guy Haines, kills Haines' unfaithful wife, who the tennis player wants to divorce. Bruno then expects Haines to return the favor, and kill Bruno's hated father. Mr. Farley, aided by large limpid eyes, brought to both Hitchcock roles an aura of the soulful victim, as well as a sexual ambiguity.

In the mid-1950s, Mr. Granger, who did not care for the Hollywood environment, moved to New York. He studied with Sanford Meisner and began appearing on Broadway, first in The Carefree Tree (1955), then First Impressions, playing D'Arcy in a musical adaptation of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," and opposite Julie Harris in Joe Masteroff's play The Warm Peninsula (both 1959). In 1964 he joined Eva Le Gallienne's American National Theatre, playing Konstantin in The Seagull (with Le Gallienne playing his mother, the actress Arkadina) and John Proctor in The Crucible. He also starred opposite Barbara Cook in a revival of The King and I at City Center.

The tall actor was still youthful enough at 40 to step into the role of Tom in a 1965 Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie, succeeding George Grizzard opposite Maureen Stapleton's Amanda. In 1981, he returned to a familiar type, playing half of a murderous male duo in the Broadway thriller Deathtrap. Off-Broadway, he won an Obie Award in 1986 for his performance in Lanford Wilson's Talley and Son at Circle Repertory Theatre. He also performed in The Carefree Tree at the Phoenix Theatre in 1955; Sweet Main Street at Playwrights Horizons in 1979; and A Month in the Country at the Roundabout Theatre Company that same year.

Farley Earle Granger II was born July 1, 1925, in San Jose, CA, the son of Farley Earle Granger, a successful owner of a car dealership, and Eva H. Granger. The elder Granger was wiped out in the Crash of 1929, and soon moved his family to a small apartment in Hollywood, where he worked as a clerk in the California Department of Unemployment. His son began acting in local theatres, and was noticed straight out of high school, becoming a contract player for Samuel Goldwyn, one of the producer's last. Goldwyn cast him in a small role in "The North Star" in 1943, then "The Purple Heart" in 1944. Mr. Farley then joined the Navy. Chronic seasickness, however, caused him to spend the rest of the war on shore in Hawaii, and eventually was assigned to the famous unit commanded by classical actor Maurice Evans.

After his release, he played an escaped convict hoping to prove his innocence in Nicholas Ray's film noir "They Live By Night," one of the actor's best, and favorite, films. Hitchcock saw the movie and cast Mr. Granger in "Rope." In 1949, he starred with David Niven and Teresa Wright in "Enchantment." In 1950, he traveled to Italy to make "Senso" with director Luchino Visconti.

Other films included "Our Very Own," "Full House," "The Story of Three Loves," the musical "Small Town Girl," "Hans Christian Anderson," "The Naked Street," "The Girl on the Red Velvet Swing," "Rogue's Gallery," "Violence," "The Challengers," "The Man Called Noon," "The Prowler," "Death Mask," "The Imagemaker" and "The Next Big Thing."

In Mr. Granger's personal life, he paired with members of both sexes. He was romantically linked with Hollywood stars Shelley Winters and Ava Gardner, and stage actress Janice Rule, as well as French star Jean Marais, conductor Leonard Bernstein and screenwriter and playwright Authur Laurents, who had adapted "Rope" for the screen. In later years, he spoke frankly about his sexuality.

"I have never felt the need to belong to any exclusive, self-defining or special group," he said. "I find it difficult to answer questions about 'gay life' in Hollywood when I was living and working there. There were, of course, gay cliques, but I had no close friends who belonged to any of them, and I had no desire to become involved with any of them ... I was never ashamed, and I never felt the need to explain or apologize for my relationships to anyone."

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