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Off the Record All These Years???
Mostly, we love to hate John Hoyt.
His pinched, patrician appearance wasn’t particularly endearing and those “mean man” roles he often played weren’t either. Yet, I think most everyone loves him.
A few years after John Hoyt died, I managed to find his wife Dorothy and asked her what he was really like - and here is where a rather baffling development in the John Hoyt story began for me. She gushed with love for him. “He was a presence,” she said in a letter to me. “Whenever he entered, people recognized a special quality of distinction, culture and an engaging manner.” She went on in the letter, “John had all the ability to ride easy on the surface of life. He didn’t have to labor over anything. A movie script was presented and memorized immediately. He did not have to strive.”
So, I guess there were at least 75 times he didn’t have to labor over memorization because that’s the number of films Hoyt made. And you could put the titles of every TV series from the '50s thru the '70s into a hat then pull out just about any one at random and John Hoyt probably appeared on it.
Innocently, as a follow-up to Mrs. Hoyt’s letter, I called her. She was 88 years old then and bubbling with a brightness that nearly shone through the phone. So she surprised me when she told me something which she asked me to keep “off-the-record.” With the feeling that I had just visited a quarantined house, I agreed. I kept what I thought was a confidence for 17 years, first publishing it here in 2011.
But the framework of the world had changed enough since that day I spoke to Dorothy Hoyt that I hoped she wouldn’t mind if I told, so many years later, what she said then. Effervescent throughout our conversation, Dorothy told me that her husband was gay. “Oh yes,” she said, fully aware that “gay” didn’t mean just cheerful. “John was gay.”
Sexuality is a big puzzle piece in a person’s life. After his wife said that, I thought back over his work. I realized that it made me appreciate him even more, now believing that this was part of the color-wheel of humanness that he brought to his craft. I even went so far as to ask readers to tell me if they thought I did the right thing outing John Hoyt in this way. One response that I got cured any worries about betrayal I may have suffered. It left me assured that the world will always be whacky and that questions of morality will never be easy.
The reader cured my moral malady by leading me to a book. It turns out that award-winning journalist Paul Grondahl referred - at length - to John Hoyt's homosexuality in his biography of Erastus Corning, Mayor Corning: Albany Icon, Albany Enigma. Mr. Gorndahl interviewed Dorothy Hoyt the same year I did, 1996, and his book was published one year later (re-released in 2007). "No, Dorothy never told me to keep the fact that her husband was gay off the record. She spoke of it matter of factly and indicated they had an agreement and an open marriage and that he was quite open with his young lovers, so that's what I put in my book." That is what Paul Grondahl told me when I asked. So there was no secret afterall and I had wrestled with myself only because of the flash of an impulse from an aging free-spirit.
* * * * * * * *
It’s not much of a surprise that an appealing, accomplished man born in 1905 should have been married twice to women, have one biological child, and yet be gay. It did, however, cast a clearer light for me onto a story from John’s adolescence that came from an anonymous unpublished biography. When John was 12 years old, his Boy Scout troop was awarded the honor of meeting mega-famed tenor Enrico Caruso. (I pictured them lined up in their summer Scout togs to be introduced to the great man.) When John’s turn came, Caruso clutched the youth’s hand with vigor and exclaimed, “For a boy such legs! Mama mia!” The story goes on that young Hoyt was so stimulated by the encounter that that night he had his mother re-hem his Scout shorts two inches higher.
Well, the public may not have noticed those supposedly extraordinary legs Caruso admired so openly except under the occasional classic Greek or Roman garb – like those he wore in the role of a bewildered Roman military leader in Spartacus. Recalling his supporting role in Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra when Mrs. Hoyt accompanied John to Rome for the notoriously marathon filming, “You know what a mess that was,” Dorothy said. “But we had a great time. The time of our lives!”
Mr. Hoyt was born John Hoysradt in New York’s imposing suburban county of Westchester, October 5, 1905. He was the son of a banker father who wanted John to follow him in the same profession. His mother, however, countered that wish by promoting the child’s talent for classical piano and his two sisters worked tirelessly with him, nurturing his vocal techniques. John once wrote that he impishly defied the stuffier side of his family by flaunting his talents at home and performing acts of mimicry, “taking off my aunts and uncles and making them hate me.” Later in life, in the late 1930’s, he used those same talents often to dash off from the theatre after a performance to stellar night spots like the Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center and the Persian Room in the Plaza Hotel to do a stand-up comedy routine! Yes, John Hoyt - the brittle, burnt-out inner city high school teacher from Blackboard Jungle; the scheming Martin Peyton from TV’s Return to Peyton Place; the callous, wheelchair-bound egoist millionaire from When Worlds Collide – got rave reviews as a mimic and stand-up comedian!
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