HOLLYWOOD – Survivor from the Golden Age of Hollywood, Sir Edwin Fluffer, reflects on the man Hollywood used to call ‘the transvestite’s favorite cowboy’: John Wayne.
I had just finished the hilarious musical ‘Those Toots Are Not for Tooting’ with Sammy Davis Sr. Sammy Davis Jr.’s criminally underrated father, when I got a call from my agent to report tout suite to bungalow 13 on the Warner Bros back lot and to bring a ladder.
I blinked, but in those days the studios were to be feared and for a jobbing actor such as I, no request seemed too ridiculous, if you didn’t wish to share the fate of poor William Holden. Holden had refused to paint his bottom orange during a pool party run by the famed and feared columnist Louella Penis. As punishment, he was forced to eat three fat rats.
At bungalow 13, I was met by my Teutonic pal Hardy Kreuger. Although we’d had a sticky argument sometime back about which of the two of was responsible for breaking Charles Laughton’s diet, myself and Hardy were wonderful friends, partly due to our shared passion for Tess of the D’Ubervilles. Though he was far more committed than me, having changed his name by deed poll to signal his admiration for the novelist. He greeted me civilly and – as was our habit – we launched into a discussion of the relative merits of Anthony Trollope.
‘What ho, Fluffer!’ said a voice from inside the bungalow affecting a ridiculous British accent. I only realized then that it must be ‘The Duke’. ‘I say did you bring the ladder?’
‘Right here,’ I said. And angled my way into the bungalow, ahead of the Duke.
John Wayne, the star of a hundred horse operas and everyone’s idea of the ideal American Male, was actually the son of Baron Chauncy of Devon, England. The Duke was no mere nickname, but a hereditary title. He was an actual Duke. Off camera, he spoke in the most clipped polished accent I’ve ever heard. I entered the presence where I was gifted with a spectacular sight. A giraffe from the set of the film Hitari was folded in the small confines of the sitting room. I handed over the ladder and up he went.
It later turned out that the whole idea was a dare by Errol Flynn. The Duke and Errol – who by the way was the most charming Nazi I’d ever met – had been playing pinochle when conversation turned to the wildest beast either had had. In those days bestiality was easily the done thing. Cary Grant lived for several years with a goat called Terry. And Audrey Hepburn had a lama. But that’s another story…