There was a time in America when journalists and news reporters had an unwritten code of silence in regards to the personal lives of movie stars, candidates, presidents and their wives. There was a time in America when we all seemed to know the truth about public figures, but we didn’t bring it to prominence or try to defame. There was a time in America when there was civility and respect adopted by those who could tell but chose to let private lives be just that, private.
In 1933, Lorena Hickok leaned over and planted the big one on first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. It started a 30-year relationship between them. Roosevelt wrote nearly 2000 letters to her “beloved Hick”. Hickok even lived in the White House. Biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin summarized the letters between Hickok and Roosevelt thus:
“Hick longed to kiss the soft spot at the corner of Eleanor’s mouth; Eleanor yearned to hold Hick close; Hick despaired at being away from Eleanor; Eleanor wished she could lie down beside Hick and take her in her arms. Day after day, month after month, the tone in the letters on both sides remains fervent and loving.” And for all those years, people knew they were more than friends but never was there a headline or a sordid story printed until speculative stories were written after Lorena’s death in 1968. These women were not fair game. After all, she was the wife of FDR.
When Scotty Bowers fixed up his best friend Katherine Hepburn with Barbara Stanwyck one lovely summer night in 1924, it was the beginning of a long history of Hepburn’s liaisons with the women of Hollywood. Even Marilyn Monroe dabbled in lesbian trysts with a long term relationship with her female publicist as a public secret. So many secrets were held or hints of lesbian relationships were relegated to the dome of silence.
Today is a brand new day. The yellow journalism of William Randolph Hearst is back and more yellow than ever before. Nude photos of Trump’s wife appear and hints of her being with the ladies. I am waiting for someone out there to question Hillary’s sexual preferences one more time. Long range telephoto pictures of Queen Latifah and her “friend” are tame compared to Miley Cyrus’ open PDA with Stella Maxwell. Thanks to the tabloids we really do know too much and see too much and I am far from a prude. I just don’t find stranger’s love life’s that fascinating.
The respect for confidentiality and respect for privacy has disappeared. But so too seems the quest for secrecy by public figures that was instilled decades ago. Sure, there will always be closeted actors, politicians, other public figures, but hiding now is a full time exhausting job given the relentless pursuit to find out who is doing who. After working so hard to come out of the closet I wonder how many public figures are sorry they did.
Besides do we really care who is doing who? In the words of a very good and wise friend, “I don’t even want to know who my best friends are doing so why do I care if a bisexual actress has hooked up with a girl this time?” The answer is that we shouldn’t.
The message to journalists is to return to the ethics of decades ago. If public figures want to share their lives, they will. Oh boy, will they ever.