A lavender marriage is a male-female mixed marriage, undertaken as a marriage of convenience to conceal the socially stigmatised sexual orientation of one or both partners. The term dates from the early 20th century and is used almost exclusively to characterize certain marriages of public celebrities in the first half of the 20th century, primarily before World War II, when public attitudes made it impossible for a person acknowledging homosexuality to pursue a public career, notably in the Hollywood film industry. One of the earliest uses of the phrase appeared in the British press in 1895, at a time when the color was associated with homosexuality.
With the inclusion of morality clauses in the contracts of Hollywood actors in the 1920s, some closeted stars contracted marriages of convenience to protect their public reputations and preserve their careers. A noteworthy exception that demonstrated the precarious position of the public homosexual was that of William Haines, who brought his career to a sudden end at the age of 35. He refused to end his relationship with his male partner, Jimmy Shields, and enter into a marriage at the direction of his studio employer, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The term lavender marriage has been used to characterize these couples/individuals:
- The 1923 marriage of Rudolph Valentino with lesbian costume and set designer Natacha Rambova disguised her relationship with actress Alla Nazimova as well as his alleged bisexuality.
- The English broadcaster and journalist Nancy Spain considered entering a lavender marriage to disguise her relationship with Joan Werner Laurie, a magazine and book editor.
- The marriage of Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck supposedly disguised her putative bisexuality and has been characterized as lavender for that reason, but it was prompted by the need to protect both their reputations after a Photoplay magazine article reported they had been living together for years while unmarried.
- Actor Rock Hudson, troubled by rumors that Confidential magazine was planning to expose his homosexuality, married Phyllis Gates, a young woman employed by his agent, in 1955.
- The term has been applied to the marriage of Tyrone Power and French actress Annabella in 1939.
- American theater actress and producer Katharine Cornell married theater director Guthrie McClintic in 1921. She appeared only in productions he directed, and they lived together in their Manhattan townhouse until his death in 1961.
- Swedish Hollywood actor Nils Asther and vaudeville entertainer Vivian Duncan had a brief marriage of convenience that resulted in one child; Asther was a well known homosexual who had a relationship with actor/stuntman Kenneth DuMain.
- Claude J. Summers, The Queer Encyclopedia of Film & Television (Cleis Press, 2005), p. 132
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- Mosel (1978). Leading Lady: The World and Theatre of Katharine Cornell. Little, Brown & Co.
- Nils Asther memoirs "Narrens väg - Ingen gudasaga" Published 1988, Sweden