[quote]Sexy self-image that revved up Dirk Bogarde
[quote]Candid memoirs of fellow actor John Fraser reveal how reclusive star became a Narcissus seduced by his own leather-clad likeness
The billboard outside the Odeon cinema, Leicester Square, said: "Michael Redgrave and Dirk Bogarde in The Sea Shall Not Have Them". Passing by, Noel Coward said: "I don't see why not. Everyone else has." As the actor John Fraser suggests in his remarkably candid memoir, Coward's quip would have baffled the film's audiences. Redgrave's bisexuality remained unknown during his lifetime. Bogarde had hoped to have taken the secret of his sexuality with him to the grave when he died five years ago.
But Fraser - in his book due to be published on October 8 - goes further than any previous author towards unravelling Bogarde's secret.
Bogarde, says Fraser, indicated to him that the physical side of his homosexual affair with his long-term companion, Tony Forwood, had ceased but that he dared not take casual lovers for fear of publicity.
Then the top British romantic screen star of the post-war era gave the younger actor a demonstration of the substitute he had found to turn him on: high-revving a static Harley-Davidson motorcycle in his loft while gazing at a poster of himself clad in crotch-hugging leather trousers as a Spanish bandit in the 1961 film The Singer Not the Song.
"It looked like a Narcissus fantasy come to life," Fraser said yesterday.
Fraser was one of the most handsome UK leading screen actors of the 1950s and 1960s. His best-known role was as Lord Alfred Douglas in The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960), opposite Peter Finch. He acted with Bogarde in The Wind Cannot Read (1958). Fraser's own gay orientation was unknown to audiences.
His autobiography, Close Up: An Actor Telling Tales, though intelligently generous about his contemporaries, is also exceptionally open in portraying some of the celebrities he worked with:
· Bogarde lived in "a wonderland sustained by doting fans";
· The British star Laurence Harvey was "a whore";
· Harvey's lover and career booster, the producer James Woolf, joint boss of Romulus Films, whose output ranged from The African Queen to Room at the Top, used the casting couch to snare young men;
· Rex Harrison, star of My Fair Lady and of films stretching back to the 1930s, "was a cruel, manipulative man";
· Harrison's fourth wife, the actor Rachel Roberts, was "a wild Welsh witch to whom moderation was a stranger";
· The dancer Rudolf Nureyev - "bewitching, vulnerable, generous, and above all, scruffy" - often made love to Fraser without showering after a performance or workout.
Fraser, now 73, lives in retirement in Tuscany, writing books. Yesterday he said in an interview: "I am old, and I live in Italy, and, I suppose - what the hell?
"Most of the people I write about are dead. It seems mealy-mouthed not to tell the truth. Honesty is one of my first priorities, although kindness is even higher. I paid to be psychoanalysed when I was 20. It gave me a lot of understanding of other people."
In the book, he describes supper with Bogarde and Forwood at their mansion near Pinewood in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, in one of a series of visits after filming The Wind Cannot Read. This was at a time when consenting homosexual relations between adults were still illegal.
Fraser's then lover was with him. "I was in my 20s at this time, and both Dirk and Tony, though supremely handsome men, seemed to me settled and middle-aged", he writes.
When he and Bogarde were alone, he asked: "Do you and Tony still make love?" Bogarde, smiling, answered: "We've been together a long time. Now, we're like brothers."
Fraser asked: "What do you do for sex? Do you have casual affairs?" Bogarde said: "God, no. How could I possibly in my position?
"Everyone knows me. I can't go anywhere without being recognised. There's blackmail ... the News of the World. I would be ruined."