Excerpt: Hiding in Plain Sight

Raymond had been living a closeted life in Hollywood for over a decade without even the whiff of anything "untoward" about his lifestyle. Part of that had to do with his status as a supporting actor in the shadows, out of the spotlight's direct glare. Leading-man types—Cary Grant, Randolph Scott, and Errol Flynn among them—were grist for the rumor mill, but Raymond had always flown under the radar.

Until now.

His much-publicized relationship with Natalie Wood helped his straight-arrow image, and he was well liked among the major gossip columnists, especially Hedda Hopper. And with her sonny boy making a name for himself on Perry Mason, Hedda had extra incentive to ensure Raymond's name was kept away from "those" rumors. They could destroy a career. Hedda's devotion to Raymond is illustrated in a story told by one of his intimates. One of Raymond's male conquests wrote a letter to Hedda, threatening to expose the actor's secret. Hedda, in turn, wrote to Raymond to apprise him of the situation—and to tell him that his secret was safe. She would, she told him, "stand up and swear anything" for him.

For all intents and purposes, he was hiding in plain sight. In September 1954, Raymond attended the star-studded premiere of Judy Garland's A Star Is Born at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. It was considered a huge event, even by Hollywood's jaded standards, and nearly every A-list celebrity was there. Not only were there the usual newsreel cameras, but NBC also aired the gala red-carpet premiere live, for the first time ever. Jack Carson, who was featured in the movie, hosted the festivities, with emcee George Fisher asking questions of the two-hundred-plus stars in attendance. A crowd estimated at twenty thousand strong screamed, and flashbulbs popped as the stars, decked out in tuxedos and evening gowns, stepped up to the microphone to share a quick hello with Fisher.

Raymond, who was just back from another USO tour of Korea, followed Hedda Hopper up to the microphone as Fisher wiped his brow under the hot television lights. Fisher introduced Raymond, who was there with his date, USO castmate Evelyn Russell—and with a dark-haired, nervous-looking young man wearing a dark naval uniform, with a white sailor's cap angled jauntily on his head. Raymond introduced him to the television cameras as "Frank Vitti, a boy that's with us tonight right back from Korea." No one asked why young Mr. Vitti was attending a Hollywood movie premiere with two virtual strangers he seemed to have just met minutes before.

Three months later, the "Film Events" column in the Los Angeles Times had a few paragraphs about Raymond's upcoming visit to the Sixth Army Area in the western States. Once again, he was joined by Evelyn Russell, Bungy Hedley, Paramount's Donna Percy, and Frances Lansing—and Frank Vitti. Frank's name would pop up every now and again in magazine stories about Raymond throughout the next several years. He was described in magazine features as "Burr's nephew," who was living with Raymond in the Malibu house (where, apparently, he had his own bedroom). Later, he became the curator of Raymond's Beverly Hills art gallery.

Page
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...