“You can change the scenery, but sooner or later you’ll get a whiff of perfume or somebody will say a certain phrase or maybe they’ll hum something, then you’re licked again,” muses piano player Al Roberts in Detour (1945), Edgar G. Ulmer’s singular film noir. He is sitting, isolated, in a New York City bar when Bing Crosby’s “I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love with Me” begins to play, launching him into a reverie about his estranged girlfriend Sue, who has up and left him for her California dream of becoming an actress.
The adoption of female stars as icons by gay men isn’t a new phenomenon. Many examples spring to mind, such as Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. But what’s the reason for their gay icon status? And why is this only bestowed on a select few? Why is Joan Crawford, like so many others, deemed a gay icon and why, in the AlterHéros “100 Best Things about Being Gay?” list, does she sit at No. 46 because gay men “viscerally understand” her?