"Now that was a handsome man in his day" my mother once said to me while I was watching Batman. The simple fact is that Cesar Romero was a nice looking man until the day he died at the age of 86 in 1994. It's pretty that when we think of Romero today, we immediately image an orange-haired, pasty faced, hyena-like character called The Joker, who was a constant, perennial thorn in the caped crusader's side during the run of the 60's television series starring Adam West. The Joker was Romero's last star turn and it made him a household name among much younger viewers, despite a career that had already spanned four decades in movies and television. Eventually, I had the opportunity to see what mama was talking about way back in the day and she didn't lie! When Cesar Romero appeared on screen in the 1930's and 40's, he was no joke. He was tall, dark, handsome and (I think) oh, so sexy. And in real life, he was oh, so gay!
In the film, Tall Dark & Handsome (1941), Romero is suave, debonaire and always nattily dressed to the nines in almost every scene. He plays a womanizing gangster with a secret who's rough around the edges and is known for bumping off anyone who gets in his way. But his real truth is that he's not as tough as his street credentials suggest. That particular movie was just one of Romero's few starring film roles by the early 1940's. His early 1930's career was founded and built around the whole Latin Lover-gigolo persona originally created by Rudolph Valentino in the 1920's, and promulgated by the Hollywood studios in the wake of his death in 1929. I think Romero added a new depth or twist to that character but he was never too hard or true enough for most of the so-called critics of the era as they thought he was too much of a dandy (and that his portrayals were often too foppish). But then, didn't they said the same thing about Mr. Valentino!?
Like his predecessor, Romero began his career as a ballroom dancer before moving to the Broadway stage where he was recognized by the Hollywood star makers. In Hollywood, he starred with the likes of Marlene Dietrich, but there was something about the man that just never propelled him into leading man status. It wasn't his looks - he was gorgeous! He was also talented, acting and dancing to boot. A self-proclaimed "dancing fool"Cesar was a permanent fixture in the glittering Hollywood nightlife for decades as the dancing escort of good friends like Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Carmen Miranda, Lucille Ball and later Ginger Rogers. His life was full of art exhibits, movie premiers and fashion shows, and there was a running joke that Romero would attend the opening of a napkin. And he would have done so while exquisitely dressed! As one of the most elegant men of his set, Romero boasted more than 30 tuxedos, 200 smart sport coats and 500 tailored suits. Charming and discreet, Cesar Romero was the quintessential "confirmed bachelor."
Born into a prosperous New York family in 1907, Romero's Italian father was an importer/exporter of sugar refining machinery. His mother was a concert singer, and her father was supposedly the famed Cuban revolutionary Jose Marti, but that assertion is often disputed. Unlike so many of his peers, he never actively tried to deny or hide the truth of his sexual orientation as it was an open secret that he was comfortable with - not like his rumored lover, the popular actor Tyrone Power. Like Power (below) Romero was also protective of his image but he was also respected. He never publically admitted that he and Power were once an item, but he didn't have to. Their friends and acquaintances did it for them! Throughout his life, Romero was extremely dedicated to the actor who died at the age of 44, and who played and perfected the game of marrying for appearances and the sake of conventionality. But not Cesar! Power remained tormented and terrified of being found out, but not Cesar.
In the book Hollywood Gays (1996) by Boze Hadleigh, the author compiled a series of interviews with aging Hollywood players who were rumored to be gay or bisexual. Cesar Romero was interviewed several times and supposedly dished quite freely about Tyrone Power (but never about their life together). With class and in gentlemanly fashion, he spoke candidly about the joys of masturbation, glory holes and oral sex! He also spilled the beans about a one-time hook-up with his friend and fellow Latin lover, Desi Arnaz (also see below). Recognizing that it takes two people to perform one homosexual act the actor says "In the old days ..... fellatio was a big status symbol. If someone was willing to do that for you, you felt like a king. Few would have said no.” Poor Lucy probably never knew, but she may not have been too surprised because she knew her friend, Cesar.
Romero gave insightful information about maneuvering the issue of sexual identity around early Hollywood politics in the 40's and 50's, being homosexual in Hispanic culture, and why he never felt the the need to hide behind a wife. However, the fact that there were serious veracity issues surrounding the author's interviews cannot be ignored. For instance, they had all died, and there are many critics, reviewers and insiders who refused to believe that the likes of Cary Grant would ever under any circumstances be so loose and free to do and say the things attributed to him by Hadleigh. Regardless, it is noteworthy that most hold Romero's interviews as gospel – which is a testimony to the man himself.
Still handsome in his elder years, Cesar Romero remained an engaging and youthful personality right up to the end, and was active in movies and television at the time of his death. The man was hardly a joker in life or the movies, but was more the dashing Cisco Kid in the campy Gay Cabellero westerns of the 40's, the dancing romancer in Springtime in the Rockies, and all the playboys and gangstas in the persona of the super-sharp, devastatingly handsome character I saw on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) in Tall, Dark and Handsome. Hail Cesar!
*This blog post originally appeared in November of 2009 under the title, Cesar Romero: Tall, Dark, Handsome ... and Gay! in a style that wasn't up to par and with other lesser photographs. Oddly enough, I still continue to get comments and emails, especially from readers who get upset at the implications surrounding the sexuality of Desi Arnaz. Consider this comment from Linda who actually had a valid point when she said "I dont believe that Desi Arnaz was gay! Thats a lie. People always wait until people die to tell such lies. Posted by: Linda | March 10, 2010 at 04:18 PM . I think my response to Linda was just as valid when I wrote "Hi Linda. Welcome to the blog! I don't believe anyone - not even Romero - ever said that Desi Arnaz was gay. In fact, Romero said they were platonic friends who only had a "one-time" experience that Arnaz basically initiated, during which (Arnaz) relaxed and enjoyed the favor. If I remember correctly, Arnaz seemed to say something like "Come on Romero, let's get this over with because I know YOU WANT TO DO THIS!" He totally flipped his own desire and put it back where it "belonged" - on the "homosexual" man. I can't tell you how many times I've found myself in that same situation with my own "heterosexual" male friends. Personally, I don't think that makes Arnaz (or many of the supposedly str8 male friends that I've had who wanted blowjobs) gay. If that encounter makes him gay then all the men who've ever had a blow job from another man - even once - are gay! And whether you want to believe it or not - THAT'S MORE THAN HALF THE MEN WE BOTH KNOW! Regardless, the chances are that "one time" with Romero wasn't Arnaz's only same-sex encounter! You don't believe he was gay? That's fine! Neither do I. Posted by: Corey | March 10, 2010 at 05:02
Still, there were readers like Phillip Donovan who took the time to troll the whole blog, decided he wasn't having any of it, and finally left with "gay men make me vomit. they should all live on an island or another planet. Posted by: phillip donovan | April 25, 2012 at 05:09 PM. To which I promptly replied "Phillip. You know who makes ME vomit? Conflicted gay men who troll gay-oriented sites, read everything and look at the pictures, and then leave nasty comments out of their own sick guilt. You MIGHT want to stay off of such websites by remembering how much they make you want to vomit - BEFORE you get your jollies! Posted by: Corey | April 25, 2012 at 05:29 PM. Others were supportive and complimentary like the comments from faithful readers and supporters like Della Belle, Thomas and the late blogger & writer, Taylor Siluwe.
However, it was the last comment (from just a few days ago) that came in from the Blog Grammar Police in the person of someone named "mlee" who bypassed everything just to remind me that "every sentence ends with an exclamation point!" Posted by: mlee | June 17, 2012 at 01:06 PM. But he was right! There were so many exclamation points in the text of the original article that it made ME cross-eyed. And since I am a proponent of the adage that says WHEN YOU KNOW BETTER - YOU DO BETTER, I give you the new, improved, and slightly revised Cesar Romero: Tall, Dark, Handsome .... and Gay, Two! Hail Cesar!