Well, first of all, as outsiders would hardly know, Hollywood, besides being fascinating, is also a hostile and competitive industry, and normally, doesn’t serve to the actor’s best interests. But let’s start from the beginning. Farley Granger was discovered in the early forties, when he was only eighteen years old, by two employees of the now legendary Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a talent agent and a casting director, when both saw a play, called The Wookie, which had Farley Granger starring in a variety of roles. Extremely impressed with the talent and the convincing performance of the young actor, the talent agent, in the following day, contacted Granger’s parents, requesting an audition for a movie. When Granger attended and performed the audition, the movie producers became very impressed, and he was given the role of Damian Simonov, in his first feature, titled The North Star, although a major reason for the role being given to Granger was the fact that another soon-to-be Hollywood legend, actor Montgomery Clift, declined the role, when the producer’s offered it to him. Soon, Granger made something he would later deeply regret: signed a seven year contract with the studio. Although this would guarantee work on a permanent basis and a decent salary, he would also loose completely the power to make choices, as well as the control over his career. This was becoming already a point of major concern for actors in Hollywood, and the aforementioned Montgomery Clift was a pioneer in breaking studio–directed careers, fighting for the actor’s rights of autonomy.
Very soon, one of the greatest things would happen in Farley Granger’s life: Alfred Hitchcock, after seeing a movie called They Live by Night, in which Granger had a starring role, requested a meeting with him, for a film called Rope, which would be his next. After successfully meeting Alfred Hitchcock, Farley Granger read the script, and secured the role. Starring one of the greatest Hollywood actors ever to exist, the legendary James Stewart, filming for Rope lasted twenty one days, and, although it was very troubled and difficult, given its experimental nature, it would become one of the greatest classics in American film history. With a story loosely based in a real case – the Leopold and Loeb murder case – Farley Granger and John Dall play Philip Morgan and Brandon Shaw, respectively, two intelligent, skilled and talented, but highly disturbed graduate students, who kill a former colleague, just to discover how it is to kill someone. Their main purpose is to prove to themselves that they can commit the perfect murder, and remain undiscovered and unpunished, since they felt themselves to be intellectually superiors. Soon after, they throw a party, with the deceased’s corpse inside a large wooden box, that they use as a table, covering it with a towel. Some of the victim’s family members attend the party as well. The last guest to arrive is brilliant, but cynic and sarcastic teacher Rupert Cadell, played by James Stewart. He is the one who confronts his two former pupils, after paying attention to a lot of inaccuracies they say, when both try to justify the absence of their colleague, David Kentley, who – unbeknownst to all of the attendees, except for the two murderers – is dead, and has his body concealed, inside the large wooden box who serves to all as a table.
Nevertheless, Farley Granger succeeded to please Alfred Hitchcock, and three years later, he would star in another of his movies: 1951 Strangers on a Train. Since an Alfred Hitchcock movie always implies a very sinister premise, in this one, Farley Granger plays Guy Haines, a tennis player aspiring to be a politician. With his marriage falling apart, he doesn’t know what to do with his wife. One day, in a train, he meets the mysterious Bruno Anthony (portrayed by Robert Walker), who reveals to Guy Haines that he is having major problems with his father. Sympathetic to the man’s situation, Haines also confides him his troubles with his wife. So Bruno Anthony conceives the “great” idea that would be the solution to both problems: they will exchange murders, with Bruno killing Guy’s wife, and Guy, by his turn, killing Bruno’s father. The movie, besides being hailed as another of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest accomplishments, was a box office success, and the first of Granger’s career.
Although Farley Granger by then was already an established and successful actor, in between movies, he was always in New York City, involved in theater and drama classes, but frequently had to return to Hollywood, whenever the studio called him with a work demand. Farley Granger’s movie career at this point was on its peak: doing successful movies with the most famous stars of his day, he started to do very well also internationally, having starred in the beautiful, poetic and impressionistic period drama film Senso, directed by renowned Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti, in which he shared the screen with the most acclaimed Italian actress of all time, Alida Valli (who also starred in one Alfred Hitchcock movie, The Paradine Case). Released in December 1954, the movie, set in 19th century Italy, tells the story of a troubled romantic relationship between an aristocratic and beautiful Italian countess, Livia Serpieri (Valli), and an officer of the Austrian army, Franz Mahler (Granger), that rises in the final moments of the war fought by the Kingdom of Italy against the Austrian Empire. Despite the excellent dramatic performances driven both by Alida Valli and Farley Granger, originally, Visconti wanted Ingrid Bergman and Marlon Brando for the main roles.
Despite his successes, Farley Granger was feeling depressed, and unhappy with movie making. Becoming progressively more and more interested in theater, he realized he wanted to be an actor, not a movie star. In an unusual career move, the actor decided to quit Hollywood for good. In an industry that has a lot of people desperate to get in, Farley Granger was desperate to get out. Buying the freedom from his contract with Samuel Goldwyn – which left him in a serious financial situation –, in the mid-fifties, Farley Granger, having already made the decision, returned to New York City permanently, determined to commit himself full time to theater, acting classes, drama workshops, Broadway performances and Off Broadway spectacles, something he had been wishing for a long time.
From then on, Granger persevered in the stage, doing all kinds of theater productions. He also acted in television, doing series and soap operas, being at one time nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award for his part in the television show One Life to Live. In the seventies, Farley Granger briefly returned to movies, but this time in Italy, participating in several Italian language films, in a variety of genres, from police procedural to horror. Later in life, he was also a constant presence in documentaries about the Golden Age of Hollywood, and Alfred Hitchcock. He has a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2007, Granger published his autobiography, Include Me Out – named after one of Samuel Goldwyn’s most notorious backlash sentences – co-written with Robert Calhoun. Being born just a human, Farley Granger died a Golden Era screen legend, and a great part of Hollywood history, aged 85, on March 27, 2011.