‘Boulevard! A Hollywood Story’ Revisits a Queer Love Story from the 50’s
Most people know about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1994 Broadway musical adaptation of Billy Wilder’s 1950s movie, Sunset Boulevard. But few people know that the idea for the adaptation was actually first developed by Gloria Swanson.
Wilder’s original film noir revolves around an aging and neurotic silent movie actress Norma Desmond played by Swanson. Swanson’s Desmond enlists a handsome young screenwriter, Joe Gillis, played by William Holden, to relaunch her career.
Five years after starring as Desmond, Swanson embarked on the adaptation project with Dickson Hughes and Richard Stapley, who were a couple. They were almost finished writing the book and score when a bizarre love triangle between the trio thwarted their project.
Swanson, Stapley, and Hughes have all passed on, but director Jeffrey Schwarz dived into the past to discover what happened to the musical that never happened.
'Boulevard! A Hollywood Story's Plotline
Boulevard! A Hollywood Story leaves no stone unturned.
Through meticulous investigation, the filmmaker learns about the trail of players who were part of the making of Boulevard. Although the musical never made it to the stage, Schwarz got hold of documented interviews from lyricists and composers and discovered what happened.
The first part of the documentary is mainly about Swanson and her ascent to becoming the highest-paid actress in Hollywood during the silent film and her dramatic role as the forgotten movie star.
According to Schwarz, Swanson loved to be filmed and interviewed but never once talked about the musical even though she kept all the letters, sheet music, and test recordings that she, Stapley, and Hughes did for the musical.
Another part of the documentary is about the queer love story of Richard Stapley, who was gay in the '50s. As Deadline reported, the film is not only “a piece of entertainment history but of cultural and LGBTQ+ history.”
The documentary also explores the love triangle between the trio. As Director Schwarz explained,
Our film is about a love triangle between Gloria and Richard Stapley and Dickson Hughes. During the course of the writing of the musical—much like in the film—Gloria kind of developed feelings for Richard Stapley.
Landing on the Idea
As for how Schwarz got the idea to make a documentary, he revealed that as a huge fan of Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, he read Sam Staggs’s Close-Up On Sunset Boulevard. The book entails how the film was made, from the writing, casting, and filming to how Paramount almost rejected the film.
During his sitdown with Queertv Guru, he revealed that he read a chapter in the book that talked about the musical, which fascinated him because not many people knew about it.
As he delved deeper into the musical, he learned that the whole thing was less about Swanson and more about the surrounding people. He felt that the stories behind the musical had the making of a great queer love story which motivated him to work on it.
For Schwarz, whose works usually cover iconic queer characters, this documentary was different because, for the first time, he was covering stories about three different people. 8 years in the making, the documentary finally premiered at Outfest on August 17.