La Tourneaux made his Broadway theatre debut in the 1967 musical Illya Darling. In 1968, he was part of the ensemble for Mart Crowley’s play The Boys in the Band, which opened on April 14, 1968 at Theater Four in New York City. The advertisement for the film version used head shots of Leonard Frey and La Tourneaux, with La Tourneaux identified as the "present" for Frey’s birthday-celebrating character. Many newspapers refused to run the advertisement.
La Tourneaux’s career stalled after the film version of The Boys in the Band was released. His only other film performances were a supporting part in the Roger Corman film Von Richthofen and Brown (1971) and the independent film Pilgrimage. He also had a small role in a 1974 made-for-television version of the Maxim Gorky play Enemies.
On stage, La Tourneaux appeared in a small role in a Broadway revival of The Merchant of Venice; he was slated to appear in the 1977 Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’ Vieux Carré, but was dropped from the cast prior to the show’s opening.
The openly gay La Tourneaux initially blamed his being typecast as a gay hustler for his inability to receive worthwhile roles, stating in a 1973 interview, "Boys was the kiss of death for me.” In the 1978 anthology Quentin Crisp’s Book of Quotations, La Tourneaux compared his career to another gay actor by saying, "Charles Laughton played every kind of part, but never a homosexual. People knew he was gay, but his public image [which included a wife] never betrayed his public reality. So he was safe. I wasn’t safe."
La Tourneaux in After Dark magazine, 1969
Unable to secure work as an actor La Tourneaux resorted to nude modeling in gay men's magazines and in 1978 performed nude in a one-man cabaret act at the Ramrod, a New York City theater showing gay pornography films. He eventually became a prostitute.
He also gave an interview to a gay magazine naming his famous married closeted bisexual lovers, alleging one of them to have been Academy award-winning actor Christopher Walken. He also accused Walken of having an affair with another married actor, Robert Wagner, on the night of actress Natalie Wood's (Wagner's wife) unexplained death. In 1983, La Tourneaux was arrested for assault after trying to extract money from a client and incarcerated at the Rikers Island prison. While in prison, La Torneaux attempted suicide.
In the early 1980s, La Tourneaux contracted AIDS, and received news coverage when he sought legal channels to prevent being evicted from his apartment when his landlord objected to the presence of a live-in caregiver. La Tourneaux won the court case, but died in Metropolitan Hospital on June 3, 1986. Boys co-star Cliff Gorman and his wife cared for him during his illness until his death.
Harold's birthday present in the play is a laconic $20-a-night hustler whom Harold immediately nicknames Tex. Murray Gitlin had asked Robert La Tourneaux to audition for the part after he met him at the Westside YMCA. "He was one of the most beautiful young men," Gitlin recalled. La Tourneaux hesitated at first because he thought it was demeaning to play a hustler. But after the play became a hit, he repeated the role in London and Los Angeles, and again for the film. La Tourneaux complained during the seventies that he never got any more good roles because he "was typecast as a gay hustler, and it was an image I couldn't shake." By 1978, he was working in a male porno theater in Manhattan, doing a one-man cabaret act. Then life imitated art altogether: La Tourneaux became a hustler. "He tried to extort money from someone who was supposedly a friend-probably a john," said Githn. La Tourneaux was arrested and sent to the New York City prison on Rikers Island. There he tried to kill himself. Finally he was hospitalized at Bellevue where Gitlin went to visit him: "He was in a private room with leg shackles. And the guard guarding twenty-four hours a day, wearing a gown and mask. It was just awful. And Bob just kept getting sicker and sicker. It was just such a waste: he was so sweet and so beautiful and had so much going for him. I saw him a couple of weeks before he died. He was in Metropolitan Hospital, he was out of prison. And the nurse who was assigned to him had seen The Boys in the Bandon television the night before. And he died in her arms. And to her, he was a star." --Charles Kaiser. The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America (Kindle Locations 2783-2793). Kindle Edition.
The cast of ‘Boys in the Band’ with playwright Mart Crowley, left. Next to him are Laurence Luckinbill as Hank, the late Frederick Combs as Donald, the late Robert La Tourneaux as 'Cowboy,' the late Kenneth Nelson as Michael, the late Leonard Frey as Harold, the late Cliff Gorman as Emory, the late Keith Prentice as Larry, Peter White as Alan and Reuben Greene as Bernard. (Photo courtesy of the Karpel Group)
The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America by Charles Kaiser
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Grove Press (June 10, 2007)
Amazon: The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year and winner of a Lambda Literary Award, The Gay Metropolis is a landmark saga of struggle and triumph that was instantly recognized as the most authoritative and substantial work of its kind. Filled with astounding anecdotes and searing tales of heartbreak and transformation, it provides a decade-by-decade account of the rise and acceptance of gay life and identity since the 1940s. From the making of West Side Story, the modern Romeo and Juliet tale written and staged by four gay men, to the catastrophic era of AIDS, Charles Kaiser recounts the true history of the gay movement with many never-before-told stories. Filled with dazzling characters — including Leonard Bernstein, Montgomery Clift, Alfred Hitchcock, and John F. Kennedy, among many others — this is a vital telling of American history, exciting and uplifting.
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