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Jack Buetel's relationship with Howard Hughes as depicted in THE OUTLAW

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Last night, after all these years, I finally watched THE OUTLAW. I spent about four hours on the film (it has a running time just under two hours). I would watch a stretch of the film, then pause it and read about it online. 

 

I was kind of mesmerized by Jack Buetel's portrayal of Billy the Kid, and of course, I wanted to know more about him, how he was cast, why he didn't make many other films, details of his personal life, etc. 

 

Naturally, I stumbled upon threads on the IMDb where people talked about the gay references between Billy and Doc Holliday (Walter Huston) in the film. Even self-identified straight posters claimed they could read a lot of gay subtext into the scenes (some of it is rather overt, so it's hard to miss).

 

This led to my reading about a sexual relationship that Buetel supposedly had with Hughes during production (and I assume afterward, since he remained under contract to Hughes for many years). It was said the actor, who was straight, wanted to please his director. And I suppose if you're a young hopeful in Hollywood and some larger than life type like Howard Hughes is making you a star, you might feel compelled to cater to his every whim. One of Hughes' biographers is said to cover the relationship between Hughes and Buetel, saying that despite having wives and many girlfriends, Hughes was actively bisexual. 

 

I'd like to know what others think. Can we say the homoerotic relationship between Billy and Doc on screen is a recreation of the real-life relationship going on with Hughes and Buetel? If so, that gives the film a whole other dimension. It wouldn't be the first time a mogul made his lover a star and the stories told on screen depicted aspects of an on-going relationship. But it would be one that is about two men, where one of the men is very powerful and somewhat older; while the younger man's services are required under contract, even when there are long gaps between the movies they did.

 

Incidentally, I couldn't find any pictures of the two of them together, and I am sure some must have been taken when THE OUTLAW premiered. Or when Buetel made other films at RKO with/for Hughes.

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Jarrod, this one is such a hot potato - Jack Buetel was "kept" by Howard Hughes for many years.

 

Hughes kept Buetel very close for many years - and, yes, he was under exclusive contract to Hughes.

 

Howard Hawks wanted Buetel for the young male lead in "Red River" - but Hughes refused to loan Buetel to Hawks.

 

Buetel was put on a very special diet by Hughes, to increase the richness of his - what can I say - manly fluids.

 

Eventually, Buetel was allowed to make other films - but, as you might gather, nothing of a high-profile nature.

 

Buetel always did what he was told and kept his wealthy, famous lover "well-nourished".

 

Hughes believed that Buetel's - fluids - would greatly increase his own masculinity (?!).

 

Hughes also had a long-term relationship with Cary Grant, who liked older and wealthy men.

 

(I don't know how much of this one will be deleted.)

 

Last night, after all these years, I finally watched THE OUTLAW. I spent about four hours on the film (it has a running time just under two hours). I would watch a stretch of the film, then pause it and read about it online. 

 

I was kind of mesmerized by Jack Buetel's portrayal of Billy the Kid, and of course, I wanted to know more about him, how he was cast, why he didn't make many other films, details of his personal life, etc. 

 

Naturally, I stumbled upon threads on the IMDb where people talked about the gay references between Billy and Doc Holliday (Walter Huston) in the film. Even self-identified straight posters claimed they could read a lot of gay subtext into the scenes (some of it is rather overt, so it's hard to miss).

 

This led to my reading about a sexual relationship that Buetel supposedly had with Hughes during production (and I assume afterward, since he remained under contract to Hughes for many years). It was said the actor, who was straight, wanted to please his director. And I suppose if you're a young hopeful in Hollywood and some larger than life type like Howard Hughes is making you a star, you might feel compelled to cater to his every whim. One of Hughes' biographers is said to cover the relationship between Hughes and Buetel, saying that despite having wives and many girlfriends, Hughes was actively bisexual. 

 

I'd like to know what others think. Can we say the homoerotic relationship between Billy and Doc on screen is a recreation of the real-life relationship going on with Hughes and Buetel? If so, that gives the film a whole other dimension. It wouldn't be the first time a mogul made his lover a star and the stories told on screen depicted aspects of an on-going relationship. But it would be one that is about two men, where one of the men is very powerful and somewhat older; while the younger man's services are required under contract, even when there are long gaps between the movies they did.

 

Incidentally, I couldn't find any pictures of the two of them together, and I am sure some must have been taken when THE OUTLAW premiered. Or when Buetel made other films at RKO with/for Hughes.

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Jarrod, this one is such a hot potato - Jack Buetel was "kept" by Howard Hughes for many years.

 

Hughes kept Buetel very close for many years - and, yes, he was under exclusive contract to Hughes.

 

Howard Hawks wanted Buetel for the young male lead in "Red River" - but Hughes refused to loan Buetel to Hawks.

 

Buetel was put on a very special diet by Hughes, who increase the richness of his - what can I say - manly fluids.

 

Eventually, Buetel was allowed to make other films - but, as you might gather, nothing of a high-profile nature.

 

Buetel always did what he was told and kept his wealthy, famous lover "well-nourished".

 

Hughes believed that Buetel - fluids - would greatly increase his own masculinity (?!).

 

 

Thank you, Ray...you seem to have provided some key information. In a way, I'm glad you mentioned the special diet, which I did not know about. The scene in THE OUTLAW where Rio (Jane Russell) has filled up the canteen with sand, and this is only discovered by Billy and Doc out in the desert when they're thirsty seemed to stop just short of saying the men will drink each other to survive the heat. This is a very daring film, because there are all these sensational/sexual ideas in it, which they try hard to get across despite the production code restraints. 

 

From what I've read, Buetel married a few times and had kids. So it would be interesting to know when his relationship with Hughes officially ended, unless it never really did. He outlived Hughes by 13 years, but I couldn't find any quotes or comments from him on Hughes, when Hughes died. 

 

If there are any reading materials that go more in-depth about these two, I'd appreciate suggestions. 

 

P.S. Imagine how the gun comparison scene in RED RIVER with Monty's character and John Ireland would have been played if Buetel had done it.

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Interesting- I will have to take a look at "The Outlaw".  The bi sexual angle was omitted from "The Aviator" which was written by a gay man?!

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Interesting- I will have to take a look at "The Outlaw".  

 

THE OUTLAW is available on Amazon Prime. Look forward to reading your comments after you've seen it.

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The film is clearly a budding romance between Doc Holliday (Walter Houston) and Billy The Kid (Jack Buetel).

 

The attraction is immediate - Billy takes a tobacco pouch out of Doc's pocket, rolls a cigarette for himself and puts the tobacco pouch back into his own pocket.

 

Doc notices, of course, but he says nothing.

 

Later, when Doc asks Rio (Jane Russell) to take care of a dying Billy - he has to run off because he is being chased by Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell) - and Doc returns to find out that Billy is sleeping with Doc's girl, Rio - Billy says he can have Rio or the horse that he stole from Billy - Doc chooses the horse - and Billy chooses to follow Doc - leaving Rio without the two men in  her life,

 

Later, when the two men discover that Rio has filled their canteens with sand - and that they are now without water - the love theme surfaces.

 

At the end, when Billy decides that he cannot kill Doc and Doc is overwhelmed with gratitude, the film comes closest to a love scene - as Doc approaches Billy rapturously and stops just short of a kiss - and the love theme swirls upward.

 

At the end, too, Pat confesses that he is consumed with jealousy over Doc and Billy's relationship - "You've treated me badly ever since he came to town." - and Pat kills Doc.

 

Although Jane Russell as Rio is in this film, her relationship with the two men is just going through the motions for a female lead in a Western.

 

Although the film became notorious for establishing her as a sex symbol, Jack Buetel is treated far more openly as a sex symbol.

 

His scenes in Rio's bed - as she nurses him back to life and warms him with her nude body - are pure sex as the film focuses on Billy's face in extreme close-up.

 

And Buetel's plucked eyebrows and voluptuous lips!

 

And handsome features, too.

 

As I said, pure sex.

 

The film seems to be celebrating what was happening off-set between Buetel and Hughes - and I would say that everyone was aware of the truth. 

 

This film should have established Jack Buetel as a star.

 

But it was on the shelf for years and constantly tampered with.

 

Why, because it was obviously way, way ahead of its' time.

.  

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Yeah, it's obvious that Pat is jealous of Doc's relationship with Billy in this film, and not jealous of Doc and Rio. 

 

Much has been written about the scenes where Doc lets Billy take the cigarettes, and it certainly does come across as being very homoerotic since it is implying they share much intimacy. Hughes doesn't even try to present it as as father-son type bond; it's very close and personal in a way that lovers would act. 

 

There's a scene in the desert where they are standing on a ridge looking off into the distance. To me, that was the most sexual part-- because Hughes has a medium shot where their backs are turned to the camera, and Billy goes up and stands right behind Doc, practically brushing up against Doc's backside. Then he walks around Doc and stands in front of him. At this point, the camera reverses to the other side, and they are both facing us. Billy is on the left of the screen and Doc is on the right. Doc is still looking off into the distance, then Hughes has Buetel walk over much closer to Doc and sort of lean down and put his hand down on the rock in front of Doc. It's like Billy is invading Doc's space both from behind and in front during this exchange. And as Doc talks about what's in the distance, Billy is doing this coy seduction. 

 

On a first viewing, someone may not really notice what's going on. I got the impression that Hughes had obviously talked with Buetel about how to play this scene, and even if Buetel was straight, he was more than willing to play it this way with Huston. I wonder if Huston knew what the real intention was of the scene, that he was a surrogate version of Hughes himself-- that Hughes was behind the camera and prodding Buetel to recreate their off-camera ritual and seduce Doc, which symbolized how Hughes had Buetel seduce him.

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Great comments, Jarrod, you are going to have to write an article.

 

So much to say - but most of it would not be in good taste.

 

The diet - six pomergranates a day, which Buetel hated to eat.

 

The relationship - Hughes kept his young lover off the screen for 11 years.

 

How much love/hate was involved in that relationship?

 

Buetel was a client of notoriously gay agent Henry Willson and replaced another unknown actor who was slated for the role.

 

The so-called "nude version" - no, it doesn't exist.

 

But Hughes did film a sex scene from the POV of Buetel's naked derriere as he had sex with an actual Mexican ****, whom Hughes had hired for the scene.

 

Although Buetel always did what he was told - and allowed Hughes to sate his thirst, so to speak - he always refused to - "give it up" - for Hughes.

 

And Hughes saw this refusal as a betrayal and ingratitude.

 

Some people have the power to destroy another human being - and Hughes came very close to doing that with Buetel.

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Ray,

 

It sounds like you know quite a bit about these two and the making of the film. I've wondered what happened to the first actor who was replaced. Just faded from view? Incidentally, Buetel has very crooked-looking teeth in THE OUTLAW. With all his money, I'm surprised Hughes didn't have them fixed. Unless he did that later. 

 

In an earlier post, you mentioned how Russell's image was used for years to advertise the picture. She was repeatedly the 'beard'-- both in terms of the character she played in the movie, as well as how her image was exploited to publicize the picture. If only the public had known that THE OUTLAW was a project to immortalize Buetel, who must have been Hughes' great love at the time.

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Ray,

 

It sounds like you know quite a bit about these two and the making of the film. I've wondered what happened to the first actor who was replaced. Just faded from view? Incidentally, Buetel has very crooked-looking teeth in THE OUTLAW. With all his money, I'm surprised Hughes didn't have them fixed. Unless he did that later. 

 

In an earlier post, you mentioned how Russell's image was used for years to advertise the picture. She was repeatedly the 'beard'-- both in terms of the character she played in the movie, as well as how her image was exploited to publicize the picture. If only the public had known that THE OUTLAW was a project to immortalize Buetel, who must have been Hughes' great love at the time.

Jarrod, that young actor's name was Phil Medina, who was from Trenton, New Jersey.

 

He was willing to spend a weekend with Howard Hughes, who then offered him the role of Billy The Kid.

 

But one night visiting Phil at his apartment which he shared with three other guys, Howard caught a glimpse of a naked Jack Buetel on a bed and, from his reaction to Buetel, Medina knew that he had just lost the role of Billy The Kid.

 

Through Henry Willson's machinations, these young guys were available sexually to industry insiders who could make a difference in their careers.

 

Hughes signed Buetel immediately to a $75 a week contract for 8 years.

 

After the 11-year dry spell, Buetel went on to make - 

 

Best of the Badmen

Rose of Cimarron

Half Breed

Jesse James' Women

Mustang!

and he appeared in the 1956 series, Judge Roy Bean

 

However, with that one big part in "The Outlaw", Buetel has achieved a kind of screen immortality.

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Very interesting, Ray. I see there are no credits for Phil Medina at the IMDb, so apparently his acting career never got off the ground.

 

I have a copy of THE HALF-BREED which I haven't watched...so I will need to find it and take a look at it.

 

Someone should make a movie about Hughes and Buetel.

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Very interesting, Ray. I see there are no credits for Phil Medina at the IMDb, so apparently his acting career never got off the ground.

 

I have a copy of THE HALF-BREED which I haven't watched...so I will need to find it and take a look at it.

 

Someone should make a movie about Hughes and Buetel.

Jarrod, Phil Medina was selling himself for $10 on Hollywood Boulevard.

 

Perhaps he decided to return home to Trenton, New Jersey.

 

Yes, a movie about Howard Hughes and Jack Buetel would be quite interesting.

 

Jack Buetel is long gone now - but he did have a lot to say about his relationship with Hughes.

 

I look forward to your review of "Half Breed".

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Jack Buetel on his relationship with Howard Hughes -

 

"He was a much stronger man than me, and I gave in to him.  What did it get me?  Money?  Never!

The bastard was as stingy as hell with me.  Fame?  Maybe.  I guess my name will love forever for that one stinking part.  But, even in that, I was a joke.  The Outlaw made a joke of both Jane and me.  She overcame hers.  I didn't.  I'll always remember that night in San Francisco at the premiere.  That god damn audience laughed at some of my most dramatic scenes.  The press still doesn't even know how to spell my name.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, even in The New York Times, it's spelled BEUTEL.  I should have kept my real name, William Higgins.  Willson thought that sounded like some hayseed farmer and insisted I change it."  

 

On the most-disputed nude version of The Outlaw - 

 

"That's too sick for words.  My God, I have no comment to make about that.  If the true story of that ever gets out, the world will know just how sick Howard Hughes really was." 

 

Complaining to Henry Willson about Howard Hughes -

 

"Hughes can't get enough of me.  It's like he's sucking my life's blood from me."

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Jack Buetel on his relationship with Howard Hughes -

 

"He was a much stronger man than me, and I gave in to him.  What did it get me?  Money?  Never!

The bastard was as stingy as hell with me.  Fame?  Maybe.  I guess my name will love forever for that one stinking part.  But, even in that, I was a joke.  The Outlaw made a joke of both Jane and me.  She overcame hers.  I didn't.  I'll always remember that night in San Francisco at the premiere.  That god damn audience laughed at some of my most dramatic scenes.  The press still doesn't even know how to spell my name.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, even in The New York Times, it's spelled BEUTEL.  I should have kept my real name, William Higgins.  Willson thought that sounded like some hayseed farmer and insisted I change it."  

 

On the most-disputed nude version of The Outlaw - 

 

"That's too sick for words.  My God, I have no comment to make about that.  If the true story of that ever gets out, the world will know just how sick Howard Hughes really was." 

 

Complaining to Henry Willson about Howard Hughes -

 

"Hughes can't get enough of me.  It's like he's sucking my life's blood from me."

 

Thanks Ray. Did those quotes come from somewhere online? Or are they included in a book?

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Thanks Ray. Did those quotes come from somewhere online? Or are they included in a book?

No, Jarrod, they are from a book on Howard (The Horror) Hughes by Darwin Porter.

 

Porter isn't afraid of the unvarnished truth - that's why he is often reviled.

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No, Jarrod, they are from a book on Howard (The Horror) Hughes by Darwin Porter.

 

Okay. Thanks. Hughes died in 1976, and Buetel in 1989. They're fascinating to discuss, especially in the context of THE OUTLAW and the other films that were made together at RKO.

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Okay. Thanks. Hughes died in 1976, and Buetel in 1989. They're fascinating to discuss, especially in the context of THE OUTLAW and the other films that were made together at RKO.

Jarrod, the score is by Victor Young, but the love theme is from another well-known film.

 

I cannot place it.  Can you?

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Jarrod, the score is by Victor Young, but the love theme is from another well-known film.

 

I cannot place it.  Can you?

 

No. Did you try looking up Victor Young's credits on the IMDb?

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There seems to be a homoerotic love triangle between the three men.  Billy is photographed as sex  symbol ( just as much as Jane Russell who is used as window dressing by Hughes)  He comes across as twink tease that gets in between the older couple.  The use of smoking as a symbol for sex is too obvious ( Howard must have been a big fan of "Now Voyager"  I'm surprise someone hasn't remade this and made the bisexual aspect more explicit.

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There seems to be a homoerotic love triangle between the three men.  Billy is photographed as sex  symbol ( just as much as Jane Russell who is used as window dressing by Hughes)  He comes across as twink tease that gets in between the older couple.  The use of smoking as a symbol for sex is too obvious ( Howard must have been a big fan of "Now Voyager"  I'm surprise someone hasn't remade this and made the bisexual aspect more explicit.

 

THE OUTLAW was filmed in late 1940, before NOW VOYAGER which was released two years later. It took Hughes three years to get it past the censors and into a San Francisco theater. And it didn't finally go into wide release until 1946.

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THE OUTLAW was filmed in late 1940, before NOW VOYAGER which was released two years later. It took Hughes three years to get it past the censors and into a San Francisco theater. And it didn't finally go into wide release until 1946.

And what were the sensors so upset about- apart from Russell's breast the film seems pretty tame -were they missing scenes that Hughes was forced to cut? I'm surprise he did not manage to include a shirtless scene for Billy- or better yet some skinny dipping bit :)

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And what were the sensors so upset about- apart from Russell's breast the film seems pretty tame -were they missing scenes that Hughes was forced to cut? I'm surprise he did not manage to include a shirtless scene for Billy- or better yet some skinny dipping bit 

 

There was a sex scene, where Billy's naked backside was shown. The production code office had a conniption about that. And probably other things we don't know about that were cut.

 

It's too bad Hughes didn't attempt this kind of film during the precode years, but it still would have been cut for re-release and television. Hughes was ahead of his time with this project.

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Originally, Joseph Breen of The Hays Office had 108 objections to the film.

 

The film was budgeted at a low $250,000, but it ended up costing $3,400,000 - in its' day, a huge sum of money.

 

Right, Jarrod, although began in 1940 and finished in 1941 - and released briefly in 1943 - the film only went into wide release in 1946 - after a nationwide publicity campaign, which focused on Jane Russell's breasts. 

 

The original version of the film, which contained 85 miles of film, was severely cut by Howard Hughes himself.  

 

Later in life, Hughes would run the film at least once a month.

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Originally, Joseph Breen of The Hays Office had 108 objections to the film.

 

The film was budgeted at a low $250,000 ,but it ended up costing $3,400,000 - in its' day, a huge sum of money.

 

Right, Jarrod, although began in 1940 and finished in 1941 - and released briefly in 1943 - the film only went into wide release in 1946 - after a nationwide publicity campaign, which focused on Jane Russell's breasts. 

 

The original version of the film, which contained 85 miles of film, was severely cut by Howard Hawks himself.  

 

Later in life, Hughes would run the film at least once a month.

 

And because of his need to find a distributor for the re-release, Hughes bought RKO. So in a way, the film cost him even more money. In 1970, he failed to renew the copyright which seems like a poor business decision but he managed to retain copyrights on HELL'S ANGELS and SCARFACE, his other two big hits. 

 

As for Jane and the publicity surrounding this film, it looks to me as if a lot of the advertising used images of her and her breasts from 1946. She doesn't appear to be as buxom in the film, where she is six years younger.

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