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The Tailor-Made Man - a forgotten Hollywood scandal, the story of Billy Haines on at Stage Door Theatre

Matinee idols: Clarke Gable - tick, Rudolph Valentino - tick, Rock Hudson - tick, Cary Grant - tick, Tyrone Power - tick, Douglas Fairbanks Jr - tick, Billy Haines - Billy who?

Billy Haines was the Matinee Idol that we've never heard of. All his films were locked away in the vaults for 60 years by Metro Goldwyn Mayer. This play tells the events leading to the end of his Hollywood career from the creation of ' Tailor-Made Man' by the studio to, "You'll never work again in this town".

So what did he do to deserve this? He was a gay man at a time when that was kept hidden by the studios in fear of this effecting the box office takings. He was also a gay man who refused to play by the studio's rules. The studio had wanted him to marry as a cover, and set up Pola Negri, as a boost to both their careers. Olivia Ruggerio plays Pola for laughs, the silent movie star who hasn't managed the transition to talkies, as her voice was mocked by audiences. Billy declined to play that game, staying true to his identity, to the irritation of the studio. Hugo Pilcher manages to portray well both the fun and impish side of Billy, but also the obstinate side which ultimately leads to the end of Billy's career.

Man standing on a stage with a notebook, 2nd man seated on a deckchair on the same stage
Jimmie (Gwithian Evans) standing and Billy (Hugo Pilcher) seated

He had travelled to New York where he met Jimmie (played sympathetically by Gwithian Evans), who returned with him to California. They lived together happily, on the whole, with just one rule - Billy was not to bring anyone else to the house. If he wanted to met other men, it had to be away from the home. Caught in a raid with a sailor in a dodgy part of town, it took a lot of money and all the PR skill of Howard Strickling (played by Peter Rae) to prevent the story reaching the news. But it sent Louis B. Mayer into a rage (played with both charm and menace by Dereck Walker), and Billy learnt that Hollywood could be very unforgiving; all doors were now closed to him.

Woman in 1920s dress and fur touching shoulder of standing man
Marion Davies (Shelley Rivers) and Billy (Hugo Pilcher)

He had made good female friends along the way, who stuck by Billy. Shelley Rivers makes a good job of good-time girl, Marion Davies, bankrolled by William Randolph Hurst to transition from dancer to movie star. The banter between them has the genuine feel of great friends who can tease each other. She and Carole Lombard helps to make his long-time side-hustle of interior decorating into a thriving business, which he carried on doing until the 1970s.

Throughout the play, Jimmie's character narrates as well as interacting with the other cast members. This helps to give his role a particular depth and warmth, and make him into a very sympathetic character.

The staging for The Tailor-Made Man is set on the traverse, allowing the actors to use a lot of space and to be very close to the audience, allowing us to observe all the nuances of their performances. Also aided by Richard Lambert's excellent lighting. This is a far more intimate experience than most traditionally staged plays.

What could be nicer than a meal before the show without all the stress of 'will the bill arrive on time so we aren't late' that normally happens with West End pre-show meals? Why not pop along and experience it for yourself.


Hugo Pilcher (William 'Billy' Haines)

Gwithian Evans (Jimmie Shields)

Peter Rae (Howard Strickling)

Dereck Walker (Louis B. Mayer)

Shelly Rivers (Marion Davies)

Olivia Ruggerio (Secretary/Carol Lombard/Pola Negri)


Written by Claudio Macor

Directed by Robert McWhir

Designed by David Shields

Costume Design Janet Huckle

Original Musical Compositions Aaron Clingham

Lighting Richard Lambert

When: various dates 9th May to 31st July

Theatre tickets are available with a 2-course dining option within the Stage Door Theatre on the 1st floor. Created by chefs in the kitchens of the Prince of Wales pub. So you can have have a meal before watching a show all within the dinner theatre.

Ticket Prices:

Show and dining: £41

Show only: £22

(+ booking fee)

Address: The Prince of Wales, 150-151 Drury Lane, London, WC2B 5TD


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