Boulevard: A Hollywood Story – Gloria Swanson’s failed attempt to make a Sunset Boulevard musical, and the queer twist to it all
Boulevard: A Hollywood Story, tells the real-life tale of Gloria Swanson, the iconic star of Sunset Boulevard, which both the movie and her character of Norma Desmond provided a renewed spotlight. Seeing in Norma a portal back to the stardom she once commanded as a silent screen superstar, Swanson began to envision a musical stage adaptation of the film.
Dickson Hughes and Richard Stapley, two young songwriters and romantic partners, find themselves caught in movie star Gloria Swanson’s web when she hires them to write a musical version of Sunset Boulevard. Life imitates art when Gloria falls for Richard, and the men find themselves living a real-life version of the classic film.
Years before Andrew Lloyd Webber would bring his own adaptation of Sunset Boulevard to Broadway, Stapley and Hughes completed their own musical vision of Norma’s story. But after several failed attempts to bring the musical to fruition, the three entertainers eventually declared the project a wash and parted ways. Also complicating matters was the fact that Gloria set her sights on handsome Richard, resulting in a classic love triangle.
With Swanson riding off into the sunset as only a Hollywood icon can, Hughes continued to compose, while Stapley, ever chasing his star, set off to Europe to act in spaghetti westerns. For Stapley and Hughes, the chapter on the Sunset Boulevard musical could have officially been closed forever. Except, just like Norma Desmond, the show hadn’t taken its final bow quite yet.
Years later, Hughes revitalized the music into a cabaret act, titled Swanson on Sunset. The show not only incorporated the music from the Sunset Boulevard musical, but also went further…telling the harrowing story of the failed production itself. An autobiographical ode to a musical moment in his life, Hughes was able to bring a sweet coda to his work all those years prior. The project’s mild success caught the attention of Stapley, who, motivated by the news, planned a sudden and dramatic return to Hughes’ life.
A tale of relentless passion and unspoken desperation, the story of Swanson’s Sunset Boulevard musical has remained an untold tale of Hollywood Babylon…until now. In Boulevard! A Hollywood Story, audiences will trace the journey of the three key players of the ill-fated Sunset Boulevard musical, and see how the show became a definitive chapter of their respective lives.
Boulevard! A Hollywood Story finally brings the story of Norma Desmond’s musical swansong to all the people out there in the dark.
Emmy-winning director, Jeffrey Schwarz (The Fabulous Allan Carr, Tab Hunter Confidential, I Am Divine, Vito), shared, “I love learning about the behind-the-scenes drama of classic movies, and devoured film historian Sam Staggs’ book Close-up on Sunset Boulevard. It was here I first learned about Gloria Swanson’s failed attempt to launch a musical version of Sunset Boulevard, and the resulting creative threesome with her composers – Dickson Hughes and Richard Stapley. The two men were lovers but presented themselves to the world as writing partners and roommates, a necessary contrivance in the homophobic 1950s.”
Director’s Statement – Jeffrey Schwarz
“Digging up stories from the past and re-invigorating legacies for a new generation has been my creative mission over the years. With Boulevard! A Hollywood Story, a hidden Hollywood saga will finally be revealed, and provide a big screen comeback for Gloria Swanson, Richard Stapley, and Dickson Hughes. Piecing together the fragments of what they left behind to make this film has been an enormously moving experience, and it brings me great joy to finally share this story with audiences around the world.”
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.