A native of Parkersburg, West Virginia, Frank Hains became important to Mississippi arts in the 1950s as the arts editor for the Jackson Daily News, for which he wrote the “On Stage” column. After attending Marietta College in Ohio and serving in the military, Hains arrived in Vicksburg in 1951 to work in radio. He moved on to Jackson in 1955 and from 1956 to 1975 wrote lively critiques of stage performances, music, and movies. Hains also directed plays, especially at Jackson’s Little Theatre. In his columns, he admired good theater and music and wrote disparagingly of works he considered simple or unambitious. He was especially interested in performances in Mississippi and considered himself something of an ambassador for improving the arts in the state.
An openly gay man, Hains negotiated the realities of gay life at a time and place that discouraged discussion of anything but heterosexual relationships. Hains praised Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and pushed audiences to recognize the lead character’s homosexual relationship even when the Hollywood version left the issue unclear. Hains also defended other works by Williams and wrote highly of works by Lillian Hellman and Kenneth Anger that addressed issues of homosexuality. He allowed readers of his column to consider the nature of his life—joking about living alone and never marrying, enjoying musical theater, and celebrating literature that addressed complex sexual issues—without ever explicitly discussing his own sexuality.
To the horror of his readers and friends, including numerous writers, artists, and theater lovers, a drifter beat Hains to death in his Jackson home in 1975. His friend Eudora Welty wrote a column after his death, beginning, “For all his years with us, Frank Hains wrote on the arts with perception and clarity, with wit and force of mind. And that mind was first-rate—informed, uncommonly quick and sensitive, keenly responsive. But Frank did more than write well on the arts. He cared. And he worked, worked, worked for their furtherance in this city and state. He was a doer and a maker and a giver. Talented and versatile to a rare degree, he lived in the arts, in their thick.”
- Louis Dollarhide, On Art and Artists (1981)
- Leonard Gill, Memphis Magazine (April 2007)
- John Howard, Men Like That: A Southern Queer History (2001)
- Kevin Sessums, Mississippi Sissy (2007)