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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Rock Hudson, Gay Icon


Rock Hudson was born Roy Harold Scherer, Jr. in November of 1925 in Winnetka, Illinois.  Roy and his mother were abandoned by his father during the great depression, but his mother eventually remarried.  Roy was legally adopted by his new father and became Roy Fitzgerald.

After graduating High School, Roy joined the United States Navy and served in the Philippines during WWII as an aircraft mechanic. 

 Samuel Steward

In 1946, after the war, Roy went to work in the gift wrapping department of Marshall Field Department store in Chicago.  According to Justin Spring’s book “Secret Historian” the legendary Samuel Steward, professor, tattoo artist and sexual renegade was also working there at the same time. Steward spotted the extraordinarily handsome Roy. After some brief flirtation, these two attractive men stopped a freight elevator between floors and had sex.(If it was up to me, there would be a bronze plaque in that elevator commemorating their trick.)

Realizing that his good looks were a major commodity, Roy decided to pursue a career as an actor and he and moved to Los Angeles before the end of 1946.



The handsome young Roy soon caught the eye of Hollywood Talent agent, Henry Willson.  Willson was responsible for the “Beefcake” craze of the 1950’s and 60’s, he was notorious for “scouting talent” at gay bars all over Los Angeles. 

 Guy Madison

 Troy Donahue

Tab Hunter

His stable of hot young male actors included Guy Madison,Troy Donahue, Tab Hunter, Chad Everett, Robert Wagner, Rory Calhoun and Doug McClure. Roy was quickly renamed Rock Hudson and he would become Henry Willson’s most successful creation.

 Robert Wagner "surprising" Jeffrey Hunter from behind!

In exchange for sex, and percentage of their future earnings, Willson’s handsome discoveries would be sculpted into stars. Not all of his discoveries were gay, but we have to assume that they were at least open to “pleasing” Willson in one way or another. 

  Publicity shot of Rock with a fishing pole.

Willson came up with all of their new “movie star” names (Rad, Troy, Cal, Van, Chance, Guy, Clint, Race, Dack and Rock) and rewrote their biographies to include masculine hobbies like football, woodworking, horseback riding or fishing. 

Willson with Hudson.

 Willson knew that Rock was something special and so he spent a lot of time “grooming” him. There were etiquette lessons, which Willson gave to Rock while showing him off at Hollywood’s hottest restaurants. He taught him how to speak, had his teeth straightened and supported him while he got his career up and running. When Willson wasn't around, Rock enjoyed hanging (even tricking with) the most handsome gay men in Hollywood.

 George Nader water skiing with Rock

Rock Hudson with Michael Butler

Rock and George Nader

The more popular Rock became, the more attention the gossip magazines began paying to his personal life. Willson set Rock up dates with attractive young actresses, then tipped off the press where to find them. 

 

Even with Willson's heterosexual smoke screen, word got around about the handsome "bachelors" that Rock was seen with around town. Many were wondering, was Rock Hudson gay?The magazines started doing stories which asked why Rock wasn't married yet. At one point Confidential Magazine threatened to expose Rock Hudson as a homosexual. The rumor is that one of Rock’s tricks managed to take a few incriminating photos of Rock and sold them to the magazine. Willson had a sizable investment in Rock and the studio was panicked about the potential scandal. 

 Rory Calhoun

"Still a Convict!"

In order to save their hottest new star, Willson and the studio made a deal with the magazine; leave Rock alone and they would give them the dirt on Rory Calhoun and one other young star. (Rory was a juvenile delinquent as a teen, which was a big deal at that time. Today, nobody would care.) 

 
 Tab Hunter with his boyfriend Roddy Mcdowall.

Tab's "Disorderly Conduct" Charge.

The other star that was sacrificed for Rock’s career was Tab Hunter.  Tab had dropped Willson as his manager a few months before, so Willson provided Confidential with all the lurid details of Tab’s “disorderly conduct” charge. The tag line read, “The Truth About Tab Hunter’s Pajama Party” and the story mentioned “limp wristed lads” and “queer romps” so that the public would get the not so subtle hint that Tab was homosexual.

 Rock Hudson and "Mrs. Hudson."

In order to avoid any suspicions about the handsome young bachelor, Willson arranged for Rock to marry his secretary, Phyllis Gates.  They "dated" publicly for several months; Willson making sure that the gossip rags were there to document Rock’s “heterosexuality” for his fans.  They were married in 1955, in a wedding ceremony planned entirely by Willson. The sham marriage worked and no one knew Rock's secret except for Hollywood insiders and members of LA’s gay scene. Gates divorce Hudson in 1958 charging mental cruelty. 

 Phyllis Gates, post divorce.

She received $250 a month alimony for ten years, which was a bargain for Hudson. Years later she continued to deny that the marriage was a fraud, but she never remarried and there are rumors that the marriage helped to hide the fact that she was lesbian.

 Scotty Bowers

Now that Rock was a certified Heterosexual, in the public's eye, he was free to more movies, and continue with his closeted gay affairs. Scotty Bowers mentions Rock Hudson in his biography, “Full Service, My adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars.” According to Scotty, who hooked up his military buddies with closeted celebrities, Rock was a regular customer. 


Rock would pull up to Scotty's Gas Station in his shiny new car and request what type of guy he wanted and Scotty would arrange the whole thing. Obviously a handsome man like Rock didn’t need to pay for sex, but Scotty’s operation had a great reputation for being discreet, something that Rock was willing to pay for after the tabloid situation.



Hudson had many gay lovers over the years, some turned serious and some not, but his friends always described him as a "romantic."


With his career back on track, Rock went on to make "Giant" with Liz Taylor and James Dean in 1956.

 Rock Hudson and James Dean having a little fun.
 
 Rock Hudson interviewed about "Giant", 1982

According to one of their co-stars, Liz and Rock had a bet which of them could get James Dean into bed first... of course, Rock won the bet! Imagine how shocked 1950's Americans would have been if they found out that Rock Hudson and James Dean were not only gay, but also hooking up with each other off camera! Hudson and Dean both earned Oscar nominations for their performances in "Giant."

 The original Trailer for Pillow Talk.
Rock’s career took a bit of nose dive after Giant, his choice of projects was less than spectacular. That all changed in 1959 he was paired up Doris Day and Tony Randall for the comedy hit “Pillow Talk”. This and several other comedies that the two made together were very successful and allowed Rock to remain a leading man. 

 

 Tony Randall, Doris Day and Rock Hudson camping it up.


Unfortunately, just as Rock Hudson was hitting his stride in the mid 60’s, the handsome beefcake actors of the 1950’s were beginning to seem corny to a public that now clamored to actors like Duston Hoffman and Al Pacino. Hudson hated them and referred to them as “Little Uglies.” Gritty realism was in, Hollywood glamor was out.

  Hoffman in "Midnight Cowboy." Not so pretty.

Rock only wanted to act, never pursuing directing or producing like many of his aging contemporaries. He eventually began appearing in TV movies; his leading man looks and loyal following insured high ratings for just about anything.

McMillan & Wife, Susan Saint James and Rock Hudson

In 1971 he got his own TV show called McMillan & Wife with Susan Saint James.   The show was a big hit and stayed on the air for 7 years and kept Rock in the spotlight.  

 Rock Hudson and Carol Burnett

 Besides his show, Rock also made several memorable appearances on the “The Carol Burnett Show.” Rock and Carol were good friends and that closeness shines through in their work together.

 

Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle
        
Jim Nabors had been good friends with Rock Hudson for years when suddenly a rumor began spreading that they were lovers. It all started with a joke invitation to an annual gay party in Huntington Beach. The queens printed invitations to “witness the marriage of Rock Hudson and Jim Nabors” with the punch line being that Hudson would be taking on the last name of Jim Nabor’s famous character, Gomer Pyle, thus becoming "Rock Pyle."  The joke went over the heads of a few guests and the story entered the rumor mill and became part of pop culture history. Sadly, it ended the friendship between Rock and Nabors.
 Rock’s sexuality was an open secret in Hollywood and even his mother knew. When interviewed about her book, “Rock Hudson, His Story” author Sara Davidson told a great story about Hudsons’ mother chatting with her friend in Newport Beach, “…she was playing bridge, and one of her partners had something on her mind, and finally blurted out, ‘ I heard that Rock was gay!’ His mother answered, ‘I know. And the hardest thing is, I can’t remember his boyfriends’ names. Three no trump.' "
  
Sadly, Rock Hudson died on October 2nd 1985 at the age of 59. Rock was the first major U.S. celebrity to die of complications from AIDS and it raised public awareness of the epidemic in a way no one could have imagined. Before his death, the media rarely mentioned AIDS, since it was known only as a “gay plague.”  Just a few days after Rock died, Congress set aside $221 million to develop a cure for AIDS. 
 
Hudson said: "I am not happy that I am sick. I am not happy that I have AIDS. But if that is helping others, I can at least know that my own misfortune has had some positive worth.” 


For more on Rock Hudson, check out these books:



Secret Historian

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Thanks,
Jeff


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