His films “Magnificent Obsessions,” “All That Heaven Allows,” and “Giant” turned him into an A-lister and garnered him plenty of awards from the Academy. His time in romantic comedies alongside Doris Day made him a star in everyone’s eyes, but there’s a lot more to this big Hollywood name than meets the eye. We’ll go over everything, from his birth to his big break and to his final resting place.
A Name That Wasn’t as Tough
If your name is actually something like Rock Hudson, then we hope you go into movies. Well, Hudson’s name wasn’t Rock Hudson when he was born – instead, it was Roy Harold Scherer, Jr. Little Roy was born to Katherine, a homemaker and telephone operator, and Roy Harold Scherer, Sr., a mechanic, on November 17th, 1925.
They lived in Winnetka, Illinois, which is a small suburb on the north side of Chicago. Not long after he was born, his parents got divorced, but just a few years after that, Roy Sr. abandoned the family for good after losing his job during the Great Depression. Depressing indeed. However, this family wasn’t going to stop keeping on just because of that.
The Next Marriage for Mother
Three years after his biological parents got divorced, Roy’s mother remarried to a man named Wallace Fitzgerald, a former Marine Corps officer. Roy was adopted by Fitzgerald without his consent (though he couldn’t have been more than ten years old at the time), and he became Roy Harold Fitzgerald.
Roy hated Wallace Fitzgerald, but thankfully the marriage didn’t last very long, in a bitter divorce and with no children. Maybe that’s not such a good thing, we’re not sure. Eventually, Roy would study at the New Trier High School, a prestigious location. He was known for working hard: he delivered newspapers, ran errands, and worked as a golf caddy. However, there was one other job in particular that would end up showing him what he wanted to do in life.
At the Foot of the Stars
One of the jobs that Roy took while he was working his way through high school was as an usher at a movie theater. Remember, this is when ushers would literally lead you to an open seat, not just take your ticket and expect you to take it from there.
As a teenager, he’d bring people to their seats in the dark theaters, and he couldn’t help but be wowed by the legendary larger-than-life figures such as Humphrey Bogart, Bing Crosby, and Betty Grable. They were huge. They were cool. They had amazing looks and incredible lines and, gosh darn it, he wanted to be just like them. From then on, Roy knew that he was destined to have a place among the rest of the stars in Hollywood.
Taking the First Step
Roy knew that he would have to put in the work to become a movie star, and that meant starting at the bottom of the ladder. He joined high school plays, but immediately a problem presented itself. He was all about acting on the stage and screen, but it takes a lot more than just standing in the center and looking cool to be a good actor.
For one, you have to remember lines. In fact, that’s like one of the most basic elements of acting unless you happen to be a silent film star. He was able to make it past auditions – it was still high school – but during rehearsal, he kept getting replaced, and thus didn’t even get to be in any productions before he graduated.
A Much Bigger Problem
Roy wasn’t about to give up, but when he graduated there was a new issue that he had to contend with: the fact that it was 1943 and World War II was still going on. Instead of heading to college to pursue his dream, Roy did the noble thing and enlisted. He trained at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station and then departed from San Francisco aboard the SS Lew Wallace.
He worked at the Aviation Repair and Overhaul Unit 2, which was stationed in Samar in the Philippines. He worked as an aircraft mechanic, and once he was done helping to win the war he returned to San Francisco in 1946 and was discharged. He had to put his dream on hold for a few years, but it was time to get back to it.
The Right Place to Be
Thankfully, Roy’s time in the Navy had landed him in the best spot for a young actor – the West Coast. Even better, he was in one of the focal points of the theater world, San Francisco. However, Roy quickly relocated to Los Angeles, already the most famous movie hub in the world, and got to work.
His biological father, who had remarried by that point, allowed Roy to stay with him while Roy was getting on his feet. Roy started around by doing odd jobs, such as driving a truck, but his real goal was to make it into acting school and do what he always thought he was supposed to do: light up the silver screen. Unfortunately, things would remain dark for a little while before some good finally happened.
Once Roy was in Los Angeles, his next step was to sign up for the University of Southern California’s drama program. However, his dream still wasn’t ready to take off. The university rejected him for the same reason he had so much trouble in high school: he could never remember his lines. But here’s the thing.
Roy’s passion wasn’t being an actor, not necessarily. Sure, that was what he was trying to do, but his real goal was a little more nuanced, a little more hidden. He wanted to be a STAR. He wanted people to know him, he wanted people to recognize him on the street. He was doing it the best way he knew how, and that was to become one of the cool leading men in the pictures.
The Best Way to Get Noticed
Roy was even quoted as saying something along the lines of “I don’t want to be an actor, I wanted to be a star” before he was able to make it big. He didn’t care what he was going to have to do to get to his goal. Thankfully, he had a couple of helpful qualities. First off – and you probably noticed this yourself – Roy was a handsome man.
Strong jaw, piercing eyes, and a head of all-American hair. Not only that, but he was fairly muscular for the time, and he towered over pretty much everyone – he stood at a whopping six-foot-five for most of his life. If there’s anything that Hollywood has taught us, it’s that pretty people can do whatever they want, even if they’re really, really bad at doing anything else.
Getting His Look Out
Roy took an unconventional approach to getting noticed. Not only would he do the normal casting calls, but he would also simply stand around outside studios wearing tight clothing, hoping for a director or producer to notice his stunning stature. He also tried sending headshots out to talent scouts, and eventually – in 1947 – he sent one to the famous agent Henry Willson.
Willson was famous for having a stable of attractive young men he would send around to studios as actors. He was a coveted man for someone in Roy’s position, but Willson’s help came with a couple of demands. The first and most historic demand was that Roy should get a stage name. Something with a little more power, something more solid. Something that sounded tough and would get people to sit up and notice.
The New Name
Roy Fitzgerald had to have a name that was a little more powerful and a little more memorable. “Roy” just wouldn’t cut it, so he took inspiration from a couple of big pieces of the natural world to create a new moniker. The two pieces were the Rock of Gibraltar and the Hudson River. They were massive, they were breathtaking, and they were the perfect words to smash together and create ROCK HUDSON.
The funny thing is, the newly-christened Rock Hudson would eventually reveal he didn’t like the name, but that didn’t matter. He would do anything he could to gain the star power that was necessary to become one of the biggest names in the world – even if it wasn’t actually his real name. Still, you have to admit it has a nice ring to it.
His First Real Role
He had a new agent. He had a new name. Rock Hudson was ready to jump into the work and start making a (new) name for himself, but once again the road turned out to be longer than he expected. It had been 10 years since he got the idea in his head, and he was finally in a movie. His big debut was in the Warner Bros. film “Fighter Squadron.”
It was a small part and he only had one line, but it was a big step up after getting kicked out of high school plays for not being able to remember lines. Unfortunately, that issue persisted – reports tell us that it took no fewer than 38 tries to get his single line correct. Imagine going through a whole scene and then that one guy messes up AGAIN. That was Rock Hudson.
A Bigger Contract
Despite the issues he had with a very basic part of acting, Hudson had undeniable charm, charisma, and some stunning good looks – not to mention he was quite the tall drink of water. Universal Studios recognized his potential and signed him to a long-term contract. He might have had potential, but that’s all it was – potential. He had to get to work building up his skills.
With the help of Universal Studios, he was able to take classes in acting, singing, dancing, and even things like fencing and horseback riding. He had to take his deficiencies and turn them into strengths while still letting his natural charms shine. Despite failing to get into an acting school he had to pay for, Hudson was suddenly getting free lessons in far more than just acting.
Starting to Get Noticed
While he was still learning to do complicated acting techniques like remembering his lines, Hudson was still finding fame elsewhere. He didn’t have to remember any lines to take photos, so his pictures were getting a lot of attention in film magazines and other places.
He was photogenic and he had plenty of natural charisma even if he wasn’t the best actor just yet, and he became a popular model for things such as clothing or personal products. Sure, he might not have been lighting up the silver screen, but he was still getting his name out to a lot of people who might decide that they want to see him in a bigger role, and that included a lot of people in the movie industry.
Gaining a Few More Credits
After a little bit of time spent taking classes, Hudson was ready for the camera. Well, a little more ready, at least. Universal Studios started him off with small parts in films as a member of the army or in adventure films. His big size made him an imposing opponent, and a couple of his early roles had him play a Native American in “Winchester ‘73” or as a native marauder in the Arabian-set “The Desert Hawk.”
None of these roles were very substantial – they mostly just had Hudson standing there and looking imposing in front of the camera. From then on, Hudson’s star was on the rise, and he was able to find regular work in admittedly smaller roles, but they were getting bigger and bigger as time went on.
His Early Movies
Hudson had a full five movies in 1950: in “One Way Street,” and “Shakedown,” he was uncredited as a truck driver and a valet respectively (Wikipedia even handily points out that he appears 59 minutes into “Shakedown”). He also played a character named Johnny “Scat” Mitchell in “Peggy,” and was Young Bull and Captain Ras in the aforementioned “Winchester ‘73” and “The Desert Hawk” respectively.
Of these movies, “Winchester ‘73” is no doubt the most successful, having been a vehicle for none other than the great Jimmy Stewart. It helped to redefine the Western genre, beginning to turn it into the incredible money maker it would continue to be for several decades. The movie also helped to give Stewart a chance to show off a different side of himself.
Another Year and Five More Movies
Having proved he at least had a place in the movies, Hudson found his next year to be even more successful as far as his roles go. No more uncredited roles for this guy, no sir! First up was the film “Tomahawk,” one of the first to empathize with the views of Native Americans, incredibly.
Hudson played Cpl. Burt Hanna and was listed as the fifth name in the credits, though that might just be because he would eventually become famous. Following that was “Air Cadet,” and then “The Fat Man,” which had Hudson ranked third. Next was “Bright Victory” in which he plays a character named “Dudek,” and then he was in “Iron Man” (it’s about a boxer) in which his appearance attracted a lot of publicity.
A Leading Role
It’s true – the movie-going public was starting to sit up and take notice of Rock Hudson. In 1952, he would finally get his chance to really wow them. After the movies “Bend of the River,” another western starring Jimmy Stewart, and “Here Come the Nelsons,” which had Hudson as fifth after the Nelsons, who played themselves, he was the male lead in the historical adventure film “Scarlet Angel.”
He played alongside the already-a-star Yvonne De Carlo. The success of the film, and Hudson as a lead, led to more big roles in the same year, including the male lead in “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?” and one of a pair of male leads in “Horizons West.”
Acting Alongside an Angel
In “Scarlet Angel,” Hudson plays Frank Truscott, a sea captain who watches saloon girl Roxy (played by Yvonne de Carlo) steal a customer’s wallet. What follows is a romp through 1865 New Orleans, which has Roxy pretending to be a woman who had died, playing suitors off of each other, and eventually falling for the charming Captain Truscott.
Though their relationship is anything but normal. While critics labeled the film respectable if not astounding, audiences ate it up, especially the dashing Rock Hudson in his first leading role. It made 1.5 million at the box office which was, yes, quite a bit back then, at least for a movie. It’s more like 17 million dollars in today’s money.
Like the Year Before but Better
1953 was much like 1952, except Hudson had more movies, and he starred in every single one of them. Yes, that’s right, six movies were released that had Hudson as the top name – they were running the poor man ragged. It began with the biographical crime western “The Lawless Breed,” about the life of outlaw John Wesley Hardin. After that was another western, “Seminole,” which depicts the Second Seminole War.
Then it was “Sea Devils,” a historical adventure film, which reunited Hudson and De Carlo, followed by “The Golden Blade,” a mash-up of “One Thousand and One Nights” and the myth of King Arthur. The last two were both westerns, but the first, “Gun Fury,” used the burgeoning and sure-to-survive technology of 3-D. The second was more simple, called “Back to God’s Country.”
The Movie He’d Been Waiting For
In 1954, Hudson was only in three movies, but one of them would change the game, at least for him. The first was a western called “Taza, Son of Cochise,” but the second was a film by the name of “Magnificent Obsession.” It tells the story of a young, spoiled playboy (played by Hudson, naturally) who has his life changed when he meets the widow of the doctor who saved his life.
The widow Helen Phillips, was played by Jane Wyman, who was not only one of the biggest female leads at the time but was also Ronald Reagan’s first wife. Wyman would receive a nomination for the Best Actress Oscar, and while Hudson wasn’t on the list for any trophies, his time in the movie was still well-received.
While the critics generally didn’t think “Magnificent Obsession” was anything to write home about, audiences loved it. It made a little more than five million, which is more like 57 million in today’s dollars. However, Hudson still had a big problem remembering his lines for some scenes, he had to do 40 or 50 takes to get them all correct.
You’d think that with all those classes he would do a little better, but remember it took him more than 30 tries just to get one line correct – this probably WAS an improvement. However, during all those takes and all those mistakes, Wyman apparently didn’t complain once. Years later, when the two met at a party, Hudson thanked her profusely, saying she was nice when she didn’t have to be.
The Last Movie of the Year
The final movie of 1954 was yet another adventure film, this one merged with a war film, once again starring Rock Hudson. After his character is dismissed from duty after disobeying orders, he finds that he has a chance to redeem himself by fighting renegade Sepoys, members of the Mughal army that had gone rogue.
Of course there is a love story between Hudson’s character and his commanding officer’s daughter woven in, but compared to “Magnificent Obsession,” it wasn’t much to write home about. Still, Hudson had made a big splash in the movie biz, and he was truly on his way to becoming a star – just like he always wanted. 1955 was more of the same, including another film that Hudson could be truly proud of.
Movies, Movies, Movies
No longer able to put out five or six movies a year thanks to the amount of time he was spending with each one, Hudson had to focus on making his fewer movies really worthwhile. The first two in 1955 were a little more of the same – the first one was “Captain Lightfoot,” yet another adventure film that put Hudson in the 1800s.
The second was a drama and romance film titled “One Desire,” which could almost double as an adventure film, since most of the main cast heads to Colorado and the lucrative silver mines there. The final film of the year was another one to buoy Hudson, called “All That Heaven Allows.” He joins back up with Jane Wyman, and the drama comes from the differences in their ages – or at least their characters’ ages. Wyman, as the older woman, was 38, while Hudson, as the younger man, was 29.
The Year of Hudson
For many people, 1956 is considered the height that Rock Hudson would achieve. This, despite only appearing in three movies, but those three movies set the standard. The first one was “Never Say Goodbye,” which once again placed Hudson as the male lead in a drama romance film, a genre that was quickly overshadowing the adventure film in his resume.
He plays Dr. Mike Parker, a widower who discovers his wife is still alive, admitting that he never knew she was dead, simply that he believed her dead, since she was trapped in the Russian sector of Vienna with no way out. It was another success for Hudson, who had matured into a dependable actor in all kinds of movies, even if he still sometimes had trouble remembering his lines. “Never Say Goodbye” also has one of Clint Eastwood’s first roles.
A Giant Film
By 1956, Hudson had been in plenty of movies with some other stars of the day, but when he was asked by director George Stevens to be in a movie called “Giant,” he would be rubbing shoulders with some of the most famous names ever: James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor. The Rebel Without a Cause and one of the greatest actresses to ever grace the silver screen made for a movie that would shake the very foundation of Hollywood.
This film was the last of three leading roles for Dean, and it earned him his second of two Academy Award nominations, but he wouldn’t live to see the film get released, perishing in a car crash before it hit theaters. For Taylor, this was just one of many mega-hits during her historic career as a central figure in Hollywood.
Taking Down Giants
“Giant” didn’t just have a couple of huge stars making it an immediate box-office draw. It was also one of the first films that was incredibly critical of not only racism but also of American society as a whole. The epic Western drama drew crowds by the millions, making a total of 39 million at the box office – a titanic figure that is worth almost 450 million today.
Not only was it a huge hit at the box office, but critics also loved it. On Rotten Tomatoes, it sports an 88 percent approval rating, with many people citing James Dean’s performance as the highlight of the film. It earned 35 million dollars during its original studio release – a record for Warner Bros. that wouldn’t be beaten until “Superman.” It also earned Hudson his one and only Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
The Big Topic
If you know a lot about Rock Hudson, you’re probably wondering why we haven’t brought up the elephant in the room yet. Well, cover your ears, because that elephant is about to blow its trumpet. Sources differ on just how much Rock Hudson wasn’t “of the norm” for the day. Some believe that he swung both ways, while others believe that he played solely for the other team, as it were.
Obviously, Hudson kept whatever the truth was secret – to be outed in such a way in Hollywood in the 50s was basically career suicide. However, Hudson was an attractive leading man in Hollywood, and that meant he had access to plenty of other attractive people of both genders. Years later, after everything came to light, rumors flew that Hudson was making some very close friends while filming “Giant.” One relationship with Taylor, and another with Dean.
Back to the Movies
We will, of course, return to that part of Hudson’s life, but for now, let’s get back to his career in Hollywood. His next film after “Giant” wasn’t as big as that picture, but it was still a success. It was called “Written on the Wind,” and it was a Southern Gothic melodrama, once again directed by Douglas Sirk, who had directed many other drama films.
It was a movie full of twists and turns and – just like the best stories – was steeped in real life. It was based on the novel of the same title, which was a disguised account of a real-life scandal involving singer Libby Holman and her husband, tobacco heir Zachary Smith Reynolds, who was killed under mysterious circumstances.
The movie was another hit for Hudson, who had more than made his name as one of Hollywood’s most famous leading men whether a role called for action, adventure, drama, or romance. Almost 90% of the reviews on aggregator Rotten Tomatoes are positive, though some critics of the day weren’t kind to the film. However, the movie broke the record for the highest single-day gross of any Universal Pictures film.
It earned an equivalent of almost 47 million dollars in North America alone. In addition, the film had several nominations for Oscars, including a Best Supporting Actor for Robert Stack, a Best Supporting Actress for Dorothy Malone (which she won), and a Best Song nom for “Written on the Wind.” Dorothy Malone also got a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture.
Not Just Another War Movie
After showing off his acting skills in a couple of different genres, Hudson wanted to try something different. His next film after “Written on the Wind” was “Battle Hymn” and though it was set during the Korean War, it was far more than just a war film. Hudson played the fictionalized version of the real Colonel Hess, a man tormented after accidentally dropping a bomb on a German orphanage during World War II, killing 37 children.
What follows in the movie is the true (or mostly true) account of how Hess became known as the “Father of the Korean War Orphans.” The movie is aired annually during Korean Memorial Day. It’s a stunning, heartfelt movie that is historically accurate (except for a few details) and has the potential to truly tug at the heartstrings.
The Most Popular
Thanks to “Giant,” “Written on the Wind,” “Battle Hymn,” and his other popular movies, Hudson had found his star not just risen, but at the very top of the pack. He was voted to be the most popular actor in American cinemas in 1957...as well as ‘58, ‘59, ‘60...let’s just say that he had the title up until 1964.
That’s almost 10 years of being the most popular actor. Could anyone possibly pull that off these days? We just don’t think the system is set up for that kind of long-running popularity anymore. And yet something had changed. Hudson had been dominating, but his next few movie choices proved that he didn’t have the best eye for projects.
Almost a Flop
Hudson now had the star power to pick the projects he wanted to do, but his first choice wasn’t a great one. It was called “Something of Value,” and it was a drama film about the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya that had been going on since 1952. The movie was based on a book of the same name, and it showed the colonial and native African conflict caused by colonialism and differing views on life from the British and Native Kenyan sides.
Rock Hudson was joined by Sidney Poitier, playing men who grew up together but have drifted apart by the time they reached maturity. The movie made about a million dollars over its budget. However, the way budgets and box office returns are calculated, this resulted in the film having a net loss of more than 400,000 dollars.
Nothing Wrong With One Bad Movie
Every actor or actress out there is in a bad movie every once in a while. Nic Cage has half of his filmography, Woody Harrelson has like 90% of the films he’s been in, and everybody who was in “The Tree of Life” has “The Tree of Life.” So Hudson had been in one bad movie – it’s not like his career was cratering.
However, Hudson once again made a misstep when it was time for him to pick his next project. He was offered films such as “Sayonara,” “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” and “Ben-Hur,” all films you are likely to recognize even if you aren’t a movie buff. Instead of those films, Hudson decided he would star in “The Tarnished Angels,” an adaptation of a William Faulkner novel.
Need to Get the Rust Off Those Wings
Based on the 1935 movie “Pylon,” the movie has Hudson playing a New Orleans reporter Burke Devlin, who is entranced by LaVerne, the husband of a World War I flying ace Roger Shumann. Interestingly, the film collected the stars of Hudson’s previous hit, “Written on the Wind,” but it failed to be as successful as that film.
Critics of the time found it almost unwatchable, but recent reviews of the film have flipped the script, calling it one of the best-ever adaptations of a Faulkner novel. Still, at the time it was a critical flop, though it did make an okay amount at the box office – 1.5 million, which was nothing too shabby at the time.
Trying Again and Failing Again
Okay, two sub-par films aren’t great, but there’s always another movie around the corner for a big star like Hudson. Despite turning down what would be some of the biggest films of the entire century, Hudson was committed to finding the next winner. Up came “A Farewell to Arms.” Yes, it was an adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway novel, and no, it wasn’t very good.
It was a big success at the box office all things considered, but critics both then and now savaged it, calling it an overblown Hollywood extravaganza, an inflated remake, and a movie that lacks all-important awareness of the pressure of war. Amazingly, one of the actors, Vittorio De Sica, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, but he didn’t take home the trophy.
A Big Hole in the Resume
Hudson was tall and handsome, had perfectly reasonable acting skills, and was a box-office draw. What was the issue? Well, one of the reasons he was having some problems is the fact that he didn’t have as wide a skill set as he could have. You see, in order to increase his star appeal, he had a couple of surgeries while rising in the ranks of Hollywood.
One of them was a surgery to cap his teeth, while the other was an operation to deepen his voice. Every actor wants a deep, seductive voice, but the operation came at a cost. Despite the surgery’s success, manipulating the vocal cords in such a way left him entirely unable to sing. For a leading man in Hollywood at the time, this left him with a big deficit.
Getting Back on the Horse
Hudson slowed down a little bit. From 1958 to 1961 he would only have three movies come out. The first two we can lump together: in 1958 he starred in “Twilight for the Gods,” yet another adventure film about sailing ships being replaced by modern steamers, and the end of the square-sailed era. Rock Hudson was Captain David Bell, and Cyd Charisse was a woman known as both Mrs. Charlotte King and Inez Leidstrom.
The second film, coming in 1959, was “This Earth Is Mine,” about a California winemaking dynasty that tries to survive United States Prohibition. It was neither a commercial nor a critical success, failing to earn back its budget just barely, and critics called it “handsome but hollow.” At least the winemaking community enjoyed it.
A Fine Return to Form
After a poor start to 1959, the second of two films from Hudson would be far better received. He would return to form with the massive box office hit “Pillow Talk,” which co-starred Doris Day. It was a good old-fashioned romantic comedy that was called the biggest hit of the year and earned almost 20 million at the box office (worth almost 200 million now).
The chemistry between Day and Hudson was electric, and even now critics love the film. It was nominated for five Academy Awards and won Best Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen. A dubious presence couldn’t stand up against the clear fondness Hudson and Day had for each other. The movie is still considered at the top of the pack of rom-coms.
Just a Friendship
Already Hudson was having trouble keeping his escapades out of the papers, both those that were expected and those that weren’t, but his friendship with Doris Day was only ever that – friendship. Their on-screen chemistry while playing any pair was immediately noticeable, but the two never went any further than that.
Despite being an iconic onscreen couple, the two never took the next step. Things were strictly platonic. Hudson’s biographer said that he called her Eunice (for unknown reasons) and she called him Ernie (for similarly unknown reasons) but they were never lovers. It’s almost a little nice to know that even Hollywood has a place for platonic friendship, even if it was back in the early sixties.
Spending Days Together
After the critical and audience hit of “Pillow Talk,” producers knew that they had to keep going with the hot hand. Among a handful of disappointing Western films, Hudson and Doris Day continued to work together on films. After “Pillow Talk” Hudson starred in the flop “The Last Sunset” with Kirk Douglas. We don’t think it did that well, but it’s a little hard to tell.
Then he starred in “Come September,” a romantic comedy where he played alongside Gina Lollobrigida, Sandra Dee, and Bobby Darin, the singer in his first movie role. Marilyn Monroe was rumored to be cast in Lollobrigida’s role, but it turned out to be false. During filming, Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee met, fell in love, and were quickly married. After that film was “Lover Come Back,” with Doris Day.
Reunited With Day
Writers knew they had come up with a good formula with “Pillow Talk,” and “Lover Come Back” followed a lot of the same formula. Not only did it have Hudson and Day as the leads, but the stories of the two movies were also rather similar – both of them included mistaken identity as a key plot device.
While the movie was a success both with critics (some even favorably compared it to the rom-com classic “It Happened One Night”) and audiences (it had a box office take of about eight million dollars), it still isn’t remembered as fondly as the first movie featuring this pair of stars. The movie even earned a couple of awards, both from the Laurel Awards: Top Comedy, and Top Female Comedy Performance for Doris Day. Hudson was nominated for Top Male Comedy Performance, but couldn’t bring it home.
Hudson was still one of the world’s most popular stars at the beginning of the sixties, but he decided to take his foot off the gas a little bit for the next few years. In fact, in 1962, Hudson would only have one movie released featuring his million-dollar name, that being the adventure-drama film “The Spiral Road.”
Cool name for a movie, and not a bad flick by any means, but it was found to have a script that was lacking. It was also almost two and a half hours long, quite a run-time for a general film and not an epic. The reception to the film was made a little worse since the director, Robert Mulligan, also released “To Kill a Mockingbird” that year, which is a movie that is still lauded even to this day.
Lending His Voice
1963 was another year of fewer projects. There were two to feature Hudson during this year, with the first being the documentary “Marilyn.” The legendary actress and cultural icon had passed the year before, and Hollywood was quick to put out something that capitalized on a renewed public interest.
Hudson, while not appearing in the documentary itself, lent his voice as a narrator for the project. The other project for Hudson was a traditional film called “A Gathering of Eagles,” which was neither a critical darling nor a big box-office draw. The film was sympathetic to the military and the use of nuclear weapons, and shortly thereafter a number of films (including “Dr. Strangelove”) would arrive that were far more unsympathetic and would be much better received.
It’s Always a Good Day With You, Darling
1964 had another pair of projects for the Rock, including pairing up again with Doris Day. This time it was in the romantic comedy “Send Me No Flowers,” which had Hudson as a hypochondriac who is convinced he’s dying. What follows are a whole lot of misunderstandings as he tries to hide it from his wife, find her a husband to take his place that will treat her right, and more.
It was the last of three times Hudson and Day would work together, and while plenty of people sat in the theaters, it received mixed critical reviews. Once again, Doris Day won Top Female Comedy Performance from the Laurel Awards, while Hudson was only nominated for Top Male Comedy Performance. Always a bridesmaid, right Hudson?
The World Was Changing
Anybody who is a fan of history can tell you that the 60s was a time of great change. The Beatles were shaking up music, the Vietnam War was heightening the counterculture movement, and movies were having to adapt to the times. The next handful of films that Hudson appeared in found it hard to gain any footing in the theaters.
A rom-com like “Strange Bedfellows” followed a tried-and-true script that audiences found boring, and even “Blindfold,” with espionage overtones, didn’t do much to surprise viewers. The one bright spot in this period was “Seconds,” a psychological horror, science-fiction film. It was ignored during its release, but recently it’s become known as a cult film with several prescient messages for the modern viewer. Still, it didn’t earn very much at the box office, and that’s what matters.
On the Decline
Hudson was still a big star. In 1965, he was voted as the eleventh most popular star in the country, but he would never rise so high again. The movies he had been in – minus the films with Doris Day – had mostly been critical and commercial flops. Hudson was never the kind of guy to win Oscars, but he was always able to reliably get butts in seats, until this period.
His 1967 film “Tobruk” made around two million dollars against a budget of six million. It was nominated for a Best Visual Effects Oscar, but that’s the most it can claim as far as accolades go. 1968 gave us “A Fine Pair,” an Italian crime-comedy film that paired Hudson back up with Claudia Cardinale, one of Italy’s best-known actresses, but it ended up being forgettable.
The Big Secret
Let’s return to the hidden life of Rock Hudson. Unfortunately, it wasn’t really all that hidden – people in the Hollywood industry were aware of his proclivities as far back as 1955 when he was just becoming a big name. In fact, it was such an open secret during the time that the “Confidential” magazine, a tabloid rag about the stars and the terrible things they get up to, threatened to out Hudson if the magazine wasn’t paid off.
In order to protect one of his biggest stars from a career-destroying revelation, Hudson’s agent Willson offered up two smaller stars, giving them stories about Rory Calhoun’s time in prison and the arrest of Tab Hunter at a party in 1950. Apparently, this was enough to call the mag off.
Known for a Long Time
Hudson always knew he wasn’t just interested in girls. In fact, it’s been said that his stepfather pressured Hudson into joining the Navy because he thought it would set him on the right path (apparently his step-father didn’t know about all those Navy jokes). However, it might have just been that Fitzgerald thought it would be good for Hudson’s character irrespective of his affinities.
Regardless of the reason for doing so, Hudson would admit to his close navy friends that he wasn’t happy while serving – they barely even needed to hear it from him. Apparently, he was visibly unhappy in such a role, though this might have been due to the fact that it was impossible for him to become a star while serving as a mechanic.
He Had to Keep His Secret
Rumors will always spread quickly about the famous people of Hollywood, and such rumors, despite being true, would do Hudson no favors. Not only was it taboo to have such proclivities at the time, but Hudson and his agent knew that a lot of his appeal was his attractiveness to the opposite sex.
If he came out, not only would many people in Hollywood probably blacklist him, but even those projects he did find would have a much higher fail rate due to women no longer swooning over him. The sad fact of the matter is that his perceived heterosexuality was one of his selling points, and to lose it would be to lose an audience, despite his other charms and advantages.
Hiding the Truth
After “Confidential” magazine threatened to out him, Hudson and his agent knew that they had to do something to obscure future rumors. The simplest solution was to find him a wife, and together they chose Phyllis Gates, Willson’s personal secretary. The two got married quickly after living together for a little while, and Willson quickly went to bat using the marriage as proof that Hudson was on the up-and-up.
The problem...well, one of the problems...was that Hudson and Gates didn’t really get along that well, and Hudson was quoted as saying that he didn’t actually love her. It was a marriage of convenience and a clear way to obscure the truth to people who wanted to ruin Hudson’s career while it was just taking off.
She Didn’t Take Long to Find Out
Gates actually wasn’t aware of Hudson’s proclivities when they got married, but it didn’t take long for her to figure out that her new husband wasn’t exactly head-over-heels in love with her. They only dated for a few months, lived together for a few months, and then he popped the question. Still, asking Gates, she would say she married Hudson out of love and not to hide anything.
She might not have actually known about anything, but she was still in the relationship for the right reasons, even if Hudson wasn’t. Of course, once they were married, it was going to be quite difficult for Hudson to keep his true feelings hidden. They’d only been living together for a few months at that point.
Secret Affairs Almost Immediately
In fact, it didn’t take long at all for Gates to discover that she and her new husband didn’t see eye-to-eye on the whole marriage thing. Hudson almost immediately turned cold and distant toward her, and even reportedly hit her when she didn’t want him to go out with a “friend” during their honeymoon. We know that things were a little different back then, but striking your wife on your honeymoon was probably still a red flag even in the 50s.
Their relationship, as you might imagine, wasn’t out of a fairy tale. It was troubled, and Hudson would regularly disappear to have extramarital dalliances. Interestingly, Gates would also sometimes disappear for weekends with women, which led Hudson to believe he wasn’t the only one with a secret in the marriage. However, this has never been confirmed as true.
Roles to Help the Secrets
When Hudson’s agent Willson suspected that Hudson wasn’t heterosexual, Willson got to work looking at the roles Hudson was taking. He started to pick out a few that allowed Hudson to portray characters that were dealing with a lot of inner conflict. Whether he thought Hudson would nail these roles, or if they were picked to allow Hudson to work out his own thoughts, it’s unknown.
However, the idea worked out like gangbusters – it’s how Hudson landed in some of his most famous and successful films, such as “Magnificent Obsession” or “Written on the Wind.” At the same time, Hudson’s good friend (and possible lover) James Dean perished in a car accident, leaving Hudson a mess emotionally.
The Love Child?
Officially, Hudson never had any children. However, he was active enough that it’s certainly likely that he could have offspring somewhere out there. Despite being famously attracted to men, he also spent plenty of time with women – he was a busy man, let’s put it that way. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that one or more of those women got pregnant.
To that effect, a woman named Susan Dent tried to sue the Hudson estate, claiming that he was her real father. This happened in 2014, almost 30 years after Hudson had died. Dent even insisted that she wasn’t his only love child, saying there was another by a different woman, but there was no evidence to back up her claims, and the case was dismissed.
Not a Long-Lasting Marriage
Things had gotten stale between Hudson and his wife Phyllis Gates before too long, and it was clear that neither of them was happy in the relationship, though likely for very different reasons. Hudson was starting to realize where his true feelings lay, and Gates couldn’t stand being given the cold shoulder for so long.
They argued constantly toward the end of their marriage, and after three years they realized that neither of them was willing to go through with the charade for any longer. Gates filed for divorce in 1958, only three years after the marriage began, citing mental cruelty. Maybe Hudson felt bad because he didn’t contest the divorce. Gates would receive 250 dollars in alimony every week for the next 10 years – totaling 130 grand.
Friends Who Kept Secrets
While Hudson’s marriage failed, his ability to win and keep friends was still almost second to none. He had a high number of famous female friends in the industry, including Julie Andrews, Mia Farrow, Elizabeth Taylor, Susan Saint James, Audrey Hepburn, and Carol Burnett, many of whom acted alongside him in movies.
Following his death and after his homosexuality was revealed, many of these women would come forward and say they were aware of it, but kept it a secret out of respect. According to some colleagues, Hudson’s actions were quite well-known in and around Hollywood – one of those “open secret” things that you hear about, even though nobody can actually give any evidence and you assume they’re not actually true (because they usually aren’t). This one turned out to be right on the money, however.
Investigated by the Government
During the 50s and 60s, the United States was stuck in a cold war with the Soviet Union, and the nation was constantly worried about an attack from the much larger country. For this reason, the FBI was commissioned to investigate anyone that they thought was connected to communists or was harboring radical thoughts. Hudson was one of the people investigated during this time, as were many big names in Hollywood.
While Hudson wasn’t found to harbor any pro-communist ideas, documents have revealed that the government was aware of his tendency to frequent gay bars in the Los Angeles area. However, the government never made the findings public until after Hudson’s death. Talk about an open secret – if the government can figure it out, we’re surprised that it wasn’t just public knowledge.
The Cracks Were Starting to Show
During all of this personal upheaval and relationship drama, Hudson was still making movies. But the shine had really come off the actor. His faults as an actor had come to the fore, and as he aged his ability to play a romantic lead was starting to wane. 1968 was when the wheels really started to come off, and it was the film “Ice Station Zebra” that did it.
The espionage thriller film was Hudson trying to revitalize his image after four flop comedies in a row before turning to movies like “Seconds.” But the movie lost substantial money. Hudson was even heckled at the premiere. You know the times are changing when that starts to happen. The movie received generally middling reviews.
Going Up Against a Real Cowboy
Hudson was a fine actor, but he wasn’t the cream of the crop. Clearly, his star power lay in his attractiveness, so when he played alongside a titan like John Wayne, Hudson withered in Wayne’s shadow. The two men joined up for “The Undefeated.” This is actually one of the first films in over 10 years that didn’t give Hudson top billing – when Wayne is in the cast, he’s the lead.
That’s just how it works. Funnily enough, the two men started at odds while filming – Wayne would direct Hudson and tell him what to do. When Hudson started responding in kind, Wayne laughed, and the two became friends, frequently playing chess and bridge together. That’s great and all, but the movie was yet another flop for Hudson.
The Movie That Made Him Quit
Every man has his breaking point. Failure after failure had clouded Hudson’s mind, and by the early 70s, it was clear that the Hollywood industry was leaving him in the dust. The movie that finally got him to switch to something new was the Italian-American war film “Hornets’ Nest,” about a group of boys that survived a massacre in Northern Italy in 1944, and what happens to them after.
The film fell to disappointing lows and it was attacked by critics for how it showed children learning about violence. The anachronistic touches and the ongoing resentment over the Vietnam War turned it into a failing box office project. Because of this failure, and his general loss at the box office, Hudson decided to switch to acting in TV movies.
Making the Move to a Smaller Screen
Hudson needed something a little more stable than movies. They weren’t working for him, and his time as a high-action leading man or swoon-worthy hunk was coming to an end. In the early 70s, he started to transition to appearing in TV movies. He wouldn’t leave the silver screen behind for good, but his output was considerably reduced.
After “Hornets’ Nest,” he made only four feature films during that decade: “Pretty Maids All in a Row,” a black comedy sexploitation film that was regarded as not only a failure but an embarrassment; a modest Western called “Showdown”; the science-fiction horror film called “Embryo”; and the disaster film “Avalanche.” The latter made only 87,000 dollars at the box office despite costing almost seven million to make.
A Regular Role
Instead of bouncing around from one project to the next, Hudson decided to do a little settling down when it came to his career. The NBC American police procedural show “McMillan & Wife” (it would be shortened to “McMillan” during 1976 and 1977) starred Hudson and Susan Saint James as the title roles. It was part of Universal Television’s wheel series “NBC Mystery Movie,” which also included “Columbo” and “McCloud.”
There were six seasons with a total of 40 episodes, with most of them running two full hours, including ads. For the first two years, the episodes were only about 90 minutes each. Hudson was a former criminal defense attorney who became a San Francisco police commissioner. Susan Saint James was his wife, and she would frequently help solve crimes.
The Rest of the Cast
Rounding out the rest of the show was John Schuck as McMillan’s aide Sgt. Charles Enright and Nancy Walker as the hard-drinking maid of the lead couple – she provided the comic relief. Oddly, McMillan’s wife Sally is pregnant at the end of season one, but at the start of season two, the change was retconned away.
She again gets pregnant in season four, and the couple have a boy in the final episode, but the baby is not seen or mentioned in season five. The final season also removed Susan Saint James’s character, which prompted the renaming of the show. The show was an immediate hit that allowed Hudson to settle into a character a little bit. He was all-in, too: in the pilot episode, the interior of the McMillan house is Hudson’s real home.
Settling Down Romantically
During this period was when Hudson met Marc Christian, and the two found each other linking up in a lot of ways. By then, Hudson lived in a huge mansion in Beverly Hills, which he referred to as “The Castle.” It was there he spent most of his free time, no longer feeling like he needed to spend a lot of time in the public eye.
He and Marc spent a great deal of time there together, in order to stay out of the public eye. Marc ended up being his most long-lasting relationship, though there were quite a lot of others. Some other assumed relationships that Hudson had were with Jack Coates, Tom Clark, actor and stockbroker Lee Garlington, and novelist Armistead Maupin.
The Famous Urban Legend
For some reason, in the early 70s, an urban legend began to circulate, saying that Hudson was married to actor Jim Nabors. Not only was such an act not allowed in the United States at the time, but Nabors and Hudson have only ever been described as friends. The joke went that Hudson would take the surname of Nabors’s famous character Gomer Pyle, thus becoming “Rock Pyle.”
The joke was so widespread that the October 1972 edition of “MAD” magazine featured a joke about the fake relationship, which was spread by people who failed to get the joke. As a result, Hudson and Nabor are said to have never spoken to each other again, and at least weren’t seen in public with one another ever again.
In 1981, with Hudson now sitting pretty at about 55 years old, he began to develop health problems. All his life he had been a heavy smoker and drinker, and the vices were finally beginning to take a toll. These complications eventually led to a heart attack in November of that year.
Hudson underwent an emergency quintuple bypass surgery, which sidelined his new TV show “The Devlin Connection” for a year – the show was canceled in December 1982, not long after it aired. His health also forced him to turn down the role of Col. Sam Trautman in the Sylvester Stallone movie “First Blood” which is a bit of a shame, since it’s likely to have been Hudson’s most popular and maybe even his most successful movie. Even after his emergency surgery, Hudson continued to smoke.
A Turn for the Worse
After the health scare, Hudson continued to work, but his health wasn’t getting any better. He refused to quit smoking, and he was in ill health while filming the action-drama film “The Ambassador” in Israel during late 1983 and early 1984. While doing so, he also didn’t get along with co-star Robert Mitchum, who was a serious drinker and would easily get belligerent, clashing with Hudson and other cast members, as well as crew members, while off-camera.
By the time Hudson returned from Tel Aviv in 1984, Hudson’s health had declined even further. The next step in the story has a couple of possibilities. One of them is that he immediately sought out medical attention after returning home, but the other is that he ignored it, only to be notified by none other than First Lady Nancy Reagan that he had a blemish on his neck.
A Stunning Diagnosis
No matter how he ended up going to the doctor’s office, the end result was the same: Hudson had just been handed a death sentence. He had AIDS. This was long before you could pop a daily pill to keep yourself healthy – there was no cure, and the diagnosis was grim. Hudson was given a year to live.
The disease was heavily associated with homosexuality, and discussing it was taboo at the time – for this famous actor to fall under the disease could have been a big blow to himself, his legacy, and his fans. While experts are unsure how exactly Hudson contracted the disease, there are several possibilities, including that it came about from a blood transfusion following his quintuple bypass surgery. We will never truly know.
Doing Some Good
While there were many who suffered from AIDS and HIV, Rock Hudson was among the first celebrities to come out and declare that he actually had it – which he did on July 25th, 1985. Due to the stigma, those who were hit with it kept it to themselves and their loved ones.
But Hudson’s actions began to reverse the stigma and began the long process of turning it into something that a person could fight – but it took a lot of effort and bravery to make the announcement. Suddenly, the stigma that surrounded the disease had taken a hit. Though the road was a long one, Hudson’s decision to go public eventually led to a greater focus on the disease and eventually a cure. He turned it from a moral affliction into a disease.
A Rush of Celebrity Support
After Hudson came out as suffering from HIV, numerous people came out in support of his situation and the fight against the virus. William H. Hoffman, an author of a Broadway play about AIDS, was one of the first to offer support, and the list of names only grew from there.
Those others included Frank Sinatra, Gregory Peck, Marlene Dietrich, James Garner, Carol Burnett, Ali McGraw, Jack Lemmon, Richard Dreyfuss, Ava Gardner, Mickey Rooney, Milton Berle, and even Madonna. Joan Rivers also lent her support. She had been hosting AIDS benefits for several years, and couldn’t get a single major star to show up to help out. Hudson’s admission was an act of true courage, and it drew a lot of public attention to the disease.
His Finest Performance
Rock Hudson had been in a ton of movies and spent plenty of time on TV by that point, but he knew he had at least one big performance left. One of his many biographers wrote that he considered dying with grace to be the finest kind of performance he could go through.
He had already put a beloved face to a deadly and difficult disease, thus changing the public perception and opening the door to much more advancement in later years and decades. Just think, without him, we might not have a drug that not only makes this disease not a death sentence, but you can learn to live with the disease for the rest of one's natural life. It required a famous name to make such a monumental change in the public consciousness.
Taking Comfort During His Illness
After his announcement, charity events for the disease suddenly started to appear. Every single one of them extended an invitation to Hudson hoping that he would be up for making the trip, but his worsening health made it impossible for him to keep up with the invites.
Yet Hudson was still encouraged to take a certain amount of comfort during all the time he was suffering. He found he could take comfort because he had inspired others to fight against the disease. In a telegram to an AIDS benefit in 1985, he said that, while he wasn’t happy he was sick, that he wasn’t happy he had AIDS, he was at least happy that his misfortune had some kind of positive impact on the world.
Using His Money for Good
Hudson wasn’t just settling for using his star power to raise awareness. He was going so far as to put his money where his mouth was in the classic sense, donating $250,000 to amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research. After decades of being a leading man in Hollywood, Hudson had a certain amount of cash to throw around to causes that he found to be proper, and no doubt this was at the top of his list.
This foundation has gone on to support advancing AIDS and HIV research, as well as provide education to the public and work toward advancing public policy for those suffering from the disease. Many people would have considered his bravery in revealing his disease a bright spot in his life, but he decided to do even more.
The Final Piece of His Resume
The very last acting role that Hudson had before his death in 1985 was on the primetime ABC soap opera “Dynasty.” The show revolved around a wealthy family living in Denver, Colorado. Hudson appeared for the fifth season as Daniel Reece. Not only did his worsening health force him to step away from the show, but it caused a small amount of controversy.
The romantic storyline between his character and a woman named Krystle, played by Linda Evans. They snogged on more than one occasion, and then it was revealed Hudson was sick. This led many to wonder if Evans had been exposed to HIV and AIDS. While it seems Evans evaded the illness, this led to the creation of a Screen Actors Guild rule that required notification of diseases such as AIDS prior to scenes with open-mouth kissing.
An Act of Faith
Hudson had been raised Roman Catholic but had fallen away from the faith during his adult life. He identified as an atheist, but a week before he passed away, he asked a couple of men of faith to visit. The first was an elder of The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California, whom Hudson allowed to pray for his soul while present.
Hudson's publicist Tom Clark then asked for a Catholic priest to visit. Hudson made a confession, received communion, and was administered the last rights. This included reciting the sinner’s prayer while the priest was present. Was this a “no atheists in foxholes” maneuver, or did Hudson have a true change of faith? No one but the man himself and the Almighty knows the truth.
The Biggest Regret
You’d think that a life lived like Hudson's would be free of regrets, but even the A-listers of such heights as this actor can’t have a perfect life. His life ended up having a lot of meaning and fulfilling moments, but even Hudson was left with a big regret. Just before he passed, he revealed that a fling with a woman when he was 19 produced a son, a baby boy named Richard, and the big regret that Hudson talked about was that he never actually met his son.
This despite the son being, at the time of Hudson’s death, at least in his late 30s. It’s not like Hudson never had the chance or the means. Hudson didn’t know until much later when the mother wrote Hudson a letter. Hudson was dying to meet his son, but he didn’t want to expose the woman – it might have ruined her life and the life of his son.
The End of a Star
Rock Hudson died on October 2nd, 1985, passing away peacefully in his sleep. The cause of death, as you might be able to guess, is complications from AIDS and HIV, but the exact reason for death has not been given publicly. Fans of the veteran actor as well as celebrities that had known him were devastated, despite the amount of time they had to prepare for his passing.
However, there is no doubt that he left a lasting legacy both as an actor and as a man. Elizabeth Taylor, one of Hudson’s good friends, said that losing him was a tragedy, but he had not died without leaving his mark on the world. And, when you think about it, that’s what he was always trying to do.
The Ultimate Legacy
Hudson’s illness and death shocked many. After the outpouring of public attention to AIDS and HIV, Congress eventually decided to invest two hundred and fifty million dollars into AIDS research in the hopes of finding a cure. Remember, that was back in the early eighties – $250 million was worth a whole lot more back then.
While word had been spreading about the disease before, it had been slow and plodding – Hudson’s death had sounded the warning bell, and suddenly the world was focused on it far more than before. It was a wake-up call, and it helped pave the way to a world where this once-deadly disease is now something that can be managed with daily medication.
Destined to Become a Star
Hudson always wanted to be a star. He wanted attention, and he was willing to do anything to get it. He became one of the biggest actors of the 50s and 60s, but by all accounts, he was an actor of only middling skill. He was able to pull out intense performances for the proper role, but was rarely able to win awards that weren’t based on simple popularity.
He failed to bring in his sole Oscar nomination, and he wasn’t up for many other trophies, either. He had difficulty remembering his lines throughout his entire life, though we have to imagine he was able to improve as time went on. Still, he gave people a larger-than-life character to enjoy as he romped through Westerns or won the hearts of leading ladies.
A Star for a Different Reason
And yet Hudson’s lasting impact on the world wasn’t even because of his time on the big screen. The most important part of his legacy – indeed, something you could point to as the reason we have incredibly powerful life-saving medication and people who are able to live full lives despite a once-fatal diagnosis – is due to a part of his life that he tried very hard to keep hidden.
It is, of course, unknown how exactly Hudson contracted AIDS, but his lifestyle no doubt plays a large part in it. He concealed his homosexuality for almost his entire life on Earth, but it ended up being one of the things that made him so beloved to so many people, along with his willingness to become famous for a reason greater than acting.