Before Rock Hudson was recognized as a Hollywood heartthrob, he was discovering an identity that he had to keep secret for the rest of his life.
The beloved actor is the subject of a new biography by Mark Griffin titled “All That Heaven Allows,” which further explores the complex, fiercely private star. It features over 100 interviews with co-stars, family members, friends and lovers. The Hollywood Reporter shared that Universal Pictures has plans to turn the book into a biopic.
Hudson, celebrated as a romantic idol of the ‘50s and ‘60s, passed away in 1985 at age 59 after suffering for more than a year from AIDS in his Los Angeles home. The New York Timesreported that while acquaintances described Hudson as gay, the actor never publicly commented or acknowledged the reports.
Griffin told Fox News Hudson may have realized he was gay after joining the Navy in 1944. He was discharged two years later.
Roy Fitzgerald (Rock Hudson) in the late 1940’s. (Courtesy of the author.)
“One of the individuals that I interviewed thought that some of his first same-sex experiences happened when he was in the Navy,” Griffin explained. “Obviously, there wouldn’t have been women around and I think that’s when he realized he had feelings in that direction. It’s been suggested he may have had some same-sex experiences even earlier than that, but I wasn’t able to confirm that in any way.”
The New York Daily News reported it was a boyfriend who reportedly introduced Hudson to Henry Wilson, a talent scout for Selznik Studio. Wilson was impressed by Hudson’s 6-foot-4 physique and chiseled good looks. Wilson took Hudson under his wing in 1947, but his career did not really take off until 1954’s “Magnificent Obsession.” It was 1956’s drama “Giant”alongside Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean that truly catapulted him to stardom.
But fame and fortune prevented Hudson from truly discovering happiness in coming out.
Rock and longtime roommate Bob Preble in the early 1950’s. (Photo courtesy of Lou Valentino)
“There was a moral clause in your contract which forbade you from embarrassing your employers, namely your studio, with any sort of ‘inappropriate conduct’ like scandalous behavior,” Griffin explained. “Rock and his agent Henry Wilson and his publicist at the studio would have been very careful about protecting his public image. After all, this was the number one box office attraction in the 1950s and 1960s. So they wouldn’t want anything to sabotage the fact that he’s a big moneymaker for the studio.”
Still, Hudson couldn’t deny who he was, which nearly destroyed his career on numerous occasions.
“At the same time his handlers are trying to protect his image, he was also engaging in activity that we would now term as sexual compulsiveness whereby he’s throwing caution to the wind,” said Griffin. “It’s almost like he’s wanting to get caught in an odd way, which may have been on a certain level a great relief for him. … There were a number of instances where he was less than discreet and perhaps too trusting of those he was with.”
“A strange romance” is how Photoplay described Rock’s close relationship with actress Marilyn Maxwell. (Photo courtesy of Lou Valentino)
“This led to a lot of complications where you had people come back and later try to extort him and blackmail him,” Griffin continued.
“I think you have someone who’s dealing not only with the pressures of being the number one box office attraction, but also grappling with the disconnect that exists between his public image and his private life. I was also a bit surprised to realize how often Rock was unfortunately blackmailed or threatened with public exposure throughout his career. Boyfriends who had threatened to sell their stories and out him publicly. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, that would have destroyed his career,” Griffin said.
“Written on the Wind” (1956). Directed by Douglas Sirk Shown: Lauren Bacall (as Lucy Moore Hadley), Rock Hudson (as Mitch Wayne). (Photofest)
Confidential Magazine was also determined to expose Hudson and his escapades with other men. Wilson came up with a plan.
“Henry Wilson knew that there was only one way to silence all the rumors about Hudson’s sexuality,” Griffin wrote. “It was time for Rock to get married. And fast.”
In 1955 Hudson abruptly married Wilson’s secretary, Phyllis Gates, who claimed she didn’t know the star was gay. In 2013, The Hollywood Reporter shared Gates confronted Hudson in 1958, demanding to know if he was gay. In the alleged confrontation, Hudson implied he had been intimate with men and they divorced that same year.
But Griffin said there was a gray area when it came to Hudson’s sexuality.
If Rock Hudson was the boy next door, his future bride had to be a fresh-faced, all-American girl like Phyllis Gates. Some friends were convinced that the relationship was legitimate, while others insist that it was a carefully arranged corporate merger. — Photofest
“I think some of the relationships that Rock had with women, like for example Marilyn Maxwell, to whom he was very close — I think in certain circumstances these close friendships or relationships with women may have veered in a romantic territory as well,” said Griffin. “I think he was predominately gay. But I do think there were instances where he was involved with women as well.”
But Hudson couldn’t stop the rumors. The New York Daily News shared that when “Ice Station Zebra” opened in 1968, some people chanted “f——- “ as he walked the red carpet. Hudson reportedly never went to another premiere. And when a story claimed Hudson and the equally closeted actor Jim Nabors had married, the “terrified” star ditched his friend.
Marilyn Monroe with Rock Hudson at the Golden Globe Awards, March 1962 (Photofest)
However, as Hudson got older he continued to enjoy his life as a gay man. He would reportedly sneak into gay bars and sex clubs. But Hudson struggled to maintain long-term relationships as partners became tired of keeping their romance a secret.
In June 1984, Hudson’s world came tumbling down when he was diagnosed with a death sentence. According to reports, it was first lady Nancy Reagan who noticed Hudson had what appeared to be a cyst on his neck during a White House gala before a doctor diagnosed him with AIDS.
Rock and protege Jack Scalia starred in the ill-fated NBC series “The Devlin Connection,” which debuted in 1982. (Photofest)
“I think understandably he was devastated by his diagnosis,” said Griffin. “He told his secretary, one of his closest friends at that time, that he was shamed by the fact that he had been diagnosed with AIDS. There were tabloids out there that would have gone crazy with a story about a major Hollywood celebrity having AIDS. Especially a romantic idol like Rock Hudson. It would have shattered his image.”
“He was very careful about who he did confide in and who he shared this information with. Some of the people I interviewed said he took the initiative when he found out he had been diagnosed to have his very good friend, the actor George Nader, help him write anonymous letters to some recent partners, making them aware that he had AIDS. He was advising them to go to their own physicians and be checked.”
Hudson then did what he knew best — threw himself into work. Despite being sick, Hudson took on the role of Linda Evans’ love interest in the hit series “Dynasty” from 1984 until 1985. It would be his last role.
“Aaron Spelling, who produced ‘Dynasty,’ was also trying to convince Rock to sign on for a spinoff series called ‘The Colbys,’” said Griffin. “Spelling was offering Rock the moon and all sorts of star perks, but Rock just wouldn’t have it. … Another project that came along at that time was a sequel to 1959’s ‘Pillow Talk’ with Doris Day. … He thought it was an outstanding concept for this particular film. That may have gone forward if it weren’t for the fact that Rock’s health was deteriorating so rapidly.”
Rock Hudson in 1985. (Getty)
Hudson may still be celebrated as an icon in film history, but Griffin wonders what the star’s life would have been like if he could have freely expressed himself without fear of losing the love of his audience.
“It’s a sad fact, but I think so much of who he was and the most important aspects of himself couldn’t be shared,” said Griffin.