Rock Hudson is the 6’5’’ heartthrob of the 50s and 60s who gained equal recognition for his talent, look, and personal life. He was born Roy Harold Scherer on November 17, 1925 in Winnetka, Illinois. He was the only child to Katherine Wood, a telephone operator, and Roy Scherer, an auto mechanic. The terrible hit of the Great Depression in 1931 put significant financial hardship on the Scherer family, prompting Roy to abandon his wife and son. Katherine quickly remarried and Hudson was adopted, taking his new father’s last name; Fitzgerald.
After working in the Philippines as an airplane mechanic during World War II, Hudson moved to Los Angeles to pursue dreams of movie stardom. Upon his arrival, he applied to the University of Southern California drama department, but was rejected for poor grades. Hudson was therefore forced to put his aspirations on hold and became a truck driver. A chance meeting with Hollywood talent scout, Henry Wilson would change everything. In 1948 Wilson spotted Hudson and immediately recognized his potential. That same year, Hudson was cast in his first feature film, Fighter Squadron in which he had only one line, which took him 38 takes to perfect.
Despite his lack of experience, Hudson gained recognition in Hollywood circles. His presence and incredible good looks continued to get him cast in large-scale features. Fame and recognition for his talent did not come until 1954, when he received rave reviews for Magnificent Obsession. His first and only Oscar nomination came in 1956 for his performance in Giant opposite Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean.
As he gained popularity, rumors regarding Hudson’s sexual orientation began to permeate Hollywood. There were strong theories supporting the fact that he was gay. Hudson staunchly denied the rumors, marrying Wilson’s long-time assistant Phyllis Gates. Although the marriage only lasted three years and neither of the two ever remarried, Gates insisted the rumors were false until her death.
The public scrutiny took its toll on Hudson and he began to self-medicate with alcohol. Though he suffered a heart attack in 1981, Hudson’s heath began to steadily decline starting in 1984 when he was diagnosed with HIV. Though he attempted to fight the disease privately, changes in his physical appearance required him to divulge information about his illness. This inspired outrage in certain communities, because he had continued working as a romantic lead without explaining his condition to his co-stars. Rock Hudson died on October 2, 1985 of AIDS.
In honor of gay pride weekend, I felt it important to recognize a man who felt compelled to keep his sexual orientation a secret. Although his close circle of friends supported him completely until his death, the community at large was critical and unsupportive, which, I imagine, caused him great suffering. We are lucky to live in a time where gay rights are more widely accepted, but must remember that there is much progress left to be made.