Rock Hudson (1925-1985)

Rock Hudson
Rock Hudson

Rock Hudson was an American movie and television actor who became a prominent leading man during the 1950s and 1960s, starring in such movies as ' Magnificent Obsession' in 1954, 'Giant' in 1956 and a number of romantic comedies co-starring Doris Day: 'Pillow Talk' in 1959, 'Lover Come Back' in 1961, and 'Send Me No Flowers' in 1964. His movie output slowed in the 1970s and he successfully moved to television, starring in the hit series 'McMillan & Wife' between 1971–1977. His last role was as a guest star on the primetime ABC soap opera 'Dynasty', until illness made it impossible for him to continue.

Although he successfully hid it from the public, it was an open secret in the movie community that he was gay, and he was the first major celebrity to die from an AIDS-related illness, on October 2, 1985, at age 59.


He was born Roy Harold Scherer Jr.; on November 17, 1925, in Winnetka, Illinois. His father was an auto mechanic and his mother a telephone operator. His parents separated and divorced when the boy was four years old and when his mother remarried Wallace Fitzgerald, Roy's legal name was then changed from Scherer to Fitzgerald.

Hudson attended New Trier High School in Winnetka where he tried unsuccessfully to appear in school plays. His problem as a young man was difficulty in remembering his lines.

After graduating in 1943, he enlisted in the United States Navy the following year. After training he departed to Samar, Philippines, as an aircraft mechanic, finally being discharged in 1946.

After the war he became a truck driver and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a new-found interest in acting.

Film Actor

His size and handsome features got him into Hollywood. He was discovered by the notoriously predatory agent Henry Willson who specialised in signing and usually seducing young Hollywood beefcake, and reinventing them with new, super-masculine names.such as Troy, Tab and Rock. Willson changed Roy Fitzgerald’s name to Rock Hudson, a combination of the “Rock of Gibraltar” and the Hudson River.

The newly named Rock made his movie acting debut with an uncredited part in the Warner Bros. film 'Fighter Squadron' in 1948. He apparently needed 38 takes to successfully deliver his only line in the film.

Hudson was signed to a long-term contract by Universal-International Studios where he was coached in various necessary disciplines including acting, singing and horseback riding. His good looks proved a major asset and he was featured in numerous film magazines, becoming a well known figure around Hollywood.

For the next few years Rock had small roles in several minor feature films. He was learning his trade and developing a solid reputation for reliability. Highlights amongst a lot of ordinariness at this time were 'Winchester '73' in 1950 with James Stewart, and 'Magnificent Obsession' in 1954 with Jane Wyman.

Hollywood Star

By the mid 1950s Rock was an established leading man. The breakthrough movie which made him a major star was 'Giant' in 1956, co-starring Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. It was a great commercial success and Rock received a Best Actor Oscar nomination.

The following year he had two further hits with 'Written on the Wind' and 'Battle Hymn' and in the same year, 1957, he was voted the most popular actor in US cinema. Later in 1957 Rock appeared in the disappointing 'A Farewell to Arms'..

Rock's well known partnership with Doris Day began in 1959 when they co-starred in the romantic comedy 'Pillow Talk'. The film won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and was nominated for four further awards including Best Actress (Doris Day), Best Supporting Actress (Thelma Ritter), and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture. The picture took in an incredible $18,750,000 at the box-office and it gave Rock's career a much needed boost after the failure of 'A Farewell to Arms'.

Later Career

There followed, with few exceptions, a succession of very average movies such as 'The Last Sunset' in 1961, 'Marilyn' and 'A Gathering of Eagles' in 1963, 'A Fine Pair' in 1968 and 'Pretty Maids All in a Row' in 1971.

As his movie career slowed down during the 1970s, Rock turned to the medium of television, starring in a number of TV movies and series. His most successful television series was 'McMillan & Wife' opposite Susan Saint James, which ran for six years from 1971.

He continued to appear in unsuccessful, poor quality movies including 'Showdown' in 1973 and 'Avalanche' in 1978. He also made a surprise successful appearance as a stage actor in 1974 in ' I Do! I Do!'.

In 1977 Rock appeared as King Arthur in the musical 'Camelot', touring 13 US cities. He was not a great singer and so had to talk his way through songs.


Rock was a heavy smoker and drinker and began suffering chest pains in 1981. He was diagnosed with clogged arteries and had emergency heart bypass surgery in November of that year.


In many ways Rock's personal life was dominated by his attempts to hide his homosexuality from the public. His entrance into the Hollywood movie system was through the gay agent, Henry Willson. As his career prospered, his matinee idol reputation would have been severely tarnished if his army of female fans knew of his gay proclivities. In 1955, when Confidential magazine threatened to expose Hudson's secret homosexuality, Willson fobbed them off by disclosing information about Rory Calhoun's years in prison and the arrest of Tab Hunter at a party in 1950. Soon after this Willson arranged for Rock to marry Willson's secretary, Phyllis Gates.

Phyllis was known to be a lesbian and had numerous affairs with women during the marriage. After three years, in April 1958, she filed for divorce, citing mental cruelty. Hudson did not contest the divorce and Gates received the marital home in Beverly Hills together with alimony of $250 per week for 10 years. She never remarried.

In June, 1984, Hudson learned that he had AIDS, at the time a new virus which was thought to be targeting the gay community. The following year he became critically ill and began experimental treatment in Paris. He made the decision to tell the truth and it was announced that he had AIDS. During the last 18 months of his life, Rock's weight dropped from 215 lbs to 126 lbs. Rock Hudson died in Beverly Hills on October 2, 1985, aged 59. He was cremated and his ashes scattered in the sea.

Rock Hudson Academy Awards

No Wins
One Unsuccessful Nomination
Best Actor ... Giant (1956)

Rock Hudson Filmography

Fighter Squadron
One Way Street
Winchester '73
The Desert Hawk
Air Cadet
The Fat Man
Bright Victory
Iron Man
Bend of the River
Here Come the Nelsons
Scarlet Angel
Has Anybody Seen My Gal?
Horizons West
The Lawless Breed
Sea Devils
The Golden Blade
Gun Fury
Back to God's Country
Taza, Son of Cochise
Magnificent Obsession
Bengal Brigade
Captain Lightfoot
One Desire
All That Heaven Allows
Never Say Goodbye
Written on the Wind
Battle Hymn
Something of Value
The Tarnished Angels
A Farewell to Arms
Twilight for the Gods
This Earth Is Mine
Pillow Talk
The Last Sunset
Come September
Lover Come Back
The Spiral Road
A Gathering of Eagles
Man's Favorite Sport?
Send Me No Flowers