Best known for his opposite Doris Day in Pillow Talk and opposite Elizabeth Taylor in Giant as well as his TV role in McMillian & Wife.
The Desert Hawk
The Fat Man
Bend of the River
Here Come the Nelsons
Has Anybody Seen My Gal?
The Lawless Breed
The Golden Blade
Back to God’s Country
Taza, Son of Cochise
Never Say Goodbye
Written on the Wind
Something of Value
The Tarnished Angels
A Farewell to Arms
Twilight for the Gods
This Earth Is Mine
The Last Sunset
The Spiral Road
A Gathering of Eagles
Man’s Favorite Sport?
A Very Special Favor
A Fine Pair
Pretty Maids All in a Row
The Mirror Crack’d
The Star Maker
I have no philosophy about acting or anything else. You just do it. And I mean that. You just do it. However, I can say that with ease after thirty-five years. ~ Rock Hudson
Rock Hudson, born Roy Harold Scherer Jr. on November 17, 1925, in Winnetka, Illinois, the only child of telephone operator Katherine Wood and auto mechanic Roy Harold Scherer Sr. who abandoned the family during the depths of the Great Depression. His mother remarried and his stepfather, Wallace Fitzgerald, adopted him and changed his surname to Fitzgerald. Hudson’s years at New Trier High School were unremarkable, although he sang in the school’s glee club and was remembered as a shy boy who delivered newspapers, ran errands, and worked as a golf caddy.
Although he tried out for roles in many of his school plays, Hudson failed to win any because he could not remember his lines, a problem that continued to occur through his early acting career. Working as an usher in his teenage years, he developed an interest in film and stardom at a young age.
After graduating from high school during World War II he enlisted in the United States Navy and trained at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. With orders to report to Aviation Repair and Overhaul Unit 2 then located on Samar, Philippines as an aircraft mechanic, he departed San Francisco aboard the troop transport Lew Wallace. In 1946, after returning to San Francisco aboard an aircraft carrier.
Hudson moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career and applied to the University of Southern California’s dramatics program, but he was rejected due to poor grades. He worked as a truck driver for some time, longing to be an actor but with no success in breaking into the movies. After he sent talent scout Henry Willson a picture of himself in 1947, Willson took Hudson on as a client and changed his name to Rock Hudson, although Hudson later admitted he hated the name. Hudson’s name was coined by combining the Rock of Gibraltar and the Hudson River.
Hudson made his acting debut with a small part in the 1948 Warner Bros. film Fighter Squadron, and took 38 takes to successfully deliver his only line in the film.
Hudson was signed to a long-term contract by Universal Studios. There he was further coached in acting, singing, dancing, fencing, and horseback riding, and he began to be featured in film magazines where, being photogenic, he was promoted.
His first film at Universal was Undertow (1949), which gave him his first screen credit. He had small parts in Peggy (1950), Winchester ’73 (1950) (playing an American Indian), The Desert Hawk (1950) (as an Arab), Tomahawk (1951), and Air Cadet (1951).
Hudson was billed third in The Fat Man (1951), but back down the cast list for Bright Victory (1951). He had a good part as a boxer in Iron Man (1951), starring Jeff Chandler, and as a gambler in Bend of the River (1952). He supported the Nelson family in Here Come the Nelsons (1951)
Hudson was promoted to leading man for Scarlet Angel (1952), opposite Yvonne de Carlo, who had been in Desert Hawk and Tomahawk. He co-starred with Piper Laurie in a comedy, Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952), directed by Douglas Sirk.
In Horizons West (1952) Hudson supported Robert Ryan, but he was star again for a pair of Westerns, The Lawless Breed (1953) and Seminole (1953).
He and de Carlo were borrowed by RKO for Sea Devils (1953), an adventure set during the Napoleonic Wars. Back at Universal he played in Harun al-Rashid in an “Eastern”, The Golden Blade (1953). There was Gun Fury (1953), a Western, and Back to God’s Country (1953). Hudson had the title role in Taza, Son of Cochise (1954), directed by Sirk and produced by Ross Hunter.
Hudson was by now firmly established as a leading man in B adventure films. What turned him into a star was the 1954 film Magnificent Obsession, co-starring Jane Wyman, produced by Hunter and directed by Sirk. The film received positive reviews, with Modern Screen Magazine citing Hudson as the most popular actor of the year. It made over $5 million at the box office.
Hudson went back to adventure films with Bengal Brigade (1954), set during the Indian Mutiny, and Captain Lightfoot (1955), produced by Hunter and directed by Sirk. In 1954, exhibitors voted Hudson the 17th most popular star in the country.
Hudson’s popularity soared with George Stevens’ film Giant (1956). Hudson and his co-star James Dean were both nominated for Oscars in the Best Actor category. Another hit was Written on the Wind (1957), directed by Sirk and produced by Albert Zugsmith. Sirk also directed Hudson in Battle Hymn (1957), produced by Hudson, playing Dean Hess. These films propelled Hudson be voted the most popular actor in American cinemas in 1957. He stayed in the “top ten” until 1964
Hudson was borrowed by MGM to appear in Richard Brooks’ Something of Value (1957), a box office disappointment. So too was his next film, a remake of A Farewell to Arms (1957). To make A Farewell to Arms, he reportedly turned down Marlon Brando’s role in Sayonara, William Holden‘s role in The Bridge on the River Kwai, and Charlton Heston’s role in Ben-Hur. A Farewell to Arms received negative reviews, failed at the box office and became the last production by David O. Selznick.
Hudson was reunited with the producer, director and two stars of Written on the Wind in The Tarnished Angels (1958), at Universal. He then made an adventure story, Twilight for the Gods (1958). This Earth Is Mine (1959) was a melodrama.
Ross Hunter teamed Hudson with Doris Day in a romantic comedy, Pillow Talk (1959), which was a massive hit. Hudson was voted the most popular star in the country for 1959, and would be the second most popular for the next three years.
Less popular was a Western The Last Sunset (1961) costarring alongside Kirk Douglas. He then made two hugely popular comedies: Come September (1961) with Gina Lollobrigida, Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin, directed by Robert Mulligan; and Lover Come Back (1961) with Day.
He made two dramas: The Spiral Road (1962) was a medical adventure story, directed by Mulligan, and A Gathering of Eagles (1963), a military story, directed by Delbert Mann. Nonetheless, Hudson was still voted the third most popular star in 1963. Hudson went back to comedy for Man’s Favorite Sport? (1964), directed by Howard Hawks and, more popularly, Send Me No Flowers (1964), this third and final film with Day. Along with Cary Grant, Hudson was regarded as one of the best-dressed male stars in Hollywood, and received Top 10 Stars of the Year a record-setting eight times from 1957-64.
Strange Bedfellows (1965), with Lollobrigida, was a box office disappointment. So too was A Very Special Favor (1965), despite having the same writer and director as Pillow Talk. That year he was voted the 11th most popular star in the country, and he would never beat that rank again.
Hudson tried a thriller, Blindfold (1966). He worked outside his usual range on the science-fiction thriller Seconds (1966) directed by John Frankenheimer. The film flopped but it later gained cult status, and Hudson’s performance is often regarded as one of his best.
He also tried his hand in the action genre with Tobruk (1967), a World War Two film directed by Arthur Hiller. After the comedy A Fine Pair (1968) with Claudia Cardinale he starred in the action thriller Ice Station Zebra (1968) at MGM, a role which he had actively sought and remained his personal favorite. The film was a hit but struggled to recoup its large cost.
Hudson dabbled in westerns, appearing opposite John Wayne in The Undefeated (1969). He co-starred opposite Julie Andrews in the Blake Edwards musical, Darling Lili (1970), reasonably popular but it became notorious for its huge cost.
During the 1970s and 1980s, he starred in a number of TV movies and series. His most successful television series was McMillan & Wife opposite Susan Saint James, which ran from 1971 to 1977. Hudson played police commissioner Stewart “Mac” McMillan, with Saint James as his wife Sally, and their on-screen chemistry helped make the show a hit.
During the series’ run Hudson appeared in Showdown (1973), a Western with Dean Martin and Embryo (1976), a science fiction film. Hudson took a risk and surprised many by making a successful foray into live theater late in his career, the most acclaimed of his efforts being I Do! I Do! in 1974.
After McMillan ended, Hudson made a disaster movie for New World Pictures, Avalanche (1978) and two miniseries Wheels (1978) and The Martian Chronicles (1980). He was one of several faded stars in The Mirror Crack’d (1980).
In the early 1980s, following years of heavy drinking and smoking, Hudson began having health problems which resulted in a heart attack in November 1981. Emergency quintuple heart bypass surgery sidelined Hudson and his new TV show The Devlin Connection for a year, and the show was canceled in December 1982 soon after it had first aired.
Hudson recovered from the heart surgery but continued to smoke. He nevertheless continued to work with appearances in several TV movies such as World War III (1982). He was in ill health while filming the action-drama film The Ambassador in Israel during the winter months from late 1983 to early 1984. He reportedly did not get along with his co-star Robert Mitchum, who had a serious drinking problem and often clashed off camera with Hudson and other cast and crew members.
From December 1984 to April 1985, Hudson appeared in a recurring role on the ABC prime time soap opera Dynasty as Daniel Reece, a wealthy horse breeder and the love interest for Krystle Carrington (played by Linda Evans) and biological father of the character Sammy Jo Carrington (Heather Locklear). While he had long been known to have difficulty memorizing lines, which resulted in his use of cue cards, it was Hudson’s speech itself that began to visibly deteriorate on Dynasty. He was originally slated to appear for the duration of the show’s second half of its fifth season; however, because of his progressing ill health, his character was abruptly written out of the show and died off screen.
While his career developed, Hudson and his agent Henry Willson kept the actor’s personal life out of the headlines. In 1955, Confidential magazine threatened to publish an exposé about Hudson’s secret homosexual life. Willson stalled this by disclosing information about two of his other clients. Willson provided information about Rory Calhoun’s years in prison and the arrest of Tab Hunter at a party in 1950. According to some colleagues, Hudson’s homosexual activity was well known in Hollywood throughout his career, and former co-stars Elizabeth Taylor and Susan Saint James claimed that they knew of his homosexuality, as did Carol Burnett.
Soon after the Confidential incident, Hudson married Willson’s secretary Phyllis Gates. Gates later wrote that she dated Hudson for several months, lived with him for two months before his surprise marriage proposal, and married Hudson out of love and not (as it was later reported) to prevent an exposé of Hudson’s sexual past. Press coverage of the wedding quoted Hudson as saying: “When I count my blessings, my marriage tops the list.” Gates filed for divorce after three years in April 1958, citing mental cruelty. Hudson did not contest the divorce and Gates received alimony of $250 a week for 10 years. Gates never remarried.
Unknown to the public, Hudson was diagnosed with HIV on June 5, 1984, just three years after the existence of HIV and AIDS had been discovered by scientists. Over the next several months, Hudson kept his illness a secret and continued to work while, at the same time, traveling to France and other countries seeking a cure—or at least treatment to slow the progress of the disease.
On July 16, 1985, Hudson joined his old friend Doris Day for a Hollywood press conference announcing the launch of her new TV cable show Doris Day’s Best Friends in which Hudson was videotaped visiting Day’s ranch in Carmel, California, a few days earlier. His gaunt appearance and almost incoherent speech were so shocking that the reunion was broadcast repeatedly over national news shows that night and for days to come. Media outlets speculated on Hudson’s health.
Two days later, Hudson traveled to Paris, France, for another round of treatment. After Hudson collapsed in his room at the Ritz Hotel in Paris on July 21, his publicist, Dale Olson, released a statement claiming that Hudson had inoperable liver cancer. Olson denied reports that Hudson had AIDS and would say only that he was undergoing tests for “everything” at the American Hospital of Paris. But, four days later, July 25, 1985, Hudson’s French publicist Yanou Collart confirmed that Hudson did in fact have AIDS. He was among the first notable individuals to have been diagnosed with the disease. In another press release a month later, Hudson speculated he might have contracted HIV through transfused blood from an infected donor during the multiple blood transfusions he received during his heart bypass procedure in November 1981.
Hudson flew back to Los Angeles on July 30. He was so weak that he was removed by stretcher from the Air France Boeing 747 he had chartered, and on which he and his medical attendants were the only passengers. He was flown by helicopter to UCLA Medical Center, where he spent nearly a month undergoing further treatment. He was released from the hospital in late August 1985 and returned to his home, “The Castle”, in Beverly Hills for private hospice care.
At around 9:00am on the morning of October 2, 1985, Hudson died in his sleep from AIDS-related complications at his home in Beverly Hills at age 59, less than two months before what would have been his 60th birthday. Hudson requested that no funeral be held. His body was cremated hours after his death and a cenotaph was later established at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Cathedral City, California.
The disclosure of Hudson’s AIDS diagnosis provoked widespread public discussion of his homosexual activity. In its August 15, 1985 issue, People published a story that discussed his disease in the context of his sexuality. The largely sympathetic article featured comments from famous show business colleagues such as Angie Dickinson, Robert Stack, and Mamie Van Doren, who claimed they knew about Hudson’s homosexuality and expressed their support for him.
At that time, People had a circulation of more than 2.8 million, and, as a result of this and other stories, Hudson’s homosexuality became fully public. Hudson’s revelation had an immediate impact on the visibility of AIDS, and on the funding of medical research related to the disease.