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Rock Hudson - Star of the Month
Remind Me

Rock Hudson Profile

In 1948, Rock Hudson needed 38 takes to get out his one line in his debut film, Fighter Squadron. A decade later he would find himself nominated for a Best Actor Oscar® and offered one of the most sought-after roles of the late 1950's. Almost thirty years later, after years of successful films, a hit television series and surprising move to the stage, he became the first celebrity to publicly acknowledge that he had contracted the HIV virus, giving AIDS a human face for millions of Americans.

Hudson was born Roy Scherer, though his legal surname became Fitzgerald when his stepfather adopted him. He always thought of himself as Roy, even at the height of his stardom. But if he didn't take his screen name seriously, he was committed enough to his career to keep his homosexuality hidden until just before his death. He even married briefly in the '50s, to his agent's secretary, Phyllis Gates, to maintain the proper heterosexual fa├žade. But the strain still showed, as he smoked and drank excessively throughout most of his career, even asking for a cigarette as he was recovering from quadruple bypass surgery in the '80s.

Whatever his personal issues, Hudson had a golden touch on-screen, projecting an image of the all-American boy that easily fit into action films, high-octane romances and surprisingly sophisticated comedies. All of that was a dream come true for the Illinois boy who had attended the same high school as Ralph Bellamy, Charlton Heston and Ann-Margret. Young Roy Fitzgerald began dreaming about movie stardom while working as an usher at a local film theatre. Yet his memory was so poor that he couldn't even score a small role in a high school play.

After the war, Roy came to Hollywood and hung out at studio gates hoping to get noticed. Eventually he was, by famous (some would say infamous) Hollywood agent Henry Willson, the man who "invented" such beefcake stars as Guy Madison and Tab Hunter. Willson sent him for acting lessons, got his teeth capped and gave him a new name, inspired by the Rock of Gibraltar and the Hudson River. Then he got Hudson a contract at Universal Pictures, where he started honing his talents with supporting roles in films like the adult western Winchester '73 (1950) and post-war drama Bright Victory (1951). Hudson got top billing for the first time in the 1953 western The Lawless Breed and continued to thrive in undemanding roles designed to show off his chiseled profile and 6', 4" frame. Still, he was developing a following that helped him stand out from other contract players like Jeff Chandler and the young Clint Eastwood.

During those early years, Hudson worked twice with director Douglas Sirk, on Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952) and the ludicrous Taza, Son of Cochise (1954). Sirk was one of the first to realize that the camera was in love with Hudson. For his next film, a remake of the classic weeper Magnificent Obsession (1954), Sirk fought to cast Hudson as the millionaire playboy who discovers inner strength after his careless actions cause the death of a philanthropist and blind the man's widow. With Jane Wyman cast opposite him, Hudson scored his first major hit, shooting to stardom seemingly overnight. He and Sirk would reunite three more times, for All That Heaven Allows (1955), again with Wyman; Written on the Wind (1956), co-starring Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone; and The Tarnished Angels (1958), with Malone and Stack.

A loan to Warner Bros. brought Hudson his only Oscar® nomination, as the hard-nosed Texas rancher in Giant (1956), and a lifelong friend in leading lady Elizabeth Taylor. By that time, Hudson was so in-demand that MGM tried to borrow him for the title role in their proposed remake of Ben-Hur (1959). Universal had other plans for Hudson, however, so MGM promoted Charlton Heston from the supporting role of Messalla to the lead that would win him the Academy Award® that had eluded Hudson.

Instead of loaning Hudson to MGM, Universal took a chance by putting him into his first major comedy. Teamed for the first time with Doris Day and Tony Randall, the beefcake proved that he could take pratfalls and drop one-liners with the best of them. With Hudson as an unrepentant wolf, Day as a virginal career woman and Randall as the man caught between them, the stars created a box-office sensation. Pillow Talk (1959) was such a hit, in fact, that it lead to two reunions with Day and Randall, Lover Come Back (1961) and Send Me No Flowers (1964). Hudson proved he could handle comedy without his co-stars when he teamed with director Howard Hawks for Man's Favorite Sport? (1964), playing a columnist who writes about outdoor living without ever having left the big city.

With changing times in the late '60s, audiences became interested in more realistic and unglamorized actors like Dustin Hoffman. Hudson turned in a surprisingly powerful performance as an aging man given a new shot at youth in Seconds (1966), but with his film career fading, Universal offered him the chance to switch to television, where he joined Susan St. James for the hit series McMillan and Wife from 1971 to 1977. When the series ended, he starred in hit television movies and miniseries like Arthur Hailey's Wheels (1978) and The Martian Chronicles (1980). He also took to the stage, touring in such musicals as I Do, I Do, with Carol Burnett, and Camelot.

Hudson made headlines in 1984 when he signed for a role on the hit series Dynasty, but during production he began developing memory problems that required him to use cue cards. Worse yet, the camera was beginning to show a prematurely aged vision of the star. When he reunited with Day in 1985 to help launch her cable show Doris Day's Best Friends, he looked even worse and seemed to have trouble focusing. Finally Variety columnist Army Archerd broke the news that Hudson had contracted the AIDS virus. His highly publicized illness and death led to more headlines. After Hudson's death, his former companion, Marc Christian, won a lawsuit against his estate on the grounds that Hudson had exposed him to the virus. Close friend Armistead Maupin, who had repeatedly urged him to come out in later years, depicted the plight of the closeted star by featuring a gay actor based on Hudson in his Further Tales From the City. Inspired by her friend's ordeal, Elizabeth Taylor, who was with him during his final days, became an activist for AIDS charities.

by Frank Miller
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