Rock Hudsons Classic Hollywood Image

Rock Hudsons Classic Hollywood Image

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While the Hollywood film industry faced a decline from 1946-1960, Rock Hudson’s star was on the rise. In fact, by 1958, he had arrived. From then, until 1965 Rock Hudson was Hollywood’s golden boy. In 1959 The Hollywood Foreign Press declared Rock Hudson ‘the worlds most favorite male star’ (“Rock Hudson” 19). In the next five years, Rock would receive this honor four more times. It wasn’t just the Hollywood Foreign Press that appreciated Rock, in one interview Rock accredited his fans for recognizing his talent far before the critics ever did (Hopper A5). While Rock was ‘basking in his own starlight’, Hollywood was struggling to find it’s place in an ever-changing world (Hopper D1). Postwar times found many Americans happily settled in the suburbs, content to be entertained in the comfort of their own living rooms by their brand-new televisions. America’s newly found domestic bliss left the big city life that consisted of theaters and Hollywood glamour behind. Still, Rock managed to find his way into the hearts of millions. Men wanted to be him, women wanted to be with him, he was the face of the American dream. One article in the Los Angeles Times refers to Rocks appeal, stating that “regardless of personal preference...Rock Hudson passes the standard test with flying colors” (Hopper D1). At a time when Hollywood was desperate to get the public into the theaters, Rock was precisely what the doctor ordered.

     Hollywood capitalized on the ruggedly handsome actor, and carefully calculated each and every aspect of his persona. It all began when Hudson first arrived in Hollywood, and met talent scout Henry Wilson. Hudson, who was born Roy Scherer Jr., and later had his name legally changed to match his step father’s surname of Fitzgerald, was promptly renamed by Wilson when he arrived in Hollywood (IMDB). It is rumored that Wilson chose the name Rock Hudson after the Rock of Gibralter and the Hudson River, two very internationally powerful images, intended to create one very powerful international image (IMBD). After being renamed, Hudson’s teeth were capped and he was given acting, riding, singing, dancing and fencing lessons; thus finalizing his aesthetic transformation into the American dream(IMDB). His image was twofold on and off-screen, he was a mans-man and a ladies-man all rolled into one. In films he most popularly debuted as either a hero or a romancer. In his most critically acclaimed role, Hudson was able to display both of the shining sides of his persona.

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This film was Giant, and in 1957 it earned him an Academy Award nomination. In one of his more masculine roles, Hudson was accompanied by the incredibly iconic talent of John Wayne, in the western ‘The Undefeated’. In two of his most popular films ‘Pillow Talk’ and ‘Lover Come Back’, Hudson was paired up with Doris Day, whom the media had labeled ‘the embodiment of the American girl next door’ (Scheuer C13). Day’s virginal image was perfect for accentuating the super smooth and ultra manly antics of Hudson’s characters. The critics loved the films, and called Hudson and Day’s performances, “brisk and perceptive”(Scheuer C13). One review finished by asking, “what girl could resist” (Crowther 47). The two films helped to further establish Hudson’s heart throb image, and raised his star even higher. Off the screen Hudson and his Agent worked very hard to ensure the public that he was everything that his lovable on screen persona was, and more. In interviews he spoke of how he loved the different women of the world and how he planned to maintain bachelorhood until at least his thirtieth birthday (Hopper D1). Then, just days before his thirtieth birthday, Hudson married his agent’s secretary, Phyllis Gates (Hopper 2). In his private life he had become all that everyone expected him to be, he was a respectful bachelor who loved women, and then became a happy family man who loved only one woman. He was the Hollywood dream.

     The problem with all of this was that the ‘Hollywood dream’ was a Hollywood lie. Rock Hudson was a Hollywood creation, intended to fulfill the expectations of an ever finicky audience, and to save a desperate Hollywood from drowning. Rock Hudson took away the life, dreams, and desires of Roy Fitzgerald, the man who originally claimed the face that made Rock Hudson a star. Roy Fitzgerald was forced to live his entire life in the shadow of Rock Hudson. Roy Fitzgerald was forced to live a lie. The one, literally fatal, difference between Rock Hudson and Roy Fitzgerald was that of their sexual preferences. Rock Hudson, whose image was based on good looks and the romancing of women, was undoubtedly straight. Roy Fitzgerald, on the other hand, who was forced to hide his true desires, was indeed homosexual. This is a fact that he would take with him to the grave. Were there signs? I suppose, yes, if you were looking for them, but back then nobody was. After all, to the fans, he embodied all that a straight man aught to be, and more. For example, just three years after he walked into the sunset with Phyllis Gates, Phyllis filed for divorce, citing neglect and cruelty. At the time, it appeared to be nothing but a marriage gone sour, but when given all the information, it is clearly a publicity stunt gone sour. The world would have to wait more than two decades to find out the truth about the man behind the star, but by then it would be too late. Even in late July of 1985, mere months before his death, when he announced to the public he had contracted AIDS, he remained faithful to his Rock Hudson persona (Hudson C3). In the eighties, when the public was just beginning to learn about the AIDS virus, most associated the disease with homosexuals and intravenous drug users (Hudson C3). The mere admittance that he contracted the virus was nearly an admission to the public of his sexual orientation, but still he held strong to the persona he spent his whole life hiding behind. It was even reported that, when diagnosed with the disease, Hudson responded, “I hope I die of a heart attack before they find out” (E). Then, on October 2, 1985, at the age of 59, Rock Hudson succumbed to the disease, and passed away. In the years following his death, the truth trickled out in bits and pieces, in rumors and in speculations. When finally Phyllis Gates, shared with the public her story, the lie was exposed. Phyllis told the world of an arranged marriage, intended to ward off speculations of homosexuality, of a marriage riddled with cruelty and abandonment. Phyllis to this day claims, she too was in the dark, and did not realize the truth until years after the end of their marriage (Price 22). Rock Hudson’s persona had been woven so tightly, that even those who shared a roof with him, could not see his true identity. It became clear, that Rock had tried desperately to be rid of Roy Fitzgerald, but at the end of the day, though he could hide it, Rock could not deny his true identity.

      Roy Fitzgerald was a man consumed by his own image. He was a man who lived his life behind the shadows of his Hollywood persona. Rock Hudson embodied all the Hollywood dreams were made of. Men loved to watch him onscreen as a cowboy and a hero. Women loved to watch him onscreen as a lover and a charmer. Hollywood loved to watch him onscreen as he made them millions. And, all of them found comfort in the concept that he was the same man on-screen as he was off. Rock Hudson entered Hollywood at a time when Hollywood was desperate. He was a Hollywood creation, built in Classic Hollywood Style. He was charming, kind, and ruggedly handsome. He was straight. At a time when Americans’ were not as willing to pay to see movies as they once were, Hollywood hoped they would be willing to pay to see the man. On and off-screen, Rock Hudson was sold in the same package, and the public bought it. He was loved and admired, and his movies were box office smash hits. The Rock Hudson image was a screaming success, but at a cost. A man was forced to live his entire life in the shadows, and to deny who he was. Roy Fitzgerald was the Hollywood Systems proverbial lamb. He made the ultimate sacrifice to uphold a Hollywood image, and became an icon in the process.


                Works Cited




1. “Rock Hudson, Deborah Kerr Called Top Stars.” Los Angeles Times 6 Mar. 1959: 19.

2. Hopper, Hedda. “Rock Hudson: Toughness Concealed.” Los Angeles Times 1 July 1962: A5.

3. Hopper, Hedda. “Hudson Basks in Starlight.” Los Angeles Times 13 Mar. 1955: D1.     

     4. Price, Deb. “Hudson Taught Painful Lesson on Marriage.” The Detroit News 22 Mar. 2004: 22.

     5. Rock Hudson. Internet Movie Database. 1990-2005

6. Crowther, Bosley. “The Screen: ‘Pillow Talk.’” New York Times 7 Oct. 1959: 47.

     7. Scheuer, Philip K. “‘Lover Come Back’ Brisk, Gay Farce.” Los Angeles Times 25 Dec. 1961: C13.

     8. Hopper, Hedda. “Rock Hudson Married to Film Secretary.” Los Angeles Times 10 Nov. 1955: 2.

9. “Hudson Has AIDS, Spokesman Says.” New York Times 26 Jul. 1985: C3.
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