Is There A Second Chance For Rock’s Heart?
Rock was coming back to the fire carrying an orchid in his hand. The expression on his face was like a kid’s—as if he were bringing a good report card home for the very first time. He walked towards the pretty blonde girl who chatted with his mother while they cleaned up after the barbecue. And although his guests all watched him as he approached, it was as if they and his mother weren’t there. He saw only the girl.
“Happy July 3, 1958,” he said formally, bowing as he gave her the orchid.
“Why Rock,” she said, “it’s lovely. But what’s the occasion?”
“Nothing,” he answered quietly, then added, “and everything. But if I have to have a reason, let’s say it’s because I love this crazy Mexican hat you bought me. I always wanted a hat with donkeys and peons sleeping on the brim. I just wanted to give you something in return.”
“Remember the first time you gave me an orchid, at the premiere of ‘Magnificent Obsession’?” she asked.
He gazed at her for a moment and then said softly, “I remember.” And suddenly, as if embarrassed by his feelings, he looked away—at the sky, and pointed upwards.
“I see it,” she said, “the moon.”
“No, over there,” he pointed at a single star. “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight . . .”
“I wish I may,” she continued, “I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.”
They both laughed.
“Let’s go find the star,” he said softly.
“Yes,” she answered, “let’s,”
Back at the fire, a friend of Rock’s mother watched Rock and his girl strolling hand-in-hand along the beach. “I’ve never seen Rock so happy since the first few months of his marriage to Phyllis. Who’s the girl?” she asked. “Somebody new?”
“Somebody old in Rock’s life,” answered another guest. “Betty Abbott. He’s known her for years. In fact, until Rock met Phyllis, everybody thought Betty was going to be Mrs. Rock Hudson.”
Rock Hudson first met Betty Abbott when he was making a picture. “Making” is undoubtedly much too strong a word to describe Rock’s activity in the film. He had one line, and dozens of hours riding with the sheriff’s posse. The name of the epic? Well, it’s one that Rock would just as soon forget, one of thirty-five pictures in which he briefly appeared during his first four years in Hollywood.
Rock would just as soon forget his first big scene, too. It wasn’t too demanding. . . . He was just supposed to climb on his horse, kick the spurs into its side, and gallop swiftly down the Street to the Red Dog Saloon. On cue, he pulled his horse up short and hollered out, “We’ve spotted the outlaws at Thunder Pass.” But as the horse reared into the air, Rock’s ten-gallon hat fell off.
“Cut!” the director hollered. “Let’s do it over.”
Rock rode back and once again came galloping down the Street, once again his horse reared up, again he delivered his memorable line, and again his hat fell off.
“The horse is fine,” the director said, “but the hat can’t take direction.”
Rock forced the hat down on his head, tightened the chin strap and went through the action for the third time. At the climax, the hat—on schedule—toppled off. Perspiration broke out on Rock’s forehead. He felt like galloping off the set and out of Hollywood—forever.
Suddenly, someone giggled, an infectious giggle, and before long everyone, including Rock, was laughing. The giggler, he soon found out, was Betty Abbott, a pretty blonde script-girl. She walked over to Rock and opened her purse. He bent down from his horse and they talked for a moment. Then she stuck a band-aid across his hat string, pasting it to the side of his face that wasn’t on-camera. He went through the scene again and this time his hat remained perched on his head.
After the cameras stopped grinding, Rock went over to thank the script girl. They started talking. Afterwards Rock had said: “She was pretty, of course, but what really impressed me was her mind and her manner. Very knowing and very gentle. Lots of times you’ll meet a girl who’s one or the other. If she’s the knowing kind. there’s usually a tendency to be a little domineering. Not with Betty. I noticed that right away.
“Later on I noticed how much at home she was everywhere. She’s an adaptable girl. Everyone is at ease talking to her. And she’s got a wonderful sense of humor.”
What were their dates like? Well, to use Betty’s own words, they were “crazy.” This is how she described them at the time: “I never know where I’ll land. He gives me no Information whatsoever, and I’m just as likely to end up on a merry-go-round fifty miles away as I am on the dance floor at the Mocambo. As a result, I try to dress in what might be called casual clothes that can take anything from a tango to flying a trapeze.
“Once in a while we take in a movie, and if Rock happens to be in it he agonizes through the whole thing. He squirms so much that he makes me nervous and I might as well see it alone. Half of them I have to see by myself again, thanks to Rock Hudson. Recently, we bought a 16 mm. home movie projector. Now if he fidgets too much, I can knit or cook while he’s suffering.”
Rock, himself’ chimed in with information that backed up Betty’s “wackiness” charge. “I tease,” he said, “and I suppose sometimes I go beyond the limits. Betty gets duck bumps if anybody closes one eye and leaves the other wide open. So I spend five minutes on each of our dates like a one-eyed owl while she shrieks for help.”
Betty emphasized that “he isn’t only the greatest little kidder in the world,” but has his serious side, too. “Some things are very important to him,” she said, “like his career, his beliefs, music, his friends. He enjoys most simple things—picnics at the beach or informal at-home parties. And he’s really very shy; he won’t talk serious until he knows the people he’s talking to.
“With all his wackiness, Rock has beautiful manners. Even if I’m wearing blue jeans and have just whomped up a sensational bowling score, Rock is right there to hold open the car door for me. A lot of people around town could take lessons from him.”
With Betty, Rock could really open up. They did things he liked, talked about things he was interested in. She was the niece of comedian Bud Abbott and knew movie-making and an actor’s problems well. As the script girl on nine successive Rock Hudson pictures, she not only helped him on the set, but in the evenings, together, they would rehash what had happened during the day. More than once, Rock has said: “Betty’s help and criticism were everything to me.”
But more important, Betty brought gaiety and security into Rock’s life. Her childhood in Rochester, New York—where she was born—and later in Los Angeles was happy, warm and fun, a very different childhood from Rock’s. Her calmness and casualness, her feeling of security and ability to give, made Rock feel as if he belonged and was loved. As Betty herself phrased it, “We’re comfortable together.”
In the first couple of years that they went together, Rock and Betty were able to do what they wanted to do without any interference. Sometimes they went to parties, shows or movies; more often they’d just pay visits to each other’s houses, taking tums at cooking meals, listening to records, talking, reading—enjoying just being together.
In June of 1953, right after he had returned from location at Sedona, Arizona, where he had made “Gun Fury,” Rock was rushed to St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica for an emergency appendectomy. When he came out of the ether, Betty was bending over him.
“I must be in heaven,” he said, “and you’re a beautiful angel.”
“You’re not in heaven,” she answered, “you’re in a hospital and you’ve had me worried sick.”
“You are an angel,” he said, “my guardian angel. And I hereby name you Magda Upswitch or Hezekiah Ormiston or Fortunata Divine. Take your choice.”
Betty laughed. These were the names he often called her. “Oh, Rock,” she said, “now I know you’re all right.”
“Please, Nurse Upswitch,” he said, “it’s against the rules to cry in heaven. And kissing is strictly taboo. Stop now, or I’ll report you to the chief angel and you’ll have to turn in your wings.”
But for Nurse Magda Upswitch, this was only the beginning of her career as Rock’s Florence Nightingale—although she didn’t know it at the time. When Rock felt strong again, he urged Betty to go to England for a vacation she had planned for years. He assured her he was all right and that she should go. Betty finally went.
In mid-Atlantic, she received a shore-to-ship call from Rock. “How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Great,” she answered, “but the important thing is how are you feeling?”
“Fine,” he said, “couldn’t be better. I miss you, but have fun.”
When she arrived at the Savoy Hotel in London, her room was filled with red roses. One flower had a card attached to it on which was written, “Have fun, Fortunata. Love, Rock.”
While Betty tried to have fun without him in England, Rock tried to have fun without her in California.
One day he went out alone to Laguna Beach to do some surf-board riding. The sun felt hot and good on his back as he rode the big waves into shore. once, when he pushed the surf-board out towards the breakers, he saw a boat on the horizon. And for a crazy second he thought, “Betty’s on that boat. She’s coming home.” But then he laughed at the wacky notion and headed into shore.
The beach was practically deserted when he headed out into the water one more time. Vaguely, he realized that the waves were higher and the water rougher. But the crazy fusing of sun and sand and memories of Betty made everything a bit unclear.
Suddenly, a gigantic wave, more than ten feet high, picked him up and hurled him towards the shore. Rock felt as if he were on a runaway roller-coaster. The surf-board spun away from him and he catapulted into a jutting boulder. He heard a bone crack, and from the pain thought he had broken his neck. A life—guard fashioned a make-shift tourniquet to stem Rock’s bleeding. Then he was carried to a red truck, an emergency ambulance of the Laguna Fire and Rescue Department, and taken to an aid station, where he was X-rayed and given first-aid. Through a haze of pain he dictated a cable to be sent to London. “Address it to Fortunata Divine,” he said. “Say: ‘Sorry can’t drive you home. Just broke my shoulder.’ Better add the name Betty Abbott to the address, just in case she didn’t register under her right name. And sign it: ‘Love, Rock.’ ” Then he passed out. He was put on a stretcher, placed in an ambulance, and rushed fifty miles to St. Joseph’s Hospital.
A bone surgeon there told Rock it would take eight weeks for his shoulder fracture to heal. Rock’s heart sank. “Magnificent Obsession” was scheduled to go before the cameras shortly. This was his big chance. No small breaks in his shoulder were going to stop him from getting his big career break, the part he had been dreaming about and praying for all these years. But the doctor was insistent: “Eight weeks.”
Rock sank back in desperation. “Eight weeks,” he repeated quietly. An attendant brought him a telegram. It read: “Zounds, Igor! Nurse Fortunata Arrives Next Week.” Rock smiled. Betty was coming back. “I’ll fool all of them,” he thought, “the doctors, Betty, the producers of ‘Magnificent Obsession.’ I’ll be on my feet by the time Betty comes home. And I’ll make that picture. Being hospitalized might even help. After all, I’m to play the part of a doctor.” He felt better already.
Then Betty returned from Europe, she hurried to her home before going to the hospital to see Rock. She wanted to unpack her bags and wrap the gifts she had bought for him: bright-colored argyle socks, a snazzy sweater, and a whole family of leprechaun figurines. On her doorstep were a dozen roses with the cryptic message: “Igor Follows.”
She was still examining the card when Igor himself, Rock, walked over—crawled would be a better word!—like an injured crab. His shoulder was imprisoned in a heavy plaster cast. In his blue jeans, old sweater and moccasins, he looked to Betty like the main character out of a picture called, “Frankenstein Goes To College.”
But shoulder or no shoulder, the injury didn’t interfere with Rock’s appetite. over steaks, they talked. And finally, late in the evening, Rock got up to go. “Going to the studio tomorrow?” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered.
“Mind a passenger?”
“Of course not,” she said.
“Okay,” Rock said, “you’ve got one. Now that you’re home again, I’m going in to report for that picture.”
And make it he did. Nurse Fortunata drove him to the studio each morning and took him home again each night. In a few days the shoulder cast came off; his recovery was amazingly rapid and he gave full credit to his “nurse.” And when the picture was finished and studio officials saw it, they were convinced that in Rock Hudson they had a super-star.
So the order went out that Rock should escort a big name to the “Magnificent Obsession” premiere. This wasn’t unusual. all along, as his star was slowly rising in the movie heavens, he’d been forced to go on “publicity” dates with girls he didn’t know or didn’t like. But late at night, after a premiere or studio party which he attended with someone else, he’d drive up to Betty’s place and knock at the door.
“How was it?” she’d ask.
“Awful,” he’d answer. And he’d take off his formal jacket and loosen his black bow tie, and together they’d raid the refrigerator and talk ’til dawn.
But this time, as he stood on the threshold of a great career, Rock balked. He wanted to be seen with the girl he really cared for, to share his triumph with her. “No,” he said to the studio big-wigs, “I refuse to make this a ‘publicity’ date. I’m taking Betty Abbott—and my mother. The two people who mean most in the world to me.” And the studio compromised. He could take Betty if she really dressed for the occasion.
Rock had to tell all this to Betty—and it was the hardest thing he ever tried to do. He explained that the studio wardrobe was open to her, and she could borrow anything she needed.
As usual, Betty helped him out. “Of course, I can’t buy a mink or a new gown for every important date with you,” she said. “Any dress I want from the wardrobe? So many to choose from. That’s swell.”
Rock was learning—not only how to say “No” to people, but nicer things as well, like how to take a girl out in style. He and Betty had arranged to sit with Barbara Rush and Jeff Hunter at the premiere. So he asked Barbara to find out what color gown Betty would be wearing (it turned out to be powder blue) and then went to a florist and personally picked out an orchid to match her dress.
At the time, Rock commented wryly, “A year or so ago even if I had wanted to ! send Betty or anyone orchids, I would have been too shy to do it and too afraid I’d pick out the wrong thing.”
Rock, Betty and Rock’s mother had a great time at the premiere. But as he signed autographs, fought his way through milling fans to get into the theatre, and then ducked out of a side door with his “two girls,” to avoid the mob in the street, Rock was well aware that his life was changing, that fame had come. And Betty knew it, too.
She learned to spot photographers and columnists and to fade into the background and give Rock the spotlight. What she and Rock shared together was precious, was their very own. The only way she could preserve their relationship was to protect their privacy—at all costs.
But the columnists were insistent and the photographers were persistent and newspapers and magazines combined to invade Rock and Betty’s privacy and to make their relationship a public spectacle. Most of Rock’s close friends were convinced that he wanted to marry Betty—and would if the press would only give them time to be alone.
One day, in the spring of 1954, Rock made a reservation in the names of Mr. and Mrs. Rock Hudson for the wedding suite at the Tower isle Hotel at Ocho Rios, on the island of Jamaica, in the British West Indies. He requested the reservation for May 15th.
Rock’s mother, Mrs. Kay Olson, gave Betty and Rock her blessings. “I surely hope that Rock marries Betty . . . I would love to have that girl as my daughter-in-law,” she said.
But Rock never picked up the honeymoon reservations from the New York travel agent who made it. It may have been that he changed his mind because a magazine printed the story with the comment: “This news should further substantiate the rumors that Rock and Betty Abbott are preparing an elopement.” Anyway, the wedding never came off.
The following June, Rock left for Ireland to make “Captain Lightfoot.” Again, Betty was working with the crew as script girl. She and Rock decided to take a quick tour of Europe ahead of time, with Barbara Rush as chaperone. And again the papers printed story after story about the couple’s impending marriage.
“It’s my opinion that one of these days Betty Abbott will be Mrs. Rock Hudson,” catted one of Hollywood’s columnists. And the others all agreed.
And wherever they went in Europe, newsmen plagued them with the same questions: “When are you going to get married? When are you going to take the big step, Rock?” In Rome, Rock went off by himself for a few days to hide from prying reporters.
Back in the United States, Walter Winchell wrote: ‘‘Their pals wonder if Rock Hudson and Betty Abbott were sealed in Eire” and Dorothy Kilgallen, “Rock Hudson has fallen in love with Betty Abbott and is reported to have received her ‘yes.’ ”
But in Ireland, the romance exploded. It happened suddenly, and no one knows just why. After the day’s shooting was done on “Captain Lightfoot,” the members of the company would relax at a local tavern. Rock and Betty would always be there, sitting at a little table over on the side, talking and holding hands. One night they came in as usual. A photographer had been haunting them all day and they had finally given him the slip. They sat in the usual place, talked quietly, held hands. Suddenly, without warning, Betty jumped up—her face white—and ran out. Rock started to rise, then sank back in his chair and stared across the table at the place where Betty had been.
A cameraman who had been watching the whole incident quipped, “I guess those rumors about Rock and that Italian contessa got back to Betty, and for once she wasn’t going to take it.”
For the next day, Betty flew back to the United States.
When the picture was finished, Rock returned to Rome—alone.
In the fall, Betty and Rock saw each other occasionally, but now they were just friends. A year later, when Rock married Phyllis Gates, the Associated Press carried the following sentence in the seventh paragraph of their news story covering the marriage: “For a time he was an escort of script girl Betty Abbott, niece of comedian Bud Abbott.” Just that, nothing more.
As Rock and Betty returned to join the others at the now dying camp fire, one of the guests said to her husband, “Gossips broke them up before. I just hope it doesn’t happen again. Already they’re sharpening their pencils.”
“So you think they’re in love?” the man asked.
“Right now Rock’s too involved with working out the details of his divorce from Phyllis to be serious about anyone,” whispered the wife knowingly. “And it’s almost impossible to recapture the past. . . . But who knows? I read an interview Rock gave recently, in which he said ‘I want to marry again. But not right now. I’m not even divorced.’ That’s what he said. But as a woman, I say one thing: Rock wouldn’t wear that hat for anyone else.”
Rock and Betty sat down again by the fire. Rock poked the embers with a stick. Someone put a record on the portable phonograph. Rock’s head settled into Betty’s lap. He closed his eyes. Suddenly, he opened them.
“I’m watching you, Nurse Fortunata,” he said with a sly smile. “You think I’m asleep but I’m watching you all the time.” Betty pushed his hat down over his face. But even this couldn’t muffle Rock’s laughter.
ROCK STARS IN U-l’S “TWILIGHT FOR THE GODS” AND “THIS EARTH IS MINE”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE OCTOBER 1958