My Son Your Years Become You—Rock Hudson
We were just finishing our Christmas dinner and were starting to clear the table when Rock turned to me with a most unusual request. “Mom, what are you going to do with the turkey that’s left over?”
“Eat it tomorrow, I suppose,” I said. “We always . . .” Suddenly I thought I knew what was on his mind. “How silly of me, I should have thought of it myself,” I added. “You take it home and have it for supper tomorrow night.”
“I’d like to take it along, Mom, but not for myself. An elderly fellow who works at the studio, we call him Pop Schroeder, had a heart attack a few days ago and is now at the Santa Monica Hospital. I thought I’d stop by on my way home and take it to him. I’d like to wish him a happy Christmas, anyhow.”
“Don’t you think the hospital will have a turkey dinner for him, too?”
“I suppose so. It’s just the idea to let him know someone cares enough to show an interest.”
To say that I was surprised is an understatement—not that Rock hasn’t been kind and considerate before. Only until now, he has never been able to show, to express his feelings in any way, even to me.
For that matter, lately I’ve seen all kinds of changes in my son. Being the perfect host at my Christmas dinner—actually his party since the guests were Rock’s friends—was not the least.
He used to be quite indifferent to parties, even disliked large gatherings of any sort. But lately he is having more fun mixing with people at my house and at his.
Yet he hasn’t developed, and I don’t believe he ever will, into the handshaking “glad to see you, what did you say your name was?” kind of a person—partly because he dislikes small talk, partly because he hasn’t completely outgrown a shyness, particularly toward women. This is also one of the reasons why most of his dates are connected with the film industry and usually from his own studio.
However, in telling me about his dates, Rock has eased up considerably, a sharp contrast from his onetime reluctance to tell me more than their names. Once this got me into a most embarrassing situation, though I’m still not certain who was most embarrassed—Rock, myself, or the two girls involved.
At the time, Rock was still in the service, on a naval air station somewhere in the Philippines. One day he sent me forty dollars and a short note advising me to use part of the money for a new dress for myself, the rest to buy some roses for Nancy.
Two weeks later he got a very sweet and very surprised letter of thanks from the girl.
Two weeks after that I got a most emphatic note: “Mother, you sent the roses to the wrong Nancy!”
“That’s what you get for not telling me more about your girls,” I replied. “How should I know which one you meant?”
To hastily make up for my mistake, I bought “the other Nancy” a very nice bracelet and mailed it to her with a second note from Rock. Fortunately, this was the only time he dated two girls with the same first name.
Naturally, to me, his mother, there’s a significance in everything Rock does. I am more conscious of the little things easily overlooked by someone not as close to him as I am. His manner of dressing, for instance.
As a youngster, he liked any outfit—as long as it included yellow corduroy pants! In high school, he still hated white shirts and ties. And until recently sports clothes were his favorite dress. Imagine my surprise when he came back from his trip to Europe this summer looking like some- thing straight out of Esquire.
Going along with this new change, I gave him white shirts at every opportunity until at last he protested. He had so many, he couldn’t even get them in his wardrobe. When I asked him what he wanted for Christmas, he insisted, “Anything but white shirts.”
Yet, as Rock has learned to relax, he has passed the peak of clothes-consciousness. Not that I think he’ll ever go back to yellow corduroy pants, but he is growing more casual in his manner of dressing as well as in his outlook which, I feel, is very becoming.
Rock’s change in taste is even more pronounced in the type of presents he buys. When he was little, his gifts were often given with a purpose—usually to get back into my good graces after he had done something wrong.
I can still remember one chilly Saturday afternoon in November when he showed up at the house with a bag full of candy.
“It’s awfully nice of you to bring me this,” I told him appreciatively, but there was something in his expression that made me look for an ulterior motive. “Anything wrong, Son?”
Rock looked at me sheepishly. “Oh, no, Mom. What should there be wrong?”
“Maybe a bad grade in school?”
“No. Everything’s going just fine.”
I should have known this was a stab in the wrong direction. While a bit lazy about schoolwork, Rock learned so easily and quickly that his grades were far above average.
Frequently, his dean would call me into his office, quite exasperated. “Your son could be on top of his class, if he would only study a little more,” he’d complain. I knew what Rock’s trouble was. There wasn’t enough challenge. With comparatively little effort, he could get good grades. Had he been a poor student, I’m sure he would have worked harder.
But since bad grades were not the cause of Rock’s gift. I couldn’t think of anything else he might have done. It was not until the next morning, quite by chance, I found the reason when I made his bed. Underneath the mattress was a wet bathing suit. “Rock!” I shouted angrily into the kitchen. “Come here immediately!”
Rushing into the room, the instant he saw me holding up his wet bathing suit, Rock knew his secret had been uncovered. “I meant to tell you, Mom,” he explained sheepishly. “I went for a little swim yesterday.”
“A swim? At this time of the year?”
“It was easy We just dove off the end of the ice and. . . .”
Now I knew why I’d gotten the present. It was a pure and simple bribe! And, of course, it was his favorite candy which he ate ninety per cent of himself.
Needless to say he doesn’t have to bribe me any longer. But even in his choice of presents he has shown such increasing consideration and thoughtfulness that lately I’ve found myself calling upon him to help me select many of my gifts.
Knowing my fondness for Wedgwood china, when Rock was in England he brought me a beautiful Wedgwood vase, sugar shaker, earrings and several other lovely pieces. To find a Christmas present I really wanted, he talked to my husband several times. When they both couldn’t reach a decision, Rock finally asked me directly. “I won’t beat around the bush, Mom. You have your choice between a deep freeze, a dishwasher and an automatic washing machine. Which one would you prefer?”
After much deliberation, I decided on a washing machine. Imagine my surprise when, in addition, he also gave me a matching drier. “Thought I’d save you some steps so you can conserve your strength to cook dinner when I come over,” he said beaming over my delight.
I was particularly appreciative because Rock has put himself on a strict budget to save for the house he hopes to build. And the two pieces meant he must have gone without some of the things he wanted.
Rock has always been thoughtful and generous, willing to spend his last cent to surprise or please a friend. Without an efficient business adviser to manage and restrict his expenses, I believe he would be constantly broke.
Rock has the wonderful ability of not only getting a tremendous enjoyment out of giving, but does it without expecting anything in return. This way he never has been, and probably never will be, disappointed in people. And it seems to be paying off: I don’t recall an instance when someone has taken advantage of him.
His generosity is obvious in many ways. For instance, the mere mention by a friend of a liking for something he has will cause him to part with it immediately.
When I visited him on the set of “One Desire” after he had finished his scene he asked me to his dressing room for a cup of coffee.
“Did you bring along a thermos?” I inquired on the way.
“No, Mom. I bought a new coffee maker. Makes pretty good stuff, too.”
A few minutes later I agreed the coffee was delicious. That was a mistake. He wouldn’t let me off the set without taking the coffee maker along. This is typical of Rock.
Naturally, I try to give him presents he will enjoy. My most fortunate selection was the movie camera I gave him a year ago for Christmas. However, I must confess that like Rock a dozen years ago, I had an ulterior motive.
We already knew he would go to Ireland to make “Captain Lightfoot.” By giving him a camera, I reasoned, he could take pictures which would provide a permanent record of his trip for him, and give me, upon his return, a chance to share many of his experiences.
I was right. Since he came back, we’ve spent many evenings looking at his films, particularly enjoyable since Rock, thanks to his terrific memory, is able to describe in detail the many places he has seen. I feel that I’ve traveled through Europe with him.
In addition to pictures and presents, Rock also brought back a taste for foreign foods which all but amazed me. Except for my strawberry shortcake, he never had any interest in food and showed even less interest in cooking. When he was little, once in a while he would ask me to let him fix some chocolate brownies. When he got through, the kitchen used to look like the basement of a department store after a sale.
But being on his own has not only increased his interest in food, but also made him appreciate my cooking. More and more he stops by for dinner, alone or with a date, frequently on short notice, too. And I love it.
He’s asked me to show him how to prepare some of the dishes he grew fond of and has adapted himself so well that he’s learning to prepare meals for himself. After his last trip abroad, our teacher-pupil relationship was switched—he taught me a cooking trick or two.
A couple of weeks after Rock returned, he called late one evening and asked me to pick up some food from the market and he’d come over the next day and show me how to prepare a new dish he’d discovered. It was delicious! And he’s done this so frequently that I, too, am acquiring a new taste for food.
In recent years, even more in recent months, Rock has changed in another respect. He used to concentrate on one hobby at a time until he got bored, then gave it up for a new venture. It’s part of the normal, maturing process. But too many people never outgrow that stage, never really fully develop as they grow older in years.
Fortunately, Rock has. During the last couple of years when he took up a new hobby, he stuck to it. Collecting records is one example. So is photography, oil painting, and his number-one pastime of earlier days, mechanical drawing.
If Rock hadn’t become an actor, he’d be a mechanical engineer today and, I think, a very good one. He has both mechanical talent and imagination. As a boy. the one thing he used to draw most consistently was his “dream house.”
I’ll never forget the day I walked into his room and found him leaning over the drawing board, so intently studying the design in front of him that he didn’t notice me till I put my hand on his shoulder. “That’s a mighty fine drawing,” I told him.
His face was aglow as he turned to me. “Someday, when I’m rich, this is the kind of house I want to build.”
And then he explained the details: the two-story construction, the swimming pool, the kind of living room, paneled den and even the hallways he had in mind.
This was the one sketch Rock never threw away. On the contrary, whenever he found a new idea he liked, he promptly incorporated it into his design. To him, it was more than a house. It was his future. And now it’s about to come true.
Some of his friends have wondered why for so long Rock lived in rented houses and apartments. Part of it is due to financial reasons. He got into the “big money” only recently. After taxes, agent’s fees, which are normal for an actor, everyday expenses and Rock’s own generosity, he hadn’t much money left to put into real estate.
Another reason as well has kept Rock from going ahead. He was looking for a specific kind of lot: hillside property with a view, comparatively isolated, yet not too far from the studio. He wouldn’t settle for anything half-right. It had to be exactly what he wanted. And finding it takes time.
Till a short while ago, he searched for it only halfheartedly. But now that he’s reached the point where he can afford to build, he spends most of his free time looking. I don’t think it’ll be long till he finds what he’s after.
Living for the future, seldom looking back at the past has always been one of Rock’s strongest convictions.
Aside from the house and the fact that someday he’d like to settle down and raise a family of his own, Rock’s most persistent thought, understandably, centers around his career.
He wants to improve his performances. In order to become more versatile and qualify for a bigger variety of parts, he has just taken up singing and dancing. But his dreams extend beyond acting. Someday he also wants to direct, and I’m sure he would be excellent at it. Not only because he goes to work with his eyes open and constantly learns about the business or because, I believe, he has the necessary talent, but mainly due to a gift all too rare in our day: He has remarkable patience.
I’ve seen many examples of his patience. For instance, a couple of weeks ago we drove to the Salton Sea, south of Palm Springs, where Rock goes for his favorite sport, water skiing. During early afternoon, as Rock slid ashore on his skis, a freckled-faced, redheaded youngster of about twelve walked up to him, full of admiration. “Gee, Mr. Hudson, that was terrific. I wish I could water ski like that.”
Rock smiled at him. “Ever tried it?”
“Do you know how to swim?”
“Sure I do. Like a fish.”
He handed his skis to the youngster. “Okay. Put ’em on.”
Rock spent the rest of the afternoon showing the boy how to put on the skis, grab and hold onto the rope, raise himself up in the water and hang on as well as he could.
The boy didn’t become an expert. He spent more time in the water waiting for Rock to swing the boat around to give him another try than on his feet. But he learned the fundamentals, and what’s more important, had a wonderful time. And so had Rock.
If anything, Rock has always had an overabundance of patience, to the point where he seems incapable of losing his temper. It’s his only characteristic that worries me.
When he gets upset about something, instead of exploding right then, or even just coming out and saying what’s the matter, he’ll keep it to himself, carry it with him for days.
That’s hard on others, harder on Rock himself. If he would lose his temper from time to time, he’d get over whatever is bothering him much faster.
So you see, I really have very little to complain about in Rock. As a matter of fact, I think he’s a pretty wonderful son, who has changed in many ways, but not in the one that counts most: Success has not gone to his head, and I don’t think it ever will. Do I sound prejudiced?
Probably. But then, what mother isn’t?
BY MRS. KAY OLSEN ROCK HUDSON’S MOTHER
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE MARCH 1955