The Adventures Of Rock Hudson
When Rock Hudson was a kid, he used to daydream himself into adventure. He saw Hurricane and all of a sudden he felt he was Jon Hall. He and a friend found a swimming hole in a ravine with a diving board suspended from an oak tree and ropes to swing on—and zoom!—he was Jon Hall flying out of the tree, swimming across the pool under water to come up at Dorothy Lamour’s feet! What an adventure!
He was always seeking adventure with his neighborhood pals. Once, the police had to get them off the top of the highest church in town. At 16, he tried to join the Air Corps. He was a gawky kid, over six feet tali, weight 150 pounds. The Air Corps sergeant smiled and suggested Roy Fitzgerald and his pal Jimmy Matteoni wait until they were 18.
But a boy becomes a man, fills out to meet his height and grows up to meet his ambitions.
Rock lives a big life, but he lives it with ease. He grew to fit the life just as he grew to fit the parts he plays, so that every “take” of a scene is played a little easier and more professionally than the last.
When we met for lunch at his studio. Universal-International, he was wearing a beard, a disguise used to entice Doris Day in Lover Come Back. He had just returned from four months in Italy, but—according to him—nothing much had happened there.
He grinned. Well, he’d made Come September with Gina Lollobrigida. They’d been on Iocation in Portofino, a delightful, sleepy little fishing town on the coast of Italy. Rock had gone over early, in time to rush into Rome, get a ticket for the Olympics where he had one of the thrills of his life, the marvelous opening day parade of young athletes from every nation in the world. . .
“Hundreds of Germans, Americans and Russians, each group carrying a flag and identification banner, and one man, just one, proudly carrying the flag of Dutch Guinea, a great fellow, six feet eight. The French in their dark green uniforms, the team from India in their brilliant green blazers and yellow turbans. What thrilled me was the thunderous ovation for the American team! This was an international audience, and we are liked!”
Then Rock went to Paris for the weekend, found it raining and went down to the south of France to swim and soak up sun. But. nothing much happened—according to him!
“How about the boat accident?” I asked, remembering the newspaper reports.
“Oh, that. Well, yes, there was a little accident,” Rock said. “Some people at Cannes had a boat and asked me to join them. It was a magnificent day, mild, the water very smooth and glassy, and our boat must have been standing in a sun patch on the water, while one skier climbed aboard and another prepared to take his turn. I was standing, looking idly at the sea when suddenly I saw this speedboat heading for us full blast! It was going to smash us broadside! At about thirty-five miles an hour! I was mesmerized. You can’t move or talk at a moment like this. Everyone saw it now. We all stood mesmerized. Suddenly, someone yelled ’jump!’ and all five of us dove over like Keystone Cops. Some dove to the left, some to the right. If the boat smashing toward us had veered even slightly, someone would have been hit and you know what happens. I remember diving deep to avoid the propeller. I came up to see our boat caved in at the middle and the other boat bisecting it, standing right up on end out of the water. It was a sight to give you the shakes.
“We swam over to a yacht at anchor near by and went aboard. They gave us each a glass of brandy. A full glass. It tasted like water! That night I had a nightmare. It all happened again, except it was my boat, the Khairuzan, that was hit broadside and sank.”
That, of course, ıvas a nightmare only. The Khairuzan is hale and hearty. Rock loves it as much as he loves the sea. And, like Odysseus, he’s had many adventures at sea.
There was the time he was making Toilers Of The Sea and waiting for a camera set-up. He dove overboard for a swim off the isle of Jersey. He was swimming idly when he noticed a bunch of big fish coming toward him. Sharks! He tried to reach the sloop. She was going too fast. He tried for the dingy trailing behind and came close, but always it bounced out of reach. The crew at the railing started to laugh—they knew the fish were only porpoises. But Rock didn’t!
And there was the time, just before Magnificent Obsession, when he’d gone down to Laguna to swim at high tide. Diving under the breakers, he swam out with his powerful stroke and rode the breakers in. The swells were 15 feet high, great emerald shoots of water. Suddenly one giant swell picked him up and dropped him on the shore, like a match. He heard the c-r-a-c-k in his neck. Seconds later, the life guard was asking the crowd to stand back, someone was making a tourniquet from a bath towel. To set his clavicle bone correctly took three months in traction. Rock didn’t have three months, he had less than three weeks before the picture started and it was his big break. He settled for a shoulder brace and Magnificent Obsession.
The sea is tricky. Rock knows it, and director Bob Mulligan discovered it when Rock introduced him to water skiing at Portofino! The weather there was strictly temperamental, too. Days that started out heavenly suddenly clouded over and there would be wild electrical storms. The thunder and lightning were dramatic to see and every time a storm struck, all the lights went out in little Hotel Imperiale at Santa Margherita (next door to Portofino) where the company were staying. There were candles in each room for just such occasions and everyone would light candles and come downstairs into the lobby until the fuses were repaired. One night, Bobby Darin charged, ghost-like, through the halls wearing a sheet.
The joke was on him though, for the hotel charged him for that sheet—he’d cut eye-holes in it!
The cast spent three weeks in the two little villages, eating in tiny restaurants near the water, where the tables are crowded close together and you have a chance to be friendly with the people. Rock has always loved Italian people. “I suppose,” he says, “because I grew up with them. My friend Jimmy Matteoni was Italian, his folks had been born in Italy, and they were warm wonderful people. Italians are like that. They have graceful manners, they love fun, they’re sytnmpatico. They have a great pride in their country and their culture, as they should have. There is beauty everywhere you turn. We visited nearby Fumicino, another quiet fishing village where the Tiber meets the sea and there are beautiful boats at anchor in the yacht basin. I had a chance to talk with some of the boat people there and was invited to look at their craft. Boats are a universal language; they’re the masculine counterpart of women’s clothes. You’ve never seen anything like their fishing nets— commercial fishing nets but woven so that when they’re pulled from the sea they look like great flowers.”
But of course, nothing much happened in Portofino—Rock says.
“How about the motor scooter chase?” I asked.
Rock grinned. “Oh yes, the Lambrettas. That’s what all the kids drive. They’re a fast motor scooter and right behind the driver, there’s a little seat for his date. The girls usually ride side-saddle. You see them flying along, in high heels and with scarves on their hair.
“Well, for the picture there is one sequence where Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee and all the other kids who’ve been occupying my villa decide to cut loose. They start out on these Lambrettas with Gina and me chasing after them, tearing down narrow side-streets, around corners. Wild!”
There was another wild chase in Rome on Gina’s “wedding day” when they fight the police and she runs after the paddy wagon as Rock is carted away. “Gina took that wedding gown home and remade it. It was a problem because it had to be pretty but she had to be physical in it, run, fight, jump. This girl is simply marvelous. She walks away with the picture and no one enjoys it more than I. You think of her as a symbol of sex? She’s a clever girl. She does convey sex, yes, but she’s essentially an imp, a glorious great big imp with a sense of humor that’s terrific to work with.
“You take her in your arms for a big love scene and she looks—well, you know how she looks—and just as you get ready to kiss her, she says, sotto voce, ‘You’ll be uncomfortable in this scene, you know it’s mine!’ She’s like Doris Day. They are real pros, and they both have a great sense of humor. With Gina it’s one good-humored needle after another, and you can relax and have a ball. And all the time, she knows all the angles. She’s intelligent and shrewd. You should see her pose for a still—something I can’t do. I don’t know why, but I get self-conscious and can’t figure how to arrange my face. But Gina knows. She’s loaded with talent. She can sing, paint, sculpt, sew, and she has a flare for decoration. One of the beauty spots of Rome is her home on the Appia Antica.”
No, nothing happened much in Rome.
Rock’s mother and step-father surprised him by coming over. He’d been trying to arrange just such a trip for them for years. He has long wanted to have them come over while he’s there, to share some of t his European magic. This time they surprised him. They sent a wire saying HERE WE COME and came. They had great times together. There were wonderful sights to see, and there were wonderful restaurants to try— among them, the Hostelaria del Orso, which once was Dante’s home. Next it housed a bevy of prostitutes, then it became a convent, and now it’s one of the most elegant restaurants in Rome. Downstairs is a bar, then you go up the rickety, carved-wood stairs to the dining rooms, all very old, very red plush, then up an even narrower staircase to get to the night club.
Rock has been studying Italian for several years now, and during this trip made real progress. Rock and his driver became good friends and, going back and forth to the studio, a half hour each way, they talked a mile a minute and never in English. Rock had some good reference books and dictionaries with him all the time. Learning to speak Italian is part of a dream come true.
No, nothing much happens. . . .
Of course, there was Thanksgiving and the whole company of on-location Americans had a Thanksgiving feast with turkeys to eat and live white turkeys in a corner of the room for decorative effect. Cameraman Bill Daniel’s wife baked the pumpkin pies, director Bob Mulligan and his wife celebrated their anniversary, several other people celebrated birthdays, one of them producer Bob Arthur’s wife, Goldie. There were gagsters who kept insisting they’d still be in Rome to celebrate Christmas but that never worried Rock.
What did worry him was that he might have to stay in New York to celebrate. He arrived back in the States just as a 17-inch snow storm hit New York and was stalled a day—which gave him a chance to catch The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Then back to Lido Island for Christmas. He had a house filled with friends, and his mom and Joe. And New Year’s on the boat “where there’s no holiday traffic.” And next day to work on Lover Come Back—“not even time enough to check my oil.” No, nothing ever happens.
When anyone comments on his adventure-packed life, he just laughs and says, “Adventurous, me? Never touch the stuff!”
“But you do make love to the most beautiful women!” I said, as he marched back to work on a scene with Doris Day, beard and all.
“In front of a hundred and forty men chewing gum? Big deal!” he said, and a minute later had her in his arms!
—BY JANE ARDMORE
It is a quote. MOTION PICTURE MAGAZINE JUNE 1961