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The Doubt About Rock Hudson!

I, Jane Wilkie, am what is known in Hollywood as Nobody, except for one small claim to fame. I am reputed to be an oracle on the subject of Rock Hudson, having in the past eleven years written twenty-six stories about him, involving roughly some 93,600 words that were read by millions.

This situation has garnered for me all sorts of unseen friends throughout the world. Just because they think I know Rock. I have been invited to spend a weekend with a family in Nijkerk, Holland . . . and a lady in Sweetwater, Texas, has written that she keeps coffee brewing all day long and I am welcome to stop in any time I’m passing by.

This friendliness is sort of nice, but there are drawbacks. I have a great-aunt who never lets me finish anything I’m saying because she’s always firing questions at me about Rock. Other writers in Hollywood take a dim view of me. “You can’t die,” they leer. “If you do, who will be left to tell the palpitating world about Rock Hudson?” And worst of all are the editors. Every time they call me up, I know what’s coming. “First of all,” they say, “we want another story about Rock.”

Now I don’t need to point out that Mr. Hudson is notoriously difficult copy. He is a charming conversationalist, but the conversation is assiduously steered away from the subject of himself. An interview with him—even the thought of an interview with him—afflicts writers with the ague. And that includes me. I have written about his boyhood, his career, his boat, his marriage, what he thinks of other people, what other people think of him. I have had him interview me, and I’ve even had him interview Sandra Dee.

And as of this moment Jack Podell, Editorial Director of Photoplay, has done it to me again! From New York this morning he said, “Let’s start off with something easy.” But he didn’t fool me; there was a slight snicker in his voice. “Like Rock Hudson,” he said.

So as long as people are forever asking me about him, and he’s not talking about himself—I think I’ll interview myself on the subject. I’ll ask myself the questions everybody else asks—and answer myself.

FROM MY GREAT-AUNT: Is he really all that handsome?

ANSWER: A gasser. (Aunt Elspeth may be old, but she’s hip.)

FROM A PHOTOGRAPHER: I asked him once to pose hanging his socks on a clothesline—and he wouldn’t do it. Who does he think he is anyway?

ANSWER: I would guess he’s an actor who has posed hanging up his socks approximately ninety-seven times.

FROM A NEIGHBOR: A friend of mine went to a party last Saturday and he was there. She went home a driveling idiot. I think she’s overdoing it. Don’t you?

ANSWER: No, she sounds normal.

FROM MY DRY-CLEANER: Any chance of getting his business?

ANSWER: For suits, maybe. But when his ties need cleaning he throws ’em away.

FROM MY BROTHER-IN-LAW: I read he pays fifteen dollars for a haircut. I dare you to explain that.

ANSWER: I can’t answer for the barber’s prices. But I know Rock would insist on a good haircut—his appearance is important to his work. It certainly isn’t a matter of vanity.

FROM AUNT ELSPETH: He must be conceited. Any man that good-looking. . .

ANSWER: Well he isn’t. The only time he thinks about himself is in relation to acting. Publicity embarrasses him acutely—he’ll never understand why people want the details of his life. I have yet to see him look in a mirror, and the older his clothes, the happier he is. He’s still a bit of an Illinois hay-kicker and comfort is the keynote of his personality. I’d say he’s less involved in self-adoration than any actor I know. There’s just the right blend of humility and self-confidence. He’s upset by compliments—never knows what to say.

Back in 1953 I told him once, “Conrad Nagel said you remind him of Gable when he was getting his start, that you have the same attitude toward your work and a lot of the same appeal.” Rock buttered a roll and said nothing. I pressed on. “And he says you think all the time, particularly in front of the camera.” Nothing. So I said that Nagel said everyone at the studio liked Rock, they thought he got nicer all the time instead of the usual pattern with new actors who get star complexes too fast. Rock buttered another roll. Then he said, “Nagel was doing a goodness.”

A LETTER FROM WINNETKA, ILL.: When we were both ten years old I used to swim with him in a lagoon on the shores of Lake Michigan. I’ll bet you never knew they used to call him Junior.

ANSWER: I did too! He hated it! Almost as much as he detested his name. Roy. Roy Fitzgerald. Furthermore, he wore a one-piece red bathing suit. With holes on the sides, yet.

FROM A NEIGHBOR, AGE SIXTEEN: If you knew him before his marriage, what was he like on dates?

ANSWER: Fairly crazy. Girls never knew whether they’d end up on a merry-go-round fifty miles away or in a nightclub. They had trouble figuring what to wear. Their mothers adored him—he washed the kitchen walls for one mother, painted a fence for another. . . . He was a tease, a good dancer, and he ate anything you left over on your plate.

FROM AUNT ELSPETH: (again) Where did he learn his good manners? I thought he used to be a truck driver.

ANSWER: He was. And his parents were far from wealthy, they lived in a poorish neighborhood. But after Rock rescued a small boy from the neighborhood bullies, the boy’s mother invited him to her mansion and introduced him into the best circles. His natural charm took over from there. All he had to do was watch and listen. The manners were learned early, but the poise came later.

FROM A FRIEND: What’s the truth about his marriage to Phyllis Gates? Weren’t they ever happy?

ANSWER: I have no way of knowing about the marriage because Rock is gentleman enough never to discuss it. I talked to him a month after the wedding and again five months later. He seemed happy enough. I took his reluctance to discuss his marriage as his natural reluctance to discuss anything about himself.

FROM AN EDITOR: Is he a Democrat or a Republican?

ANSWER: I don’t think he’s a party-liner. He doesn’t discuss politics, he’s never been interested.

FROM A FRIEND: If he sees your stories before you mail them to your editors, what kind of things does he ask you to delete?

ANSWER: He very seldom asks that anything be cut. Unlike some actors, he wasn’t born with a blue pencil in his mouth. As long as I’m honest in my reporting he seems happy enough with it. Any offenders are apt to be trivial things. He dislikes anything fatuous or silly. At lunch one day he ordered snails. Whereupon I, eager to snatch any new crumb about Rock, wrote the fact in my notebook. He leaned across the table and stopped my pencil in mid-sentence.

“If you’re planning to write that I like snails, it’s true,” he said. “I’ve liked ’em since my first trip to Europe. But please don’t say so or it’ll be pumpkin pie all over again.”

“Pumpkin pie?” I said. He nodded. “Somebody wrote that I like pumpkin pie, and for months after—well, I appreciated the kind thoughts, naturally, but pumpkin pie gets soggy in the mail. When you have forty or fifty of them around the house, you have what might be termed a real mess. And snails—a few thousand oldish snails could turn a neighborhood into an emergency area.”

Years later he also objected to my mentioning his new interest in ham radio. “Once that gets out,” he said, “the other writers will want to interview me about ham radio. And what in the hell can you say about ham radio to people who don’t care anything about it?”

FROM AUNT ELSPETH: What’s the most difficult story you’ve ever done on him?

ANSWER: A magazine wanted a complete report on Rock’s and Phyllis’ wedding. And so in Hollywood I talked to Rock’s mother, his agent and the bride’s attendant. On the phone I talked to Rock’s best friend. Jim Matteoni, in Winnetka. Then I drove to Oxnard and talked to the police officer who’d given Rock a ticket for speeding; to the county clerk in Ventura who’d issued the marriage license; in Santa Barbara to the minister, the florist, the hotel manager and the photographer. I ended up knowing more about Rock’s wedding than he did.

When I asked the minister about the kiss after the ceremony he said, “It was a fine kiss. Yes indeed. Mr. Fitzgerald did a good job of it.” I suppose Rock thinks me an awful bloodhound, tracking him so thoroughly. But difficult as it was, I enjoyed it. Because I found it had been a perfect wedding . . . small, quiet and altogether lovely.

FROM MY HUSBAND: You keep talking about his sense of humor. What’s so special about it?

ANSWER: It’s the way he talks. Dear, the way he expresses things. When he told me years ago that Phyllis was taking piano lessons he said. “She’s learning What-Is-A-Note. Starting from plink.”

FROM A FRIEND: Why on earth do clams remind you of Rock Hudson, and what other nutty things don’t I know?

ANSWER: Because when he was a kid his stepfather made him eat an enormous bowl full of the things and he was so sick he hasn’t been able to face a clam since. Other nutty things? He loves to take his shoes off and wiggle his toes, and he has a memory that includes practically everybody he’s ever known. He still recalls a history teacher whom he describes as “ungodly.” But he forgets to R.S.V.P. What else? Well he goes to sleep on his side with one arm above his head. His problem is to fall asleep fast before his arm goes to sleep or he’ll have to shift position.

FROM THE CLERK AT VENTURA COUNTY COURTHOUSE: Oh, I could kill myself! He said his name was Roy Fitzgerald and I was so busy I barely looked at him. When the news got out I caught the devil from my daughters—why didn’t I get his autograph? And they say I insulted him because I didn’t recognize him. Do you think this is true?

ANSWER: I’d say he was overjoyed that you didn’t recognize him.

FROM MY TEENAGE DAUGHTER: Mother, I know Daddy is handsome, but so is Rock Hudson. I hope you don’t flirt with him.

ANSWER: Honey. I wouldn’t dream of it. Even if your father weren’t here. I’d know better than to try anything like that with Rock. All I have to do is start batting my eyelashes at him and it will shatter a nice friendship.

FROM AUNT ELSPETH: So he looks like Adonis, but why do you like him?

ANSWER: Lots of reasons. I like music and he likes music. He’ll talk about African rhythms that sound like Bach, and the next minute he’ll insist I listen to a new opera. And when he gets excited about music he does the same thing I do—walks around the room and conducts the orchestra. Some day we’ll collide.

And he’s fun to be with. Out of the blue he’ll say, “Want to swim?” or “Want to see a house?” or “Want to see a bee farm?” You never know what’s coming next. Once he insisted on bundling me into his skin diving equipment and then laughed at me because it was so heavy I couldn’t move. And yet he relaxes well, too. I’ve spent hours on a supposed interview. just doing crossword puzzles and having him ask me questions like, “What’s a Tibetan horned toad in thirteen letters?” He says if I’m a writer I ought to know these things.

He has a way of expressing himself that amuses me. He’ll say, for instance, that he’s “got the middles,” which means he’s in the middle of nothing—“no picture, no trips, no new interests—just the middles.”

And I adore driving with him. Females recognize him and their mouths fall open, some of them drop packages, a few even scream. One day we walked along a beach and I noticed people staring at him, some from atop a cliff, others on the open porch of a beach house. “How many pairs of eyes are looking at you right now?” I said. “Seven.” he answered, and ducked his head as if to ward off the stares. “Four on the porch, three on the cliff. I guess I’ll never get used to it.”

He’s honest, too. about his reasons for acting. He says he does it to earn a living, a good living, and he doesn’t care who that shocks. He once told me. maybe ten years ago, that he disliked Hollywood. Not the work or the people, but rather the phony side, the endless parties and clannish groups.

I like him because he’s kind-hearted. Once he got home from work and a teenage girl rang his doorbell. She told him she’d walked all the way from Santa Monica, some ten miles, to see him. Rock was tired and angry, but he tried to hide it. He told her as politely as possible that she should go home where she belonged. But when he saw her walking down the driveway, beginning to cry, he ran after her and spent a long time trying to explain how he felt his home was his final retreat and he just couldn’t ask everyone in who came to his door.

And I like him because he has a good mind. He won’t discuss it with me, but I know from other people that he dotes on philosophy and is well read on the subject. particularly the ancient philosophers.

FROM MY MOTHER (who has just read part of this story): But Dearie, you say here he doesn’t like trivial things written about him. Don’t you think the fact he throws his ties away when they’re soiled is a little silly? And I shouldn’t think he’d like his marriage dredged up again.

ANSWER (with a sigh): You’re absolutely right. But I’m writing for his fans. Mother, and they eat up anything about him—even down to his ties. He’s an actor, and taking all this is part of his job, and I’m a writer and I’m expected to come up with something for my editors. Even if this time Rock’s reaction is going to be more startled than if I’d gone to interview him in a bikini bathing suit and eye shadow.

FROM PRACTICALLY EVERYBODY (including Aunt Elspeth): Is he going to marry Marilyn Maxwell?

ANSWER: I wouldn’t be caught dead asking that! He sees her a lot—even flew to New York for a weekend to surprise her for the opening of her Latin Quarter act. I know he sent her flowers that night. But I certainly don’t know if they’ll ever marry. Next question?




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