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The Truth About Those Attacks On Rock Hudson

It there has been any doubt in Rock Hudson’s mind about his having reached the very top in Hollywood—he knows now!

They’re firing on him!

This good old America sport is reserved only for those who have reached the loftiest heights—such as Presidents of the United States, prize fight champions, the top football and baseball teams. . . . and Hollywood’s leading movie idol.

On second thought, some European Kings whose brows have uneasily worn a crown can attest to the fact that sitting high on a throne can ofttimes allow an excellent pot shot at a royal derriére.

The firing on: Rock has been going on for some time underground—where all first class revolutions begin. But it broke into wide public view just recently in a Look Magazine article titled on the cover: Rock Hudson—Why He’s No. 1. The story inside went on to make you wonder why indeed.

The article charged Rock with being a “mechanical man” with little brains and few emotions of his own; a robot who is the successful reflection of an astute and clever agent, Henry Willson. He was depicted as a man without a sense of humor, and even his extraordinary good looks were challenged as artificial because, early in his career, he had to have a tooth straightened! 

It was the first serious out-and-out blast on The Rock, and without further ado, if you want to know how he feels about it, he’s angry!

Even the California weather, which has been glorious this year, had turned bitter cold the day Rock came to see me. Wind, rain and hail beat against the windows as we sat before a warm, blazing fire sipping hot coffee and tea—the coffee for Rock, the tea for me.

Contrary to the magazine’s broad insinuation that Rock can’t comb his hair or even ring a doorbell without the guidance of Henry Willson, he came alone.

“I didn’t want anyone around, just wanted to talk things over with you,” he said soon after his arrival.

I thought he looked very thin and somehow different. His hair was cut very short, eliminating the natural wave we’ve grown accustomed to. In just the few short months since I had last seen him he appeared to have matured by years. Certainly the past year and a half in his life has been sufficiently startling to confuse the most ‘mechanical’ of men—which Reck isn’t, believe me.

It’s been a time of great triumph, and of great unhappiness and frustration for him. He’s won enough popularity awards to start a gallery, including the Look Magazine(!!) award as Hollywood’s outstanding male star; the German Bambi Plaque, equivalent to our Oscar; several fan magazine polls and an Academy Awardnomination last year for his fine performance in Giant.

He rose to such dizzy heights of financial success that MGM willingly would have paid $750,000 to star him in Ben Hur. That’s pretty fair going as an actor—for a former truck driver.

On the other hand, his marriage to Phyllis Gates crashed in a far from friendly separation. His nerves were shot from a long and arduous location trip to Italy for A Farewell To Arms, followed by an equally exhausting trip to Honolulu for Twilight For The Gods.

Last, but not least, he now finds himself in the impossible position of being locked in an ironclad contract with UniversalInternational, a studio which has temporarily suspended operations of its own. And so far they won’t let their biggest money-maker work for any other company.

The lowdown

Rock told me his first reaction to that article was complete bafflement.

“The writer and I spent eight hours together on a plane coming from New York to Hollywood,” he said wearily. “She came to my home and talked to my friends and business associates. She kept telling me how much she liked me and what a complimentary story she was going to write. Then—wham!”

He shrugged philosophically, poured himself another cup of coffee and said, “I don’t expect all articles about me to make me out a tin saint. That would be incredibly dull—and untrue. I have as many faults as the next fellow.

“All I ask is that I be allowed to stand, or fall, on what I accomplish up there on the screen. No one is responsible for that but me. I don’t mean that to sound boastful or ungrateful to Henry and others who have helped me enormously. But when that camera starts turning, I’m on my own.”

He continued quickly, “I want to say just this one thing—and then we’ll forget that confounded and confounding story. It’s this: of course I listen to Henry Willson. He’s my agent and he’s my friend. What’s the sense of having an agent or a friend if I’m going to ignore his advice and suggestions. Henry discovered me and encouraged me as he has done for many other actors. He even gave me my name.

But he does not order my life or my thinking. Nor did he mastermind my marriage or separation from Phyllis.”

And if you don’t believe him about that—then you weren’t sitting face to face with Rock Hudson that afternoon, my friends!

The mention of Phyllis gave me the cue to say, “I’m truly sorry about you and Phyllis,” and I meant it.

“So am I,” he said quietly. “Sorrier about it than anything that has ever happened to me. I guess I’m old fashioned but I can’t talk about it. Not even to you.”

I remembered that soon after their marriage two years ago, Rock had proudly brought the attractive former assistant to Henry Willson to call on me—and if they weren’t sincerely happy honeymooners, then Rock is a better actor than I think and she’s as good as he.

What can be said . . .?”

“What can ever be said about the breakup of any marriage?” he continued. He seemed to be speaking almost to himself. “Only the two people involved know what happened, and often they are confused. Friends side with one or the other, but there is no case where one party is 100% right and the other 100% wrong. You know that. You’ve seen enough marriages go on the rocks in Hollywood to know that neither party is all hero or all villian.”

He shrugged slightly and spread his hands. “I made mistakes and I’m willing to take my share of the blame. But it wasn’t all my fault any more than it was all Phyllis’. One thing I do know is that these mistakes cannot now be rectified. That’s all I can say about it.”

I asked, “Has this unhappy ending soured you on marriage, Rock? Do you feel you never want to marry again?”

“Not at all,” he said, “I want to marry again. I have a very good example of If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again right in my own family. My mother is now very happily married to Joseph Olson, after two unsuccessful previous experiences.”

This time I poured him another cup of coffee before he went on. “My mother and her third husband have a wonderful time together—go fishing, travel around, and enjoy the same things.

“She and my father, Roy Scherer, for whom I was named, parted when I was a small boy. I still see my Dad, fact is I had dinner with him last night.

A change in fathers

“I was about nine when my mother married Wallace Fitzgerald, who was everything a tyrant-stepfather has ever been pictured as being. I had to take his last name against my wishes and toe the mark to his every whim. Mother was working as a switchboard operator and I used to hang around and run errands for her just to keep out of Fitzgerald’s way. He was around a lot. He wasn’t working.

“But my point is—if mother and Joe can be so happy and have such good times together, why should I rule out another try at having a good marriage?” He smiled broadly again. “But not right now. I’m not even divorced!”

His unhappy childhood may have a lot to do with the charge that Rock is overly placid by temperament and won’t fight back. I’ve seen it happen time after time—children brought up in bickering, unhappy homes becoming frightened apostles of ‘peace at any price—anything, anything to keep from stirring up another hurtful, bitter brawl within the family.

Since Rock became famous, some of his former employers—including the grocer he used to deliver for in Winnetka, Ill, the manager of the store where he sold electric appliances, a few of the men he knew in the Navy, and the head of the food company for whom he drove a truck—are all agreed: Roy Fitzgerald was an easy-going fellow. He never went looking for a fight. So, what’s wrong with that? Does it make Rock a spiritless dummy?

He said, “When I feel things are going wrong I try to do something to correct them, not explode all over the place. I suppose I could have thrown a temperamental tantrum because U-I wouldn’t let me do Ben Hur. But what would it have got me? Nothing but a suspension. So I’m disappointed about Ben Hur—but I’m not blowing out my brains, or anybody else’s.”

“But Rock, what are you doing about this frustrating spot you are in, with your studio temporarily at a stand-still and yet they are not giving you the right to do outside pictures?” I asked.

Something good

A slight grin spread over his face, “I’m still looking for something good, another great story like Giant, for instance. And another director like George Stevens to direct me. That was my best picture.

“I honestly believe U-I wouldn’t turn me down if another great chance came along, I mean a big picture that wouldn’t keep me tied up a whole year as Ben Hur would have done. After all, they loaned me out for Giantdidn’t they?”

They sure did, and my fellow Illinoisan got an Oscar nomination out of it!

Like most Californians who actually originate in other states, Rock and I have always felt closer because we shared the bond of hailing from the same state—Illinois. He was born in the southern part of the state in the small town of Olney, but was raised in Winnetka, a suburb of Chicago. Having first seen the light of day myself in Freeport and been raised in Dixon, we found out some time ago that we speak much the same mid-West language.

admit I had departed from Illinois quite a while before Rock was born, but when we get together we have a tendency to reminisce, a marked trait of mid-Westerners. We had already agreed that this stormy day was a lot like Chicago weather.

Rock mused, “Do you remember one of the first times we met out here? You were taping your radio show at the Hollywood Photographers Ball, and Vera-Ellen and I were among the guests you interviewed.”

I did, indeed, remember. I also remembered that Rock. and Vera-Ellen were very much in love at the time.

“I was never so scared in my life,” he laughed. “It was my first big social event in Hollywood and I was scared to death of you, of speaking into the microphone and of being in high society!”

“You must have many, many invitations to parties these days,” I laughed with him. “You are successful and eligible, the hostesses’ delight in this town.”

Not quite a hermit

“Yes, I get invited,” he admitted frankly—there doesn’t seem to be an ounce of guile in his make-up, “but I don’t accept too many invitations for two good reasons. When I’m working, I’m worried about my work; and when I’m not, I’m worried about not working!”

He reached for the coffee again. “This not going out much socially is getting me the reputation of being a hermit, also not true. I spend very little time by myself. I enjoy my friends, and I like going to their homes for small dinner parties. As soon as I get my new apartment fixed up, I want to do some entertaining myself. But I just don’t happen to like getting in this racket of taking a glamor girl to a premiére or to a big party just because she can use an escort or something like that.” Never say this boy isn’t honest.

“Isn’t it true you dated Lauren Bacall in New York while she was having a tiff with Frank Sinatra?” I kidded him.

He grinned, “I wish it were true. I like her. We had a lot of fun making Written On The Wind! But I have a suspicion her interests are—” Rock laughed “—elsewhere.”

However, he had a very good time in New York. He told me he had seen some wonderful shows.

“I’d like very much to do a show on Broadway myself,” he confessed. “I have picture experience behind me now and with some expert coaching I think I could do a play. At least, I’d like to try.” You can. bet it would be a hit. The Hudson fans would beat the doors down to see Rock in even a critics’ flop.

Speaking of Broadway shows reminded me of something I’ve always wanted to ask Rock. “Did George Axelrod have you in mind when he wrote Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?”

He answered, “Let me tell you about how George named that show. He was flipping through a fan magazine when the came across a story about me titled Will Success Spoil Rock Hudson? His play was about the movies and he absolutely flipped over that title. Said he had to have it. Later, his lawyer told him he was open to a law suit. So he changed Hudson to Hunter.”

“And you helped him to make a fortune,” I said.

“Even better—the play gave a little girl named Jayne Mansfield her first real break, and now she’s a famous movie star,” he smiled.

Then he added a strange remark:

“I hope she got what she wanted,” said the No. 1 Man in Hollywood. . . .



You can see Rock in TARNISHED ANGELS and soon he’ll be appearing in TWILIGHT FOR THE GODS, both for U-I.



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