Rock Hudson was a prominent American actor of the Hollywood Golden Age, the quintessential ‘heartthrob’ of the 1950s and 1960s. Tall, well-built, and strikingly handsome, he rose to fame with his leading roles in films like ‘Magnificent Obsession’ and ‘All That Heaven Allows.’ In a career spanning over four decades, he starred in around 70 films and appeared in several television productions. Growing up during the Great Depression, he did odd jobs as a school boy. He became interested in acting at a young age, but was seldom selected for school plays due to his shyness and inability to remember his lines. He graduated from high school during the World War II and joined the U.S. Navy and served in the Philippines. After being discharged he pursued his dreams of becoming an actor. He struggled a lot initially before talent scout Henry Willson took notice of him and groomed him for an acting career. Being extremely good-looking, he started getting attention in Hollywood despite not being highly talented. He played his first leading role in ‘Magnificent Obsession’ which effectively established him as a much sought-after Hollywood actor. After ruling the big screen in the 1950s and 1960s, he starred in a number of television movies and series during the later years of his career.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born as Roy Harold Scherer, Jr. in November 17, 1925, in Winnetka, Illinois, U.S. to Katherine Wood, a telephone operator, and Roy Harold, an auto mechanic. He was the only child of his parents.
During the Great Depression his father abandoned the family. His mother later remarried and his step-father Wallace "Wally" Fitzgerald adopted the young boy.
He went to New Trier High School where he developed an interest in acting. However, he was extremely shy and had a problem remembering lines because of which he was not cast in school plays despite his great interest.
The World War II was going on when he graduated from high school in 1944 and he joined the U.S. Navy and served in the Philippines. He was discharged in 1946.
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He moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. He applied to University of Southern California's dramatics program but was rejected. More disappointments followed and he struggled to find work. Eventually he resorted to working as a truck driver.
Still determined to become an actor, he sent a picture of himself to talent scout Henry Willson in 1947. Photogenic and handsome, he was successful in catching Willson’s attention who took him as a client. Willson changed the aspiring actor’s name to Rock Hudson.
He played a small role in the 1948 film ‘Fighter Squadron’, his debut. Due to his forgetfulness, it took him 38 takes to successfully deliver his only line in the film.
He was given training in acting, singing, and dancing among other skills to groom him for an acting career. Being attractive proved to be his greatest asset and soon he was featured on magazines which made him popular.
In 1954, Rock Hudson played his first leading role, in the film ‘Magnificent Obsession’, co-starring Jane Wyman. The film received positive reviews and Hudson was named the most popular actor of the year by ‘Modern Screen Magazine.’
His role in the epic Western drama film ‘Giant’ in 1956 further cemented his reputation as a dashing superstar and also earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
In 1959, he appeared in the romantic comedy ‘Pillow Talk’ opposite Doris Day. The film was a super hit and one of the biggest box-office earners of the year. He appeared in two more romantic comedies with Doris in the years to come.
He continued to be a popular actor throughout the 1960s with a string of romantic comedies like ‘Lover Come Back’ (1961), ‘Come September’ (1961), ‘Send Me No Flowers’ (1964), ‘Man's Favorite Sport?’ (1964), and ‘Strange Bedfellows’ (1965).
Popular by now for playing the lead in romantic comedies, he took a chance and acted in the science-fiction thriller ‘Seconds’ in 1966 in a role that considerably departed from the romantic ones he was typecast in. The movie flopped at the box office upon its release but later gained a cult following.
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His movie career began dwindling in the 1970s. Undaunted, Rock Hudson embarked on a successful television career and appeared in the series ‘McMillan & Wife’ opposite Susan Saint James; the series ran from 1971 to 1977. He also made a successful foray into live theater late in his career.
Rock Hudson was a heavy smoker and drinker and his lifestyle began taking its toll on his health in the 1980s. He suffered a heart attack in 1981 and had to undergo emergency quintuple heart bypass surgery. He continued to act after recovering from the surgery.
Rock Hudson is best remembered for his role as Jordan "Bick" Benedict, Jr. in the Western drama film ‘Giant’, which also starred Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. The film, which follows a Texas family over a quarter century from the 1920s until after World War II, was a huge box office hit.
Awards & Achievements
Rock Hudson was a four-time winner of the Golden Globe Award for World Film Favorite – Male (1959, 1960, 1961, and 1963).
Personal Life & Legacy
It was widely believed that Rock Hudson was homosexual. However, he never acknowledged it publically.
He dated Phyllis Gates, his agent Henry Willson’s secretary, for a few months and married her in 1955. Gates filed for divorce in 1958 citing mental cruelty and the marriage came to an end.
His male lovers included Lee Garlington, Jack Coates, and Tom Clark. Garlington later revealed that he was once very close to Hudson and was in a relationship with him for three years.
Rock Hudson was diagnosed with HIV in 1984. Initially his publicist told the public that the actor was suffering from liver cancer. However in mid-1985 it was announced that Hudson was suffering from AIDS. He died from AIDS-related complications on October 2, 1985, just weeks short of his 60th birthday.
In 2002, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.