Netflix’s Hollywood: Rock Hudson’s true story, secret homosexuality and film legacy

Rock Hudson plays a key role in Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood (Picture: Rex/Netflix)

Rock Hudson is becoming a leading man again, almost 30 years since his death, in Ryan Murphy’s new Netflix series, Hollywood.

Launching into spotlight in the height of the Golden Age, Rock Hudson built an impressive legacy of films that defined the post-war era, as one of the leading men of the silver screen and starring alongside Elizabeth Taylor and Doris Day.

However, it wasn’t until decades later that it was revealed that he was a gay man, something he hid for years due to it being illegal in the US and could cost him his career.

As Hollywood rewrites the star’s history to what could have been, we take a look back on the star’s true story, and what his real life entailed.

Here’s everything you know about him.

Rock Hudson is one of the biggest stars of the golden age of Hollywood (Picture: Rex)

Who is Rock Hudson?

Rock Hudson was born Roy Harold Scherer Jr. in 1925, but later became Roy Fitzgerald after being adopted by his stepfather.

Growing up in Illinois, Roy was fond of theatre but didn’t land roles as he struggled to remember his lines.

After graduating, Roy joined the Navy in 1944 – the last year of World War II. He returned to the US in 1946, landing in San Francisco before moving with his biological dad in Los Angeles, and tried to pursue an acting career.

In 1947, he attracted the attention of notorious Hollywood agent Henry Willson, after sending in a photo of himself. Rock later helped kick off the ‘beefcake’ phase of the Hollywood era, being put under a strict regime to muscle up for his roles.

Willson was also responsible for changing his name to Rock Hudson, as it was catchier than Roy Fitzgerald.

It’s long been suggested that Rock Hudson hid his homosexuality for his entire life (Picture: Rex)

A Hollywood heavyweight, Willson landed him a role in 1948’s Fighter Squadron, where he had one line – and it took him 38 takes to get it right.

Thankfully, he was given other opportunities and soon became known for his leading man charm in films, and often working alongside Doris Day in classics of the era including 1959’s Pillow Talk.

In 1984, Hudson became one of the first major celebrities ever to be diagnosed with HIV. It was initially hidden as a liver condition by his publicists, before it was confirmed.

Rock passed away peacefully in his sleep at his Los Angeles home on October 2, 1985, due to complications of AIDS.

Rock was represented by notorious Hollywood agent Henry Willson (Picture: 20th Century Fox/Kobal/REX)

What films was Rock Hudson in?

Rock appeared in 75 projects throughout his career, last appearing in a small arc in 80s drama Dynasty as Daniel Reece.

He was nominated once for an Oscar – for Best Actor in 1957’s Giant.

His biggest movies include:

  • Scarlet Angel (1952)
  • Giant (1956) with Elizabeth Taylor
  • A Farewell To Arms (1957)
  • Pillow Talk (1959) with Doris Day
  • Come September (1961) with Sandra Dee

Rock Hudson was one of the leading men of the Golden Age of Cinema (Picture: Rex)

Was Rock Hudson gay?

Despite numerous reports that Hudson was homosexual, with A-list stars including Julie Andrews, Carol Burnett and Elizabeth Taylor citing it as a ‘well-known secret’, Hudson never pubicly came out as gay.

In fact, in 1955, he got married to Phyllis Gates, Henry Willson’s secretary of the time. They divorced after three years and didn’t have any children.

It is reported that US tabloid Confidential was going to run a reporting outing the star that same year, but Willson was able to cover it up by selling stories on two of his other clients instead.

Hollywood rewrites Rock’s history (Picture: Netflix)

Despite their break-up, Phyllis later wrote a book on her marriage, 1987’s My Husband, Rock Hudson, praising their time together.

It’s since been widely claimed that she was also gay, and that their marriage was actually one of convenience, orchestrated by Willson, to cover up both their homosexualities.

Due to HIV/AIDS being heavily connected to homosexuality at the time of his death, it sparked fresh rumours in the press, causing numerous celebrities to come forward and declare that he was, in fact, a gay man who hid his sexuality publicly for his entire life.

Who plays Rock Hudson in Hollywood?

In Ryan Murphy’s series Hollywood, a part-fiction version of Rock Hudson is depicted by Jake Picking.

Jake, 29, is still a relatively new actor, appearing in a handful of films including Netflix series Horse Girl with Alison Brie, comedy Blocker, and Patriots Day.

He is due to appear in Top Gun: Maverick, but the sequel to the Tom Cruise flick has been pushed back due to coronavirus.

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The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons plays Henry Willson, with the agent’s apparent abuse of the ‘casting couch’ – coercing talent into sex in exchange for roles – being used against Rock.

While it has been heavily reported that Willson did coerce his clients into sexual favours in real life, it has never been reported that Hudson was one of the people he did it to.

What is Hollywood about and where can I watch it?

Ryan Murphy’s latest series Hollywood is a semi-fictional tale about life in 1950’s Hollywood – dubbed the Golden Age of Cinema.

It follows the story of Jack Castello (David Corenswet), a wannabe actor who has his sights set on getting his name in lights.

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During the seven-episode run, he encounters some of the major names of the time – including Rock Hudson (Jake Picking), notorious agent Henry Willson (Jim Parsons) and Hattie McDaniel (Queen Latifah) as he tries to make his name.

Getting his big break on a picture based on the life and death of Peg Entwhistle, will Jack finally be able to make it in Tinseltown?

Hollywood launches 1 May on Netflix.

MORE: Netflix’s Hollywood review: Ryan Murphy’s ‘what if?’ love letter to Tinseltown is a little too glossy but shines bright

MORE: The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons ‘shocked’ by number of naked men he saw filming Netflix series Hollywood

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