Netflix’s Hollywood: The sordid story of the real Henry Willson as Jim Parsons takes on character

BBC Radio 1’s Times Like These cover knocks Colonel Tom from top spot as it nabs number one on singles chartJim Parsons takes on the role of the notorious Henry Willson in Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood (Picture: Netflix/Rex)

The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons is taking on the role of Henry Willson in Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood.

Willson is known as one of the most notorious agents of the industry, with long-held rumours that he would coerce his male clients into sex – decades before the Weinstein scandal catapulted the ‘casting couch’ abuse of power into public view.

He was also known as ruthlessly fierce of his clients by any means necessary, using underhanded tactics to make himself one of the most influential men of the industry.

Here’s everything we know about the real star.

Who is Henry Willson?

Henry was born into the theatre and acting industry in 1911, son of Horace Willson, who became president of the Colombia Phonograph Company in 1922.

Moving to Hollywood in 1933, Willson started work as a journalist for the Hollywood Reporter and New Movie Magazine.

BBC Radio 1’s Times Like These cover knocks Colonel Tom from top spot as it nabs number one on singles chartHenry represented some of the biggest Hollywood stars of the era – including Rock Hudson (Picture: 20th Century Fox/Kobal/REX)

It was a public secret that Willson was a gay man, and would frequent gay bars despite it being illegal at the time. He would also use this to pick up clients, often going for their looks over their capabilities as actors.

Becoming an agent, Henry became notoriously savage for his persistance, looking after and rebranding stars to make them famous – including Tab Hunter, Robert Wagner, Rory Calhoun, Troy Donahue and Guy Madison.

Many of his clients are also rumoured to have been gay, with Willson hiding their sexuality for them. Most notably Rock Hudson, who was only outed as gay following his death in 1985 from HIV complications.

In order to hide this from the public eye, he was known to sell stories on his clients to bury exposes, and create sham marriages in order to further bury their sexuality.

Willson is also credited for the ‘beefcake’ craze of the 1950s, with his published photos of his heavily muscled clients in swimsuits often being used as promotion for their films.

However, after he was outed publicly as gay, instead of just an ‘industry secret’, his clients distanced himself from him, and he struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction.

Leaving the industry broke after funnelling money into his clients looks and brands, Willson moved into the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital – a retirement industry in LA.

He died in 1978 at the age of 67, and was buried in a polystyrene coffin in and unmarked grave because he didn’t have the money to cover his funeral, and noone else stumped up the money.

BBC Radio 1’s Times Like These cover knocks Colonel Tom from top spot as it nabs number one on singles chartHenry Willson was known to coerce his closeted gay clients into sex (Picture: Rex)

Was Henry Willson a sexual predator?

Willson has been accused for decades since his death of coercing and soliciting sex from his clients in exchange for representation.

Among those who have come forward is Quentin Tarantino’s father, Tony, who claimed Willson propositioned him in the 1960s as an actor.

He said that Willson offered him fame, a Cadillac, a new wardrobe and a place to live in exchange for sexual favours

‘He says, “You will treat me like your best girlfriend.” … I looked at him and said, “I don’t understand,”‘ Tarantino told New York Daily News.

‘He explained in detail what he meant. He explained to me about oral sex … He explained to me about anal sex, and made that very clear.’

Several books on his sordid practices have also been published documenting his behaviour, including The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson, and Full Service: The Secret Sex Lives of The Stars.

Despite Netflix’s Hollywood representing as such, it has never been certainly known that Willson coerced Rock Hudson into any sexual activity.

BBC Radio 1’s Times Like These cover knocks Colonel Tom from top spot as it nabs number one on singles chartJim Parsons becomes controversial Henry Willson in the new series (Picture: Netflix)

Who is Jim Parsons?

Jim Parsons is known to most as Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory, having played the character in the sitcom for 12 years.

He still acts as producer and provides voiceover for the show’s spin-off series, Young Sheldon, which follows the character through his tricky teens.

Jim had previously appeared in Zach Braff’s 2004 film, Garden State and TV series Judging Amy.

Now, he is often working behind-the-scenes, producing series including Netflix’s Special, which followed a gay man with cerebral palsy navigating life in LA.

He’s due to appear in another Murphy project, Boys in the Band, after performing in the Broadway production of the same series.

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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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Netflix series Hollywood cast, release date, and trailer

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.

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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 on how creepy role of Hollywood’s Henry Willson left him feeling ‘transformed’

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