Rock Hudson grew up when men were men.
And he liked men who were men.
Masculine men. Blonde, blue-eyed military men. Men with strong chests and big shoulders, big biceps and strong backs, thick legs and firm butts. Men who could drink themselves under the table, who liked steak and potatoes, and who looked incredible without ever having to set foot in the gym. Men who could hack down a tree with an axe. Men who pursued women, yet still liked men on the side. Men with power and ambition, and who knew how to get ahead. Men who held a cigarette between their index finger and thumb and smoked the masculine way. The straighter and more masculine the man, the more Rock Hudson wanted them to be gay.
When Roy Fitzgerald first became Rock Hudson, the stage name slected for him by an older gay Hollywood agent Henry Willson who knew good looks when he saw them, he was a fish out of water. He had fooled around with boys in the Navy, but it was all very hush-hush, and Hollywood was full of gay men. He realized he turned heads. Even with his ill-fitting clothing (he was 6 foot 5) and his body odor (he refused to wear deodorant, considering it effeminate), he approached Hollywood with a wonder. How had he gone from small-town America with a doting mother and an abusive stepfather to a world like this?
And after he became an international movie star and sex symbol, he had a big house on a hill and a fast car and the men were suddenly everywhere. But he realized rather quickly that being a movie star can be intimidating to others. Men were shocked that Rock Hudson actually wanted to be with him, and they got shy when things turned sexual.
Though he may not have started with one, Rock Hudson developed an ego. He expected people to take notice when he walked by, wanted their attention and applause. He settled down a few times with a few different blonde boys, men who were the right balance of physically perfect, driven, masculine, playful, and devoted to him. Men who were discreet in public, and affectionate in private.
He even married a woman once, Phyllis, just to see if he could. And he loved her, he did, but there were men out there, so many men.
Ego seems to come at a price, however, for when someone feels they are the most important person in the room, those someones tend to doom themselves to quite a bit of loneliness. No one can match the ego, and so no one can feel the void. And so there was the sex, and the alcohol, and the nicotine, and the cocaine, and the trips around the world. But the void just kept screaming.
A few years into making movies, Rock Hudson had to realize that there was always a next day. After months of being paid a million dollars to laugh with Elizabeth Taylor or to strong-arm Doris Day, there were the quiet months at home before the next movie came along. In the 1940s and 1950s, there were the sex symbol movie stars, and the character actors who supported them. And then a new era came along, when the character actors who weren’t sex symbols started getting the top billing. The public suddenly wanted to see Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino, not Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor.
And the void got louder and still couldn’t be filled.
And like any human, Rock Hudson was complicated. He was giving and kind, young at heart, insatiable. He didn’t trust easily, and when he did he trusted well, yet broken trust could be impossible to regain. After a few years in the business, he could brilliantly convey emotion on the big screen, yet he couldn’t share his feelings even with his lovers and closest friends.
Rock Hudson lived his life in the closet, denying rumors of his attractions to men right up until the very end. In the last months of his life, as he lay weak and dying from AIDS, he wanted his story to be told. He hired a biographer, he encouraged his friends to be open with their hearts and stories, he came out publicly as homosexual, though he had denied the same claim for decades before it.
And at the end, at the age of 59, he was weak and small, though still 6 foot 5, and he went out of the world as quietly as he had entered.
In the end, like so many stars, he got what he wanted… he made sure the world would remember Rock Hudson, the identity created for himself.
But I would much rather remember Roy Fitzgerald.