Rock Hudson was one of the most popular leading men in the 1950s and 1960s. Considered a classic example of the «heartthrob» of Hollywood's Golden Age, he achieved stardom in films such as Magnificent Obsession (1954), All That Heaven Allows (1955) and Giant (1956), for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. His starring role opposite Doris Day in the hugely successful Pillow Talk (1959) made him the number-one male actor in America at that time. In a career that spanned four decades, Rock appeared in nearly 70 films and starred in several television productions, notably McMillan & Wife (1971-1977). But before Rock, there was Roy.
|Rock with his aunt Evelyn while on|
a visit to his grandmother's farm,
in Olney, Illinois (c. 1927)
Their new living arrangements were incredibly frustrating. Mr. and Mrs. Woods were already sharing their tiny one-room bungalow in Winnetka's Center Street with Kay's brother, his wife and their four children, who upon the Scherers' arrival were forcibly relocated to the attic. Roy Sr. put up with these conditions for over a year, before heading for California in search of work. With her husband away, Kay had to work as a housekeeper for a local dignitary to make ends meets. Eventually, she was able to save enough money to put down a bond on a two-room aparment above a local drugstore. Later in life, Rock said that the only thing worth remembering about that place what that, while living there, he learned to play the piano.
In the summer of 1932, short of money once again, Kay travelled with her son to California, where she found Roy Sr. living precariously and working as a doughnut seller. She tried to persuade her husband to return with her to Illinois, but he remained adamant. On the journey back home, Kay met a young Marine named Wallace Fitzgerald and the two soon became involved. They were married in February 1934, immediately after Kay's divorce from Roy Scherer was finalized. A few months later, Wallace left the Corps to work at a local electricity plant and Kay took a job as a waitress. But the union was doomed from the start; by 1941, the Fitzgeralds would have divorced, remarried and divorced again.
Upon his marriage to Kay, Wallace Fitzgerald legally adopted Roy and gave him his name, but showed little affection for the boy. «He took all my toys away and used to beat me regularly, saying he wanted to make a man out of me,» Rock later recalled. Apparently, his stepfather's source of disappointment centered around Roy's lack of interest in school and all matters academic. Apart from swimming, he was not too keen on sports either. All Roy ever wanted to be was an actor, as he explained in a 1983 interview: «I knew I wanted to be an actor when I was a little boy — but living in a small town in the Middle West, I didn't say so because that's sissy stuff. I once asked my stepfather if I could have drama lessons. When I said I wanted to be an actor — Crack! — and that was that!»
|Rock Hudson aged 13 (1938)|
After her marriage to Wallace Fitzgerald ended, Kay bought a run-down property in Winnetka's Ash Street and turned it into a boarding house. The business was not very successful, however, and she had to work as a part-time telephone operator to support her meagre income from the boarding house. Teenage Roy struggled a lot during this period, specially since he was forced to stay in school for an extra six months because of his abysmal grades. Instead of graduating in the summer of 1943, he did not leave high school until early in 1944.
Three weeks after graduation, Roy enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was sent on a training course as an apprentice aircraft repairman. He was then posted to Samar, in the Philippines, on the Lew Wallace, and for two years worked for the Aviation Repair Overhaul Unit. Much of his time was spent unloading fighter planes from aircraft carriers. Reportedly, he was quite hopeless as a sailor. On one occasion, he accidentally turned on both engines of the bomber he was repairing, causing the machine to veer across the runway and crash into another stationary place.
|Rock Hudson in his Navy uniform|
One night some time in 1947, at a bar on Ocean Boulevard, Roy met Ken Hodge, the former producer of the Lux Radio Theatre. Hodge took an immediate interest in Roy and offered to help launch his acting career. He installed him at gymnasium to improve his physique, bought him new clothes and paid for his first photographic shoot. The shots were then sent to studio executives and receptions at which these would be attending.
At one such event in Culver City, Roy was introduced to David O. Selznick's talent scout and the former agent of Lana Turner, the infamous Henry Willson. He liked Roy's photographs and agreed to take him on as a client. Willson sent Roy to Lester Luther, one of Hollywood's top voice coaches. Luther helped him get rid of his Midwestern drawl and the stammer which Roy claimed was prominent only when he was nervous. Roy received drama lessons from Florence Cunningham and was taught how to stand, sit and walk by Universal athletics coach, Frankie Van. He was also enrolled for lessons in horse-riding, fencing, tap-dancing and even ballet and deportment. But before Willson could find a suitable vehicle to showcase his protegée, he had to come up with a better name than Roy Fitzgerald. He decided on Rock Husdon. From then on, this world was his. He never liked the name, but he sure lived up to it.
This post is my contribution to The Rock Hudson Blogathon, hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Love Letters to Old Hollywood. To view all entries, click HERE or HERE.
Rock Hudson: The Gentle Giant by David Bret