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The Biggest Revelations from the New HBO Doc About Rock Hudson’s ‘Double Life’

Photo Credit: Herbert Dorfman / Corbis / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Herbert Dorfman / Corbis / Getty Images

With the release of the documentary Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed on HBO, new revelations about the late actor’s life have been brought to light. Digging deep into the archives, director Stephen Kijack compiled a comprehensive narrative of Hudson’s double life. Additionally, intimate friends stepped forward to provide first-hand accounts of Hudson’s longtime secret personal life.

He made passes at James Dean

In the 1955 film Giant, Hudson starred alongside James Dean, who was also a macho leading actor at the time. The former played a wealthy Texan rancher while the latter played a bad-tempered ranch hand who strikes oil on his tiny property. The two have a heated rivalry all throughout the film, which seems to have extended beyond the rolling cameras. Hudson even said that the only reason Dean was hired for the film was because “Jimmy was new and hot.”

Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean in western clothing for a promo photo of the film 'Giant'
Actors James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson pose for a composite photo on the set of the Warner Bros film ‘Giant’ in 1955 in Marfa, Texas. (Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

However, there may have been a specific reason for Hudson’s dislike of Dean. Allegedly, Hudson made passes at Dean that were rejected. “According to some accounts, James Dean was rather disdainful of Hudson,” explained the late actor’s biographer, Mark Griffin. “Dean considered it hypocritical that Rock was maintaining this hetero facade in public while privately hitting on Dean. Some might consider that a case of the pot calling the kettle black.” That is because Dean himself was believed to have had a quiet relationship with a gay radio executive.

In the end, the feeling became mutual. An interview with Hudson after Dean’s death and the release of the film explained as much. “As I said, I didn’t like the fella too much. I don’t know if I should say anymore. Jimmy was dead before the picture was over,” Hudson explained. “I don’t like to talk against anybody, and I don’t like to talk against the dead, so I think I should shut up.”

The film did help foster a strong relationship between Hudson and his other co-star, Elizabeth Taylor, whom he came to adore. After Giant, Hudson and Taylor became lifelong friends, and his passing from AIDS complications inspired her to co-found the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR).

Hudson had an arranged marriage

When the press first began to circulate rumors about Hudson’s sexuality, his agent, Henry Willson, thought up a plan to squash them. He arranged for Hudson to marry his secretary, Phyllis Gates, in the hopes that it would help maintain a heterosexual image. The two were only married for three years before they divorced.

Rock Hudson and Phyllis Gates pose cutting the cake at their wedding.
Actor Rock Hudson, 29, and his bride, Phyllis Gates, 26, smile happily as they prepare to cut their wedding cake at the Biltmore Hotel following an elopement on November 9, 1955. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

In the documentary, the actor’s life was described this way: “Rock Hudson was playing a man called Rock Hudson, the personification of Americana.” His reality was far different than what the public saw. Even Phyllis Gates said that all the while they were married, she had no clue he was gay.

Biographer Griffin said that was “really hard to swallow given the fact that virtually every bit player, makeup man, assistant gopher at Universal knew the score about Rock Hudson.” He questioned, “How did she possibly miss the memo?”

Hudson was known to have many lovers

While the public would not learn of his sexual orientation until the end of his life, those who were close to him were well aware he was interested in men. In fact, those who were in on the secret knew that Hudson was what one interviewee called a “man-izer.” They explained that “He had boyfriends… they were mostly young and pretty.”

Rock Hudson sitting upright in bed
Actor Rock Hudson sits in a bed in a scene from the movie Strange Bedfellows in Los Angeles, California in 1964. (Photo Credit: Leo Fuchs / Getty Images)

Playwright Armistead Maupin described how Hudson was able to get into relationships with all of these men. “Rock had a contact, somebody in West Hollywood, that could round up gorgeous men at a moment’s notice.” Proof of this is provided in the documentary through a recorded phone call between Hudson and an unknown friend who would routinely refer young men to him.

A kiss with Linda Evans was difficult for him

His appearance on the soap opera Dynasty was one of the last acting credits Hudson had. One scene included a kiss shared with co-star Linda Evans. During shooting, Evans knew that Hudson was unwell, but did not know at the time that it was due to AIDS.

Linda Evans and Rock Hudson lying beside each other is a hay bale.
One of Hudson’s last screen appearances was on Dynasty, in which he had to kiss Linda Evans. (Photo Credit: ABC Photo Archives / Disney General Entertainment Content / Getty Images)

“It makes me cry because I know he was protecting me,” she said. “I didn’t know that at the time, I was confused at the time. But in thinking back, part of the reason that I get so upset is he was doing everything he could do to make it all right for me.” Hudson took care to rinse his mouth with mouthwash multiple times, and even refused to do an open-mouthed kiss. When filming the scene was complete, he confessed it was “an awful day.”

After Hudson’s AIDS diagnosis became public, Evans said that she felt the effects of the news from peers and friends. The kiss she shared with Hudson had apparently filled many people with fear. “There were, to my shock, people on the set who wouldn’t come into the makeup room while I was there,” she explained.

“There were people who wouldn’t work with me and so they had to change scenes because I might have AIDS. I had personal friends who wouldn’t come over to dinner… I thought, where’s your humanity or where’s your compassion? What’s wrong with this world right now?”

Hudson made the difficult decision to make his AIDS battle public

Hudson first received his AIDS diagnosis in June 1984, and though he would pass from complications just over a year later, he spent the majority of that time keeping it secret. When friends who knew asked how to help Hudson following the diagnosis, his response was simply “SILENCE.”

Headshot of Rock Hudson near the end of his life.
American actor Rock Hudson at a press conference in 1985 in Carmel, California. Several months later, he died of AIDs. (Photo Credit: Paul Harris / Getty Images)

Sadly, Hudson’s health deteriorated rapidly in that final year, especially in July 1985, when he was in Paris. Paparazzi there were really hounding him to find out what was going on with his health. He made the difficult decision to tell them the truth.

His publicist, Yanou Collart, recalled, “He looked at my eyes and said, ‘That’s what they want, go and give it to the dogs.'” After his diagnosis was confirmed to the public, Hudson reflected, saying, “God, what a way to end a life.”

More from us: You’ll Never Guess What Cary Grant’s Daughter Revealed in Tell-All Memoir

Rock Hudson died on October 2, 1985 at the age of 59.

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!