The chiselled jaw and rugged good looks are instantly recognisable. As screen legend Rock Hudson walks along the red carpet for the Oscars in 1948, hand-in-hand with his black male lover, the flashbulbs of Hollywood’s paparazzi light their way.
Hudson is one of the biggest stars on the planet, admired by men and desired by women everywhere.
Now he has chosen to announce his controversial romance to the world. He is not afraid, he insists, showing only the briefest flicker of nerves, and his confidence is
Heart throb Rock Hudson in 1957 on the set of ‘Something Of Value’
Critics have savaged the new Netflix adaptation of the life of Rock Hudson, seen here in 1959
rewarded. From the crowd, there is only applause.
It would have been an Oscarworthy performance in itself had it not been for one simple and irrefutable fact: none of it actually happened.
Yet this is the fantasy imagined by a new Netflix drama, Hollywood, which has drawn the ire of critics and fans alike by flagrantly reinventing the life of one of Tinseltown’s biggest stars.
Derided by one critic as ‘woke moralising’, the story is told through the lens of #MeToo values, with one producer telling The Mail on Sunday: ‘The show trots out all the cliches that are fashionable today about racism and sexism – and there’s a lot of holier-than-thou nonsense which is all very worthy but it makes a mockery of the truth.’
Jake Picking stars as Rock Hudson but the adaptation has been derided by one critic as ‘woke moralising’
When Rock’s AIDS diagnosis became public – and with it, the truth about his sexuality – it sent shockwaves through the industry and the world
For Hudson, who died from AIDS in 1985, aged just 59, there was no moment of liberal acceptance – in fact, it was quite the opposite.
Adored by millions as the handsome star of classic films such as Giant, alongside James Dean, and Pillow Talk, co-starring America’s sweetheart Doris Day, Hudson was forced to conceal his homosexuality to maintain his leading-man status.
When his AIDS diagnosis became public – and with it, the truth about his sexuality – it sent shockwaves through the industry and the world.
Rock Hudson plays film director Jason Rudd in a scene from the film ‘The Mirror Crack’d’ 1981
Magnificent Obsession (1954) starring Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman
He became the face of the growing social crisis. But while Hollywood has always thrived on embellishing the truth, this latest offering has raised difficult questions about the muddling of fact and fiction for dramatic purposes.
For not only is AIDS never mentioned in the series (the illness did not emerge until the 1980s, four decades after it is set), it also has Hudson openly flaunting his sexuality, which would have been impossible for a man in his position in America in the post-war years.
Shocked critics have described it as ‘offensive to Rock and all he suffered’ and claim it ‘makes a mockery of his pain’.
Not only is AIDS never mentioned in the series (the illness did not emerge until the 1980s, four decades after it is set), it also has Hudson openly flaunting his sexuality
It would have been impossible for a man in Rock’s position to come out as gay in America in the post-war years
‘It’s the most preposterous thing I’ve ever seen,’ one producer told The Mail on Sunday.
‘Of course there is always artistic licence – Hollywood has been bending and embellishing the truth ever since movies began.
But there has always been a certain respect for the audience: you have to maintain some credibility.
‘This show goes too far. It takes the life of a Hollywood hero, someone who became even more iconic in death as the figurehead for an entire movement, and basically cheapens it by suggesting he was able to live openly as a gay man in a town where, in reality, he would have been arrested or lynched for admitting to having sex with a man, and his entire career would have been destroyed in an instant.’
Doris Day and Rock Hudson in a scene from the 1965 film ‘ Send Me No Flowers’
Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson starring in Giant (1956). Hudson was one of the brightest lights of Hollywood’s golden years
It is the latest Netflix series to play fast and loose with the truth. Shows such as The Crown, which charts the Queen’s reign and the squabbles and trials of the Royal Family, have perfected the new genre of ‘faction’ – a mix of fact and fiction.
They aim to mix historical reality with gossip and innuendo while still maintaining an air of credibility.
But there are concerns that such shows risk rewriting history for a generation of viewers with little real purpose other than to produce enormous profits for the global entertainment giant.
Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson in a shot from ‘The Mirror Crack’d’
The latest seven-part Netflix drama focuses on the golden age of Hollywood, starting in 1947, and follows the stories of several struggling young actors and writers as they battle racial and sexual prejudices, and stereotypes.
One such actor is Hudson. His sexuality had been an ‘open secret’, according to his friend Elizabeth Taylor, but like many men at the time who were gay, he was forced to live this part of his life in the shadows for fear it would end his career.
In the 1940s, homosexuality in the US was illegal and there were witchhunts to oust people suspected of being gay from government jobs.
Hudson even went through with a sham marriage to his glamorous secretary, Phyllis Gates, to maintain the illusion that he was a heterosexual.
The latest seven-part Netflix drama focuses on the golden age of Hollywood, starting in 1947, and follows the stories of several struggling young actors and writers as they battle racial and sexual prejudices, and stereotypes
Yet the prevailing attitudes of the era are completely glossed over in the drama
Yet this and the prevailing attitudes of the era are completely glossed over in the drama. Even his screenwriter lover in the series, Archie Coleman, is a fiction.
The show’s creator, Ryan Murphy, argues that the drama represents a ‘fantasy world’ of what could have happened had powerful figures depicted in the show, such as studio heads, made different decisions and allowed gay and ethnic minority characters to thrive.
But nothing here points to this interpretation, and the explanation has been rejected as disingenuous by viewers and critics.
Murphy, who was behind hit TV show Glee and the critically acclaimed dramatisations of real-life crimes in The People V OJ Simpson and The Assassination Of Gianni Versace, is dubbed the ‘golden boy’ of Netflix, landing a record $300million fiveyear deal with the streaming giant in 2018.
Jim Parsons, of Big Bang Theory fame, stars as Henry Willson in the new Netflix adaptation
But Hollywood may end up being his first flop. It has a dismal 57 per cent critics rating on respected website Rotten Tomatoes, and has become the subject of ridicule, with entertainment industry bible Daily Variety calling it ‘a dud’ and a ‘Franken-show’.
The plot, as with many fictionalised accounts of history, is rooted in reallife characters and events. Hudson, played by Jake Picking, is shown arriving in Los Angeles in 1947 aged 21 as a naive ‘corn-fed’ hunk from Illinois.
He is taken under the wing of his agent, Henry Willson – a known sexual predator, Willson forces Hudson to endure a sex act before ordering him to start working out, get a tan and deepen his voice.
Robert Hofler, who wrote a 2005 book about Willson called The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson, said: ‘It’s true Henry was a sexual predator.
The adaptation has a dismal 57 per cent critics rating on respected website Rotten Tomatoes
Entertainment industry bible Daily Variety called the show ‘a dud’ and a ‘Franken-show’
He thought of those initial invitations to his bed as a paltry lagniappe [bonus] for services rendered, like a waitress’s tip.’
According to Hofler, Willson and Hudson were lovers from the time Hudson signed his contract until well into the 1960s.
But Hofler takes issue with one of the most jaw-dropping scenes in Netflix’s Hollywood that shows a scarf-draped Willson performing a striptease.
‘Maybe there was a time when Henry Willson did drag but it seems unlikely,’ he said. ‘He was very butch. In a weird way, he was almost homophobic when it came to himself and his clients.’
The show reproduces the hedonism of the gay pool parties hosted by director George Cukor, who won an Oscar for My Fair Lady.
Rock Hudson in a 1951 portrait, critics are furious that the new adaptation has erased the struggles he faced as a gay man
Hollywood pimp Scotty Bowers told how he arranged trysts for A-listers including Hudson, whom he called ‘one of my most frequent customers’
The parties are attended by stars such as British actress Vivien Leigh and Tallulah Bankhead, a notorious nymphomaniac.
The series also makes good use of real-life Hollywood pimp Scotty Bowers, who famously ‘hooked up’ gay men including, for example, the playwright Noel Coward, with handsome up-and-coming actors.
In the drama, Bowers is turned into a charismatic hustler called Ernie, and several of the male leads – including Hudson’s ‘lover’, a brilliant aspiring playwright – are also in the gay network.
Older women are invited, too, to enjoy sexual services. They drive up in Cadillacs and utter the secret codeword ‘Dreamland’ to have a young stud climb into their car and drive to a nearby hotel to cater to their sexual needs.
Bowers died last October, aged 96. In a 2012 tell-all memoir, Full Service: My Adventures In Hollywood And The Secret Sex Lives Of The Stars, Bowers told how he arranged trysts for A-listers including Hudson, whom he called ‘one of my most frequent customers’.
And in an interview before his death, Bowers said: ‘There was nothing shameful about what I did. But this was something which could never be spoken about. ‘Rock went through his life living a lie.
Rock Hudson (1925-1985), wearing white trousers and a light blue short-sleeved shirt, and Doris Day in a pink gingham dress, both reclining on a sofa, laughing and holding drinks, circa 1960
He was tormented by it all. It led to him drinking and having other issues. ‘He had fame and money but he could never be true to himself. And that ate away at him. ‘When it finally came out that he had AIDS, he was mortified.
He never wanted the world to know about it. He would have kept his sexuality secret to his grave.’
When asked about the new series, a friend of Bowers said last night: ‘Scotty would love it, of course.
‘But he would also be appalled because he may have been a rogue and a hustler but he maintained the confidence of many powerful men, including Rock.
‘Their lives were lived in the shadows.
An insider said: ‘For a show such as Hollywood to trivialise [the aids crisis] that is a real shame. And a disgrace’
A source at Paramount Studios, where the series was filmed, said: ‘It’s just ridiculous. Laughable. It’s actually offensive to him and everything he suffered’
‘He’d be upset by the portrayal of Rock as a dumb actor who can’t say his lines, who can live openly with his gay lover. The show makes a mockery of the pain stars like Rock went through.’
But it is the show’s final scenes – showing Hudson proudly walking the red carpet with his lover – which stretch the realms of ‘faction’ to breaking point.
A source at Paramount Studios, where the series was filmed, said: ‘It’s just ridiculous. Laughable. It’s actually offensive to him and everything he suffered.
‘As a gay man, I find it offensive that he is shown living a perfect life. That could never have happened in 1947.’
The show has Hudson’s lover, played by Jeremy Pope, winning an Oscar for screenwriting, while a black actress wins the Best Actress award.
In fact, a black actress didn’t win this award until Halle Berry in 2002 for her role in Monster’s Ball – nearly 60 years later.
As to Hudson’s illness, once his AIDS diagnosis was revealed, there was an outcry because one of his last performances was on TV soap Dynasty where he kissed Linda Evans, who played Krystle Carrington.
‘Linda freaked out,’ an insider said. ‘There were threats of a lawsuit. Rock was mortified.
‘He was pretty much forced to come out and admit he was gay and had AIDS. That admission changed the narrative.
‘For the first time an all-American hero had the ‘dreaded gay disease’.
You can’t underestimate the power of his admission.’
It came at a time when then President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy, a close friend of Hudson, refused to even acknowledge the growing AIDS crisis.
Yet a photograph of the actor being stretchered off a plane in LA, having collapsed in France, was said to be ‘a seminal moment in US history’.
‘For a show such as Hollywood to trivialise that is a real shame. And a disgrace,’ the insider adds.
Today, the suggestion is that the show has gone too far and has, in Hollywood parlance, ‘jumped the shark’.
The phrase refers to a scene in the hit 1970s TV show Happy Days when one of the lead characters, The Fonz, jumps over a shark while water-skiing.
The show’s ratings plummeted afterwards because viewers no longer believed it.
For Rock Hudson at least, the truth was always going to be more dramatic than any fiction. Reason, perhaps, to stick to it.