The Man who invented Rock Hudson
By Robert Hofler
I was surprised at how detailed this book is with 420 footnotes, nearly three pages of bibliography and a 24 page Index, it cannot be accused of thin treatment of its primary focus, He
nry Willson. Like many, I picked it up to read because the title mentioned Rock Hudson. In fact, there is much early useful information on Roy Harold Scherer, Jr. and his Svengali, Henry.
Willson is the centrepoint in the book acting as an agent and fixer in the early days of Hollywood. He came from the East Coast with claims of respectability from his long-suffering (financially) father and found a metier that collided neatly with his homosexual habits as he pursued handsome late teen to 20’s men who were flocking to Hollywood post-war seeking their fortune as actors. Henry parlayed a range of glib lines and a number of studio contacts in order to obtain screen tests and starting contracts with major producers and studios which he cultivated for many of the young men he encountered and approved. Sometimes contact came through magazine photos, sometimes through likely cruising spots and some via personal references. The resulting phalanx became known (eventually notoriously) as ‘Henry’s boys’ though his stable included women as well. He was an equal opportunity pimp when it came to studio heads. Some of his better known ‘trilby’s were Rock Hudson, Lana Turner, Tab Hunter, Natalie Wood and a string of wannabes with such invented given names as Guy, Tab, Rory and Troy.
I enjoyed what is often extended gossip-type treatment with some stories stretching credulity even with ‘anon’. If you enjoy movie history or simply were around when this bevy dominated film and TV, there is a lot here to enjoy. The structure of the book, however, is thematic and means that individual story lines are often revisited with occasional need to pause and remember earlier developments and how they are linked to the current context.
In one sense, a most important element in the book relates to the double standards and ‘commie’ and ‘queer’ chasing that dominated American society and Hollywood at that time. While there is a LGBT film and TV stream alive and well today and some actors seem willing to accept roles that are sexually diverse, all the evidence is that the double standard is alive and well today. If the handsome boy mode was altered by the less conventionally so in recent years, gay culture has continued to maintain an influence on the current ideals of masculinity which has been taken up by black, gangster and rap influences that generate similar pressures.
Having been responsible for giving Rock etiquette lessons, elocution lessons, dental improvements, general financial support and supplying an appropriate bride (his secretary) at the needed moment, Henry reaped some financial rewards but eventually fell into decline as the film world evolved leaving him behind to a pauper’s grave.
An interesting man who lived and sometimes shaped interesting times which he probably thought he shaped more than was the reality.