While today it is common knowledge that ’50s screen heartthrob Rock Hudson was gay, in his Hollywood heyday his studio, Universal, went to great lengths to project his image of what was then considered an all-American man.
The actor’s agent, Henry Willson, even went so far as to arrange for Hudson to marry Willson’s secretary, Phyllis Gates. While Hollywood insiders knew the true nature of the union, apparently – according to newly released transcripts from the archives of a private detective hired by Gates – Mrs. Rock Hudson also suspected as much and confronted her husband about it.
As revealed in the Hollywood Reporter magazine’s June 14 issue, Hudson was secretly taped by private eye Fred Otash on Jan. 21, 1958, three years into the ill-fated marriage.
Confronting her husband about a Rorschach test he had just taken, Gates says, according to the transcript, “You told me you saw thousands of butterflies and also snakes. [A therapist] told me in my analysis that butterflies mean femininity and snakes represent that male penis. I’m not condemning you, but it seems that as long as you recognize your problem, you would want to do something about it.”
She also makes the point about “your great speed with me, sexually. Are you that fast with boys?”
Continuing to accuse him, Gates said, “Everyone knows that you were picking up boys off the street shortly after we were married and have continued to do so, thinking that being married would cover up for you.”
“I have never picked up any boys on the street,” shot back Hudson, then 32. “I have never picked up any boys in a bar, never. I have never picked up any boys, other than to give them a ride.”
Hudson and Gates divorced in 1958, with her charging him with mental cruelty. He did not contest the divorce. Neither remarried. Hudson died of AIDS in 1985. He was 59.
“I was very much in love,” Gates, who died in 2006 (she was 80), told Hudson’s posthumous biographer Sara Davidson. “I thought he would be a wonderful husband. He was charming, his career was red hot, he was gorgeous. How many women would have said no?”