Lee Garlington keeps the photos in an antique mahogany box, memories of another era and a love long ago. “We couldn’t take any pictures together, it was too dangerous,” says Garlington, who dated movie idol Rock Hudson in the mid-’60s. “We could only take pictures of each other.”
Back then, Hudson was one of Hollywood’s top box office stars. Effortlessly handsome and 6’4″, he was a leading man straight out of central casting — but had to keep his sexuality a secret from the public. Garlington, a handsome stockbroker, was the man with whom he fell in love.
Now, for the first time, in this week’s issue of PEOPLE, Garlington, now 81, shares the private photos he and Hudson took of one another on a 1963 vacation to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
“Sadly at the height of his fame, being authentically who he was would have resulted in a terminated contact and a shattered career,” says Mark Griffin, whose new biography All That Heaven Allows delves into the complexities of the star whose death in 1985 due to complications related to AIDS changed the face of the disease.
For more on Rock Hudson and Lee Garlington, pick up the new issue of People, on newsstands Friday.
“Fortunately there has been significant progress in Hollywood and beyond,” says Griffin. “It’s just too bad that Rock didn’t live long enough to to see our culture evolve.”
When Garlington looks back on their time together, he remembers the trips they took, during which Hudson could escape the control of his handlers.
Elizabeth Taylor, his costar in Giant, recommended they vacation in Puerto Vallarta, then a sleepy beach town.
“We walked on the beach and took pictures of each other with his camera and drove around in an open jeep,” recalls Garlington. “We just lived the life of two normal gay men that loved one another. There were no paparazzi and no one knew we were there. We were just comfortable being us.”
The only picture they ever took together was at a bar in New Orleans. “His agent told him that he was never to have one of his boyfriends in a photo because if anyone saw it, they would suspect he was gay.”
Hudson “did not have the opportunity to live his life the way he wanted to and he had to go around hiding,” says Garlington. “I wish he had been born thirty or forty years later. He’d be more relaxed and at ease and it would have been a happier life. He’d also be elated by how much has changed.”
Hudson publicly revealed he had AIDS a few months before his death. Says Garlington, “because he was so widely loved and appreciated, his admission changed so many people’s attitudes about AIDS. He had a huge impact, much more than he ever realized.”
It was only after Hudson’s death that Garlington learned from a biography that Hudson had called him his one ‘true love.”
“I broke down and cried,” says Garlington. “He said his mother and I were the only people he ever loved. I had no idea I meant that much to him.”
Now married to his partner, Paul Garlington, with whom he has been been in a relationship for 32 years, Lee has many tender memories of the star.
“I remember how handsome he was and what a great time we had together. He was the kindest man I ever met.”