Hofler, Robert, “THE MAN WHO INVENTED ROCK HUDSON: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson. Carroll & Graf, 2005.
Tarnishing the Golden Age
“The Man Who Invented Rock Hunter” by Robert Hofler was good dish in hardback. The paperback edition due out n October 24 is even dishier because it has some extra gossip from Rock Hudson’s ex-wife. As I reread the book I thought to myself that this is some hot stuff; not that is was news because so much of it had been rumored. Hofler put into words what had been circulated in whispers. Familiar stories always seem more real when you read them in a book.
Henry Willson was a king maker. His vocation and his calling was to turn gay beefcake into “teen-pinup-boy gold”. It was a would of shadows during the golden age of Hollywood. What made those shadows so interesting is that they were the gay men whom women swooned over. Willson “created” beefcake for the movies. In his stable were those gorgeous men like Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Troy Donahue and others—he has a yard full of teen idols. If those teenage girls knew then what we know now, teenage crushes would have been shattered and the “boulevard of broken dreams” would indeed have been a highway strewn with the bodies of gay men. Using power as a tool, Willson managed to propel the careers of some of the major male stars of Hollywood. He began in the late 1930s as a talent scout for David O. Selnick of “Gone with the Wind” fame. His career in “pimping” gay man began when he received an unsolicited photograph of an unknown named Ray Scherer. He photo was replete with bad teeth but there was an aura there of a macho character, an extremely handsome stud who would not only cause Willson’s career to take a new direction but give new meaning to the definition of the word “heartthrob. That photo was of the man who was to become Rock Hudson.
Leaving little detail out Hofler chronicles the life of Willson and the men he created. Willson had a great degree of power and he could stop scandal. He successfully foiled an FBI investigation into Hudson’s sordid sex life and used members of the Los Angeles Police Department to ward of anyone who attempted to blackmail his boys. He even orchestrated Hudson’s marriage to his own secretary. He also squelched rumors that Hudson obtained several starring roles by sleeping with the vice president of his studio. But Hudson was just one client and Hofler evidently felt that if he was digging up dirt, he might as well uncover other bodies as well. His other clients, aside from those already mentioned were Robert Wagner (whose dubious past has also been uncovered), John Derek and James Darren, Guy Madison, Rory Calhoun, Clint Walker, John Saxon, and Chad Everett and many others. He also discovered both Natalie Wood and Lana Turner.
As I stated, Wilson was a clever guy. Not only did he keep his men out of the tabloid press, he kept their names on the marquees of the world. His men made him famous as they made him famous. Willson knew what a good looking man meant and he used the formula to get what he wanted. This was not only an interesting book to read but a lot of fun as well. We all love a little dirt; here we have a dump truck full. Hofler has dumped it all in our laps.