WE SPOKE to Cameron Lukey about his Rock Hudson play, which was due to open late last year but had to postpone when the venue was suddenly unavailable.
Hudson was famous for playing the handsome movie hero opposite Doris Day, cinema’s “professional virgin” during the reign of Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. Their hit film was Pillow Talk, infamous for having them in the bath together – except it was split-screen and separate bathrooms.
1959 | Hudson with Doris Day in Pillow Talk . . .
But these days Hudson is more infamous as the gay actor forced to come out just before he died in 1985, at 59, of AIDS, when his lover, Marc Christian, forced his hand by suing him for reckless endangerment, for keeping his HIV status secret while continuing to have sex with him.
It’s a bit more complicated than that, says Lukey.
And, what’s more, maybe we’ve been too harsh on Hudson anyway.
It’s ironic a guy called Rock was as morally hard as marshmallow; an outstanding fake on two levels -- secretly gay while pretending to be a straight heartthrob and a liar to his lover about his status.
That's the big question. Marc Christian claimed Rock lied about his AIDS diagnosis to continue having sex with him. But Hudson’s friends and colleagues said Hudson and Christian only had a brief fling and Christian manipulated his way into Hudson’s house and blackmailed him by threatening to expose him to the press. There are some holes in Christian’s story that I don’t think would hold up today.
But a lot of what Christian says makes you ask how is that possible? There are a lot of anomalies in the story. That's why it fascinates me. One minute I think, and I hope the audience will too, of course Hudson lied to him otherwise why would he have done such and such. Then I think but that makes no sense. Why would Christian have done that if he was genuinely afraid he could've got AIDS from Hudson? It’s not black and white. I can’t say for sure Rock Hudson was guilty in this.
Cameron Lukey discusses Playing Rock Hudson . . .
Yet Hudson made himself vulnerable in the first place by living a lie.
That's the bigger issue here. But are we being too harsh on him? He’s an actor who built a career out of pretending to be someone else on screen for people who willingly paid to see him be someone else. Is it any wonder the lines of reality blurred. Or is that being too kind to him?
That's really hard to answer. Hudson fell into his image. It was constructed around him. His agent, Henry Wilson, created it and then Hudson was stuck with it. He always said he never liked the name Rock Hudson [he was born Roy Harold Scherer junior]. He had no control over the fact he was tall and incredibly handsome. I think he loved his work so much he had to play the game to maintain his career.
From what his friends have said his screen image wasn’t that different to how he was. He wasn’t camp or flamboyant, switching on the masculine charm for film. How he carried himself on screen was apparently how he was in real life. It’s just instead of kissing Doris Day he was kissing a guy.
Yet his whole marketability was built on the fact he was kissing women, not men.
Absolutely. There's no doubt he never would have had a career if the public had known. Almost the entire industry, and the press, knew and chose to keep his secret.
1956 | Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor in Giant . . .
The same today. We know there are more than a handful of high-profile movie stars who are gay, we know who they are, but they won’t come out and they’re trading on the fact they’re “straight”.
I don't understand it. Like everybody knows that xxxxx is gay. And yet he goes on talkshows and the hosts themselves play to the game by asking about his wife and they know it’s a facade. Yet they all play along. It amazes me that no one has blown the lid.
The economic danger is this: come out and your career is over.
A lot of people wait until their prime is past. Like George Michael, like Ricky Martin. They think I’ve had my moment and now I can be honest. Yet some of the older actors continue to hold onto a past image I suppose.
When stars don’t come out – is it tragic or pathetic?
It's more tragic. I wonder whether xxxxx would’ve come out by now if the lie hadn't got so big. Once you have a family, married for a certain time, your lie now belongs to others and to come out makes them liars.
But it is kind of changing. People like Neil Patrick Harris are a great example of a thriving career regardless of sexuality. In Gone Girl he played a heterosexual character and his straight character in How I Met Your Mother was so sleazy and it was such a family comedy I think it was a bit tongue-in-cheek to have a gay man play the role – a man the audience knew was gay. It softened it, took the edge out of it. If it'd been played by a straight man it would've been just outright sleazy.
Clearly, we should congratulate those who come out regardless of the cost. We can put big demands on people.
I don't think Hollywood is necessarily homophobic, just money-driven. You cast actors according to what the public wants. A lot of the audiences may not be homophobic but if they go see a film and see an actor they know to be gay playing the romantic lead opposite, say, Sandra Bullock, they know it can't be real. Even though it's never real anyway. But that knowledge is a bit of a roadblock for the audience.
When people leave the cinema they don't say they loved a character, they say I loved Julia Roberts in that, or Meryl Streep in that. At least Hollywood is becoming a bit more confident in casting openly gay actors in gay roles. Rather than going for the novelty of casting a straight actor in a gay role [or two of them, as in Brokeback Mountain] with its so-called challenge and bravery and blah-blah-blah. ❏
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