Hollywood’s Rock Hudson, Jake Picking, says ‘nothing has changed’ for gay actors since the ’40s
Rock Hudson’s struggle as a gay actor in the late 1940s is a surprise plotline in Hollywood, the new Netflix series from Ryan Murphy.
Hollywood, set in 1947, sees Murphy draw an alternate history for the Golden Age, one where a woman would be allowed to run a major move studio, where a Black woman could be cast as the lead in a picture written by a queer Black man, and where said writer and his boyfriend would be allowed to flourish after coming out publicly.
Among the cast of fictional characters are a handful of familiar names: Vivien Leigh, Hattie McDaniel, Anna May Wong and – most notably – Rock Hudson.
Jake Picking plays a version of the heartthrob, who was known throughout Tinseltown to be gay, but kept his sexuality hidden until his death in 1985 of AIDS complications.
“We really wanted to remain true to the essence of who Rock Hudson was first,” Picking told Advocate.
Rock Hudson’s relationship with his gay agent Henry Wilson explored in Netflix’s Hollywood.
Hollywood depicts Hudson’s relationship with his agent Henry Wilson (Big Bang Theory‘s Jim Parsons), a predatory gay man who coerced his handsome young clients into sexual affairs in exchange for his help.
“What most people don’t realise is that in his growth to fame, he did go through a lot,” Picking said.
“His relationship with Henry Willson, just little things, signs of femininity had to be eradicate.
His wrist was slapped, hips straightened this way, never cross your legs, fix your teeth, lower voice, all this stuff.
“To finally break away from that, that arc was appealing for me.
“But I think it shows how everything and nothing has changed in the industry, and that the abuse of power, unfortunately, is pertinent.”
As well as Hudson’s story, the Netflix series also mines from that of an infamous Hollywood gas station which, according to legend, had a side business supplying sex workers to the rich and famous.
Ryan Murphy said he landed on the idea after it cropped up in conversation, during a dinner with eventual Hollywood star Darren Criss.
“I’d been playing around with the idea doing something about buried history for a while, and I knew that I wanted to do something hopeful and optimistic — a celebration of 1940s Hollywood,” he said.
“After working together on The Assassination of Gianni Versace, Darren and I were having dinner and we started talking about a very famous gas station in Hollywood where sex workers mingled with celebrities.
“These young sex workers lived in an environment of shame, and they weren’t allowed in the game because they were seen as tainted goods.
“I merged both of those ideas, and we began a lovingly constructed look at how I wished Hollywood would have operated back then; a world where women and gay people and people of colour could flourish. I think the world would be very different than it is today if that had happened.
Hollywood is streaming on Netflix now.
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