time warp

That time a closeted heartthrob Rock Hudson played a straight guy playing gay

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Today would have been the 97th birthday of gay silver screen legend, Rock Hudson.

Born November 17, 1925 in the suburbs of Chicago, IL, Hudson would go on to become one of the big-screen heartthrobs during the Golden Age of Hollywood, starring in classics like All That Heaven Allows and Giant, which earned him a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars.

Of course, Hudson wasn’t open about his sexuality during his heyday—few were—but rumors swirled. It wasn’t until 1985 that his personal life became public, when it was announced that he had AIDS, making him one of the earliest celebrities to acknowledge they were living with the disease. A few months later, he died at the age of 59.

Related: Reflections Of Rock: How The Screen Legend’s Death Changed Public Perception Of AIDS

It’s hard to understate Hudson’s legacy, both professionally and personally. Though he was deeply closeted much of his career, he has become, retroactively, one of our first gay celebrities stars, one who loomed large in mainstream cinema throughout the ’50s and ’60s, and later on television thanks to the hit McMillan & Wife.

It also doesn’t hurt that the man was devastatingly handsome.


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But for today’s trip down memory lane, we wanted to revisit his work in the seminal 1959 rom-com, Pillow Talk, one of his many collaborations with the late, great Doris Day (which also included Lover Come Back and Send Me No Flowers).

Hudson and Day were a beloved screen pair thanks to their sharp comedic timing and crackling chemistry, both of which are on full display in Pillow Talk. In the film, Hudson stars as a playboy named Brad who tries to woo Doris’ successful, single Jan over the phone, despite having never met in real life. When Jan rebukes him, Brad devises an entire fake persona and introduces himself in person to Jan as “Rex.”

Related: Grab A Tissue — Doris Day Remembers Her Final Goodbye To Rock Hudson

While Jan and Rex hit it off, Brad continues to communicate with Jan over the phone, and begins to tease that her new fling might be gay. Of course, this was still the time of the Hays Code, so he doesn’t come right out and say it, instead slinging cheeky euphemisms like “prairie wolf” and saying Rex is one of those guys who are “very devoted to their mothers… the type that likes to collect cookie recipes, or exchange bits of gossip.”

In a later scene, we see Brad-as-Rex out for drinks with Jan, playing things up to comedic effect. He stresses his interest in “patterns and colors,” and even lifts his pinky while sipping his cocktail.

Of course, this is a wildly stereotypical portrait of an effeminate gay man, but, hey, it was the late-’50s—what can you expect? And we like to imagine Hudson felt some sort of catharsis “leaning in” under the guise of a film role, or, at the very least, was in on the joke.

Still, if you want a sense of Hudson’s on-screen magnetism—that natural charm that made him a star—there’s no better place to look than Pillow Talk.

The film is available to stream via the Turner Classic Movies app, and is available to be rented via AppleTV, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, YouTubeTV, and Vudu. You can watch the trailer for Pillow Talk below:

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