Outing Mrs. Rock Hudson: The Obits after Phyllis Gates Died in January Omitted Some Important Facts: Those Who Knew Her Say She Was a Lesbian Who Tried to Blackmail Her Movie Star Husband

By Hofler, Robert | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), February 28, 2006 | Go to article overview

Outing Mrs. Rock Hudson: The Obits after Phyllis Gates Died in January Omitted Some Important Facts: Those Who Knew Her Say She Was a Lesbian Who Tried to Blackmail Her Movie Star Husband


Hofler, Robert, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


Phyllis Gates, the former Mrs. Rock Hudson, died January 4 at age 80, and the Los Angeles Times commemorated her passing with an astonishingly long, 1,000-word, half-page obit a week later. (Would Katie Holmes ever get so much ink?) To read that and other newspaper whitewashes of her memory, you would have to believe that Gates was a loving Brokeback Mountain wife who had been duped into marriage by Rock's equally gay agent, Henry Willson.

Times staff writer Dennis McLellan certainly did his research: He even dug up and read Gates's long-out-of-print 1987 memoir, My Husband, Rock Hudson, before writing his valentine to misguided hetero devotion.

Strange, isn't it, how memories differ? Not one of the more than 200 people I interviewed for the biography The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson remembered Phyllis quite the way McLellan and other obit writers have.

First off, every person I met who knew Gates called her a lesbian. Not straight, not bisexual, but lesbian.

Even before she arrived in Los Angeles in 1953, Phyllis Gates had acquired something of a sapphic reputation on the other coast. "The story going around New York City was that she cruised the ports of Miami looking for Joe Carstairs," says Arthur Laurents. Carstairs, of course, was the famous cross-dressing heiress who spent her grandfather's millions (made in oil) on speed boats, island hideaways, and beautiful girlfriends.

Gates always claimed that she met Rock Hudson innocuously: She was working in L.A. as secretary to Henry Willson, who also repped Natalie Wood and Tab Hunter. Then one day the king rooster of the agency walked in to carry her off to his nest in the so-called bird streets (they lived on Warbler Place) in the hills above Sunset Boulevard.

Mark Miller tells another story. In 1953 he and his lover, matinee idol George Nader, shared a house in Studio City, and it was there that Hudson met Gates at a small party. She arrived with Hudson's then live-in boyfriend, Jack Navaar, with whom she'd just been to see a movie.

So much for Gates being unaware of the Hollywood gay scene. In fact, she may have qualified as that rarest of species: the lesbian fag hag. According to actor John Carlyle, a Willson client, he and his boyfriend used to double-date with Rock and Phyllis on various weekend trips to Palm Springs, Calif., before they married in 1955.

Acquaintances such as Broadway publicist Shirley Herz and literary agent Gilbert Parker recall conversations with Phyllis about her marrying the big gay Rock. "I think it will be fun," she told Herz.

Maybe it turned into too much fun.

"Phyllis had a double standard," Miller says of the marriage. That is: She could go out with women, but Hudson couldn't make it with men. …

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