Phyllis Gates was the secretary to Hollywood talent agent Henry Willson who represented Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, who were all secretly Gay. Willson was also gay. Willson controlled a number of young, remarkably handsome hunks that included Chad Everett, Robert Wagner, Nick Adams, Troy Donahue, Mike Connors, Rory Calhoun, John Saxon, Clint Walker, Doug McClure, Ty Hardin, and John Derek.
Wilson and Rock Hudson
Willson knew that the rumors about Hudson being gay would sink his career. Especially troublesome was the sensational magazine Confidential, which published interviews with several of Hudson’s former lovers.
Confidential magazine was something to worry about. It was the brainchild of Robert Harrison who ran a series of girlie magazine. Confidential, launched in 1952 with 250,000 copies, promising to “Name names.” It focused on the lowest sort of gossip possible like which celebrity was cheating on their spouse, what Hollywood marriage was in trouble, who was a drunk or a drug addict and who was a closeted gay. They were almost always right in who they named which vice they were addicted to.
Within two years its paid circulation was about 4 million and in 1954, it had effectively ruined the career actor Van Johnson when they outed him. It was already well now in Hollywood that Johnson was unabashedly gay and studio boss Louie Mayer went out of his way to cover it up by forcing Johnson into a sham marriage with Eva Abbott who wrote “They needed their big star to be married and to quell rumors about his sexual preferences and unfortunately I was it, the only woman he would ever marry.”
The marriage didn’t stop Confidential who ran a series of articles suggesting that Johnson was gay with headlines like “The Untold Story of Van Johnson” whom they said was “an admitted homosexual” who had undertaken “ a desperate -and successful- effort to rid himself of his abnormality”
Later the magazine printed that Johnson sexual preference got a him a 4-F dismissal from the national draft in 1942 but that after the actor survived a near death episode, that the love of a strong woman turned him into an everyday, standard heterosexual.
Henry Willson had already fended off one blackmailer who claimed he had incriminating photos of Rock Hudson kissing another man. Then, in October of 1955, there was a Life Magazine cover that read "Hollywood's most handsome bachelor" reported: "Fans are urging 29-year-old Hudson to get married - or explain why not."
So in mid-1955, Willson arranged for Gates to move into Hudson charming two-bedroom house in the hills above Sunset Boulevard, which normalized Hudson’s reputation in Hollywood.
Then Willson learned that Confidential was planning a big story on Hudson being gay and Willson had Hudson propose to Gates in Willson's office, and she accepted. Willson then arranged a private wedding in nearby Santa Barbara and a Jamaican honeymoon. His first calls were to Hollywood's two top gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons and the Confidential story never ran.
Gates said that Hudson was generous with gifts, particularly jewelry, and they had a sex life, although it was usually "brief and hurried" and that during one argument he told her that "all women are dirty" and, during one of his sudden rages, he hit her. Gates said she sought help from a psychiatrist who warned her that Hudson might be gay. According to Gates, Hudson went out on his own often, offering only lame excuses and that there were endless calls from young men, but Gates said she thought they were fans.
In 1957, Hudson left for Italy to make the film version of A Farewell to Arms and, according to Gates "virtually abandoned" her for five months. Apparently, Gates had hired the infamous private detective Fred Otash to follow and film Hudson. Otash's secret files later revealed that he had a recording of Hudson admitting he was gay. In the tape Gates asks Hudson, "You're great speed with me, sexually. Are you that fast with boys?" to which Hudson said "Well, it's a physical conjunction. Boys don't fit. So, this is why it lasts longer."
"Everyone knows” Gates said, “that you were picking up boys off the street shortly after we were married and have continued to do so, thinking that being married would cover up for you."
"I have never picked up any boys on the street.” Hudson said “I have never picked up any boys in a bar, never. I have never picked up any boys, other than to give them a ride."
She sued for divorce the following April, citing "mental cruelty" and received $250 a week for 10 years and never spoke to Hudson again.
Gates always denied that she knew Hudson was gay when they married, and that she was not complicit in his deception to appear to be heterosexual. The investigative writer Robert Hofler wrote "Those who knew her (Gates) say she was a lesbian who tried to blackmail her movie star husband (Hudson)" or "She then became addicted to being the wife of a star and didn't want the divorce. Phyllis could play around with women, but Rock had to remain faithful to her. In a way, she was just being pragmatic: she feared that Rock's exposure would ruin his fame, which was in turn her gravy train."
Gates later became a successful interior decorator and never married.
The story goes, that to fend off Confidential that Willson threw two actors; his client Rory Calhoun, and a former client, Tab Hunter under the bus. The first client Willson threw to the wolves was actor Rory Calhoun. Willson let it be known that Calhoun had a deep criminal past, that he had served time in prison and was involved in an armed robbery.
Born Timothy Francis McCowan, he was the son of a professional gambler who died when Rory was 9 years old. When the boy was 13 years old, he stole a revolver, was caught and sent to reform school but escaped.
He left home the following year to escape the beatings that his stepfather handed out to him and became a car thief. He used one of those cars he had stolen to escape over state lines, a federal offense, after a strong arm robbery of a jewelry store. He was captured by the FBI and sent to prison in Missouri. He was released at age 21.
In January 1944, while riding horseback in the Hollywood Hills, he met actor Alan Ladd, whose wife, Sue Carol, was an actors agent. Carol introduced him to 20th Century Fox and his film career began. Henry Willson, known for representing handsome young male actors signed him and changed his name to Rory Calhoun. A year later Calhoun was sent to prison again punching a police detective.
Thanks to Willson, Confidential ran a headline story about Calhoun’s criminal past, but instead of sinking his career, it made a star out of him. The public appreciated a tough guy who was the genuine article.
So Willson then offered up teen idol movie star Tab Hunter, who had recently fired Willson as his agent. (It was Willson who renamed him "Tab Hunter".) In an expose format, the magazine said that Hunter was involved in an “all-male pajama party” that had been broken up by the police and that he was locked up in 1950 for disorderly conduct in 1950.
Hunter wrote “In September 1955, just as my career was taking off — I had just starred in one of the biggest box-office hits of the year, Battle Cry — Confidential targeted me. It all came about because Henry Willson, who "discovered" me and many other "pretty boy" actors, was upset when I left him to be represented by another agent. Around the same time, he learned that Confidential was planning to out Rock Hudson, who still was one of his clients, so he cut a deal with them to keep Rock out of their pages, feeding them dirt on me instead. Specifically, he made them aware of the fact that five years earlier, before I was anybody, I had been arrested for disorderly conduct when police raided a party at which I — and a number of other gay people — were in attendance. Confidential then ran the story on its cover and described it as "a pajama party," insinuating that it had been some sort of gay orgy. It was all bullshit. I had been invited to the party by a friend and attended it solely for the free food. When I arrived, there happened to be a couple of guys dancing with a couple of guys and a couple of gals dancing with a couple of gals, so I looked and said, "Oh, it's one of those parties," and then proceeded to the refrigerator. Moments later, the cops showed up and arrested all of us. That's exactly how innocent it was. When the Confidential article came out, though, I thought my career was over. Thankfully, at just about the same time, Photoplay, which had a much bigger circulation, came out with an issue featuring me and Natalie Wood on the cover, identifying us as the year's most popular new stars. That probably saved me. After all, in Hollywood, everybody talks, but nothing matters more than the bottom line.”
Hunter went on to have a long-term relationships with actor Anthony Perkins and champion figure skater Ronnie Robertson. He eventually married film producer Allan Glaser. They were a couple for 35 years.
Rock Hudson died of AIDS in 1985.
Towards the end of his life Henry Willson was a drug addicted alcoholic, who suffered from acute paranoia, and a serious weight problems. His clients had left and other actors in Hollywood avoided him because of his homosexuality had become public knowledge and didn’t want their careers painted by the same brush. As Ann Doran, one of Willson's few female clients said, “If a young, handsome actor had Henry Willson for an agent, 'it was almost assumed he was gay, like it was written across his forehead”
Destitute, in 1974 he moved into the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital, where he remained until he died of cirrhosis of the liver. With no money to cover the cost of a gravestone, he was interred in an unmarked grave.