In 1949, a starstruck Rock Hudson, then just a 23-year- old fledgling actor, couldn’t believe his luck when he found himself staring at one of his idols at a Hollywood party. “Judy Garland is my favorite female singer. I can’t believe I’m getting to see and hear her in person,” he gushed to his host as the Wizard of Oz star, 26 at the time, belted out several tunes while standing barefoot next to a piano.
Having arrived stag to the party, Rock was asked to be Judy’s designated driver home because she’d had too much to drink. “What a big, strong, handsome man with a kind, loving face,” she said to him upon their formal introduction, standing on her toes to kiss his lips. “The type of man I always fail to attract.” That night, according to Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince’s new book Rock Hudson: Erotic Fire, an unbreakable bond was forged between the troubled, substance-abusing superstar and the struggling, closeted newcomer.
The kindred spirits talked for hours and felt as if they’d found a trusted friend to whom they could fearlessly open up. “We ripped open each other’s insides,” Rock said of the cathartic release that resulted from exposing their deepest, darkest secrets to one another, a practice they’d continue for the rest of Judy’s life.
Rock and Judy with Doris Day.
“She spoke to me with an openness and candor that I’d never known before. I’d always kept things bottled up,” Rock said of Judy’s revelations that night. At the time, she and her husband, director Vincente Minnelli, were taking a physical break, with a young Liza remaining with her dad. “She spoke of her failed marriage and her love for her daughter. She said, ‘At times, my husband wore more lipstick than I did,’” Rock recalled of Judy addressing Vincente’s own ambiguous sexuality.
“He was always more in love with Gene Kelly than with me,” she added to Rock, intimating that Vincente had long fancied her co-star in 1950’s Summer Stock and several other films. Her marital troubles fueled her already raging depression and addictions. “When one of my dark spells comes, it follows with uncontrollable weeping,” she told Rock, admitting she liberally used pills to try to keep herself together.
Rock and Judy’s relationship was physically intimate that first night as well as in the early years of their friendship. It turned platonic, though, and he remained a trustworthy support system for Judy during her most stressful breakdowns. It was common for him to field phone calls from her at all hours of the night when she felt the most insecure.
“I fear every morning when the sun comes up, and I have to go out in the world and be Judy Garland,” she once told him, explaining she was somewhat haunted by her celebrity. At times he’d have to stay with her all night to help her fall asleep. Through it all, Rock faithfully remained in Judy’s corner and she, in turn, loved and accepted him unconditionally. He was even in the front row at her legendary 1961 Carnegie Hall comeback concert, which came on the heels of years of poor health for the singer and an absence that led to many whispers that her star had faded.
“Even as a kid,” she told Rock, “I was a born trouper come hell or high water.” And she proved it that night, though Rock, who remained her most loyal fan to the end, never doubt- ed her. “She was still Judy with that amazing talent,” he said of the icon’s undeniable gifts. “Privately, I knew she was a time bomb waiting to go off.”
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