Susan Saint James confides that kissing Rock Hudson on the set of the hit TV series McMillan & Wife never felt like a hardship. “We were kissing all the time, and it was fun,” she tells Closer exclusively, calling her late costar “engaging, wonderful, friendly and sexy.”

During his decades in Hollywood, Rock made many friends, but Susan, who played his wife, Sally, for five seasons on the police procedural, enjoyed a special relationship with the Hollywood icon. “We had so much fun,” she says. “From the day I met him, I can’t remember a time when he was ever unpleasant.”

Rock’s long movie career included westerns, war pictures and dramas, but he always excelled at romantic comedies. McMillan & Wife, which joined the rotating NBC Mystery Movie series in 1971, played to the matinee idol’s best strengths by combining a whodunit crime with comedy and romance. Rock and Susan played witty, bantering couple Mac and Sally McMillan, who solved cases between fashionable parties and gala benefits. “It was glamorous and sort of romcommy,” says Susan, 77.

Susan Saint James Reflects on Working With 'Sexy' Rock Hudson
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The actress won the role of Sally after a lunch meeting with Rock, reportedly beating out other future stars, including Diane Keaton and Jill Clayburgh, for the part. “Years later, I asked Rock why he picked me,” Susan recalls. “He said, ‘I was getting so fat from having lunch with actresses that I just decided to go with you!’” Of course, Rock was joking.

Susan and Rock’s Laughter on the Set

Rock had a great sense of humor. “He loved outtakes and loved to play jokes,” says Susan, who recalls Rock’s plot to startle the crew by pretending to have a physical fight with Susan during a scene. “I still have the outtakes somewhere. He thought that stuff was hilarious.”

A gregarious, upbeat personality, Rock firmly believed that “there is nothing more important than making the set a pleasant place to be. It should never be miserable,” says Susan, who confesses that she learned a lot by watching Rock’s example. “He would always say good morning to the camera guys and the craft services guys. He had funny names for everybody, like ‘Shorty.’”

When a famous guest star appeared on McMillan & Wife, Rock showed his appreciation. “He would send flowers to their trailer, and he’d go over first thing in the morning to say hello,” recalls Susan, who notes that stars of hit TV series are rarely so gracious. “He had this kind of Old Hollywood courtesy and kindness.”

Rock also had the discipline honed from decades of moviemaking. “He never came to the set unprepared — never, not once,” says Susan. “He never made me feel intimidated — other than I never wanted to screw up! I didn’t want to miss my mark or miss a line.”

Meanwhile, the actress, who was 21 years Rock’s junior, helped him adjust to the changing times. For example, Rock dreaded filming McMillan & Wife on location in San Francisco. “He came to me and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this. They’re going to mount a camera on the side of the car, and I’m going to actually drive!’” says Susan, who tried to be supportive. “Doing scenes out in the street was not his idea of fun.”

Susan Saint James Reflects on Working With 'Sexy' Rock Hudson
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Even on the most trying days, Rock had a knack for charming everyone in his orbit. “I think people would be surprised to know how attractive he was to women and men. It was just his nature,” says Susan. “I could see how you could actually get the illusion that he was crazy about you.”

Did Susan know Rock was gay? “No, but he wasn’t hiding. I would go up to his house, and there would be a lot of guys, but plenty of women there, too,” she remembers. “I think Rock kind of had fun with it. He had six or seven women he liked to go to openings with. He had a good time with them. He saw it all as great fun and kept his private life to himself, like a lot of actors did in those days.”

A Shooting Star

Susan left McMillan & Wife when her contract was up in 1976. “I was turning 30 and thought if I didn’t get into movies, I’d be in TV my whole life,” says the actress, who went on to star in the 1979 hit Love at First Bite and other films before returning to the small screen with Kate & Allie, which ran from 1984 to 1989.

Rock starred in a sixth and final season of the retitled McMillan, playing Mac as a widower after Sally dies in a plane crash. “It was very tragic, but they were over it by the time the season started,” Susan jokes, adding that she and Rock parted on good terms.

Those warm feelings led her to agree to honor Rock at an event in Atlantic City in the 1980s. “I got down there, and there was a big storm so nobody else could get in,” she recalls. “Rock turned to me and said, ‘You’re the only speaker, so stretch it out!’” The best part came after the event when Rock, Susan and her husband, TV exec Dick Ebersol, flew back to New York together. “We stayed up all night reminiscing, and I think it was just a matter of months before Rock died,” she recalls.

Given his own choice, Susan believes that Rock would not have revealed he had AIDS. “I think the people who were caring for him realized it would have an impact — which it did. Elizabeth Taylor took up the cause after her friend died,” says Susan, who is grateful that she was able to tell Rock, “I love you and I’m praying for you,” in a phone call before his passing in 1985. “He was a fabulous man,” says Susan. “A really great, wonderful man.