Medicine: Rock: A Courageous Disclosure

Hudson spotlights the dilemma of gays in show business

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In almost every role, he played the strong and obviously heterosexual male, and the deception apparently took a toll on his nerves. In Los Angeles he usually spent his evenings at home, in a house overlooking Beverly Hills. When he wanted to unwind, he would go to San Francisco, where according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, he did not mind being seen in gay restaurants and discos. A former columnist for the Chronicle, Writer Armistead Maupin, said that in 1976 he tried to persuade Hudson to make a public announcement that he was gay. "Rock seemed to take to the idea and said, 'One of these days I'm going to have a lot to tell.' I thought it would be a good idea because he was exactly the same in private life as on the screen, very masculine and natural." The actor was still bitter, said Maupin, that he had been forced into an unhappy marriage of convenience in the '50s. A gossip magazine had threatened to expose him, by Maupin's account, and to protect his image, Hudson's studio hastily arranged a marriage with his agent's secretary; it lasted less than three years.

Sentiments have changed since the '50s. Gays are openly active in a number of fields, and there have been many movies and plays about homosexuals, from The Boys in the Band and Making Love to the musical of La Cage aux Folles, and two successful plays about AIDS, William Hoffman's As Is and Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart. Tennessee Williams wrote and talked at length about his homosexuality, something that earlier theater greats, such as Lorenz Hart, Cole Porter and Noël Coward, never felt free to do. Yet no star of either stage or screen has said he is homosexual. And for a very good reason: they have thought that the public would turn against them. "In the long run, the dollar is what counts," says George Christy, a columnist for the Hollywood Reporter, a trade paper. "Homosexuality is still a stigma in our society."

AIDS, however, has added a new and even more sinister twist to this old story, and it may soon push other stars out of hiding. The disease has already severely shaken the theatrical and movie colonies on both coasts. "Within the past two or three years, at least 20 people who worked here have died," says Joseph Papp, head of New York City's Public Theater. "The first time, we were surprised that a person so young--he was 23--was stricken. We had a memorial for him, and then another and another for other victims. At one point we had a memorial every few months. It's horrible to see."

Hoffman, the author of As Is, is aware of the casualties when he thinks about casting a production. "I often daydream about projects," he says. "The other day I pulled myself back to reality. One of the actors I was contemplating was dead of AIDS, as was one of the producers. It was very sobering." The impact of Hudson's disclosure of his illness, Hoffman thinks, will be profound. "That's why it's a major event for one of Hudson's magnitude to say it. Many other people of his stature, I am sure, have AIDS but haven't come out with it."

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