Hollywood’s Best and Longest-Running Inside Joke

If you watch movies, and especially TV shows, made from around the middle of the 1950’s to the middle of the 1970’s you will doubtlessly discover a trend that may first seem completely random and utterly innocuous, but as it becomes more prevalent seems to transform into an inside joke. That joke is not nearly as inside as it used to be, of course; today, nearly everybody is in on the joke. For twenty to thirty years, however, Hollywood’s most famous inside joke went right over the heads an unsuspecting public.

What is this inside joke? Think back to how many times, while watching movies and TV shows from this period, you heard a famous Hollywood movie star being mentioned as the very epitome of sexuality and desire among females? From Gilligan’s Island to Mayberry any time the writers were compelled to construct an ideal of masculinity for a female character to fantasize about, nine times out of ten it was always the same movie star: Rock Hudson. The sheer number of instances in which Rock Hudson was called upon to perform the unseen role of idealized male sex symbol is extraordinary; it would take a computer not running any Microsoft program to calculate these instances. For instance, speaking of Mayberry, there is an episode early in the show’s run when a Hollywood producer arrives in town scouting locations for a new movie. Aunt Bea asks if Rock Hudson is going to be in the movie and Sheriff Taylor tells the producer that Rock Hudson really gets Aunt Bea’s stinger going, if you know what I mean. The inside joke here is that the writers as well as the Frances Bavier and Andy Griffith all knew that Rock Hudson was gay.

Ron Kirby: Mick discovered for himself that he had to make his own decisions, that he had to be a man.

Cary Scott: And you want ME to be a man?

Ron Kirby: Only in that one way.

From “all that heaven allows” starring rock hudson as ron

Those who were around back then have stated often that Rock Hudson’s homosexuality was the worst kept secret in Hollywood. While 90% of his fans may have been utterly shocked to discover that Hollywood’s ultimate he-man sex symbol was gay when he announced in the early 80s that he was dying of AIDS, those who actually worked in the movie business had long been in on the secret. Part of the reason for this was that Rock Hudson was notorious for being less than circumspect in his homosexual dalliances. If you have ever read Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series (and I highly recommend both the books and the miniseries based on upon his stories) then you know, or at least should, that the promiscuous movie star character known only as ____ _____ is supposed to be Rock Hudson. Hudson was quite infamous for his love of cruising and finding a string of attractive young men. In fact, between the already established actors who and those up and comers that Hudson bedded, it was estimated that Hudson slept with as many famous actors as Marilyn Monroe. There have also been allusions to a story of how Hudson helped a very famous NFL player get into acting and once this fellow landed a big role on a popular TV show he broke all ties with Hudson because he didn’t want to be stained by Hudson’s known homosexuality within the industry. Maupin also indicates that this actor went on to appear in several other successful TV series as well as become famous for being the spokesman in a series of successful TV commercials. Maupin never names this individual, but there is only football player whose first role was in a Rock Hudson movie and who starred in a few TV series and who was a successful TV pitchman, and his name rhymes with Verlin Kolsen.

The mere fact that Rock Hudson became shorthand for every woman’s dream by such an astonishing array of screenwriters is enough to indicate that it was an inside joke. It would be the same today if every time you saw a movie or TV show a certain name was mentioned whenever a character mentioned a contemporary male sex symbol. Tom Cruise, for instance, has never been able to shake off rumors of homosexuality despite three marriages and a kid. What if Tom Cruise became shorthand for every woman’s masculine ideal? Of course, it is quite different because Rock Hudson was big and tall and look every bit the cowboy, whereas Tom Cruise is just the opposite. That Rock Hudson was mentioned so very often by pretty much darn never every female actress working in Hollywood from the mid-50’s to the mid-70’s when his homosexuality was anything but a secret among those in the industry now can, in retrospect and with the acquisition of knowledge, be seen as truly Hollywood’s most famous inside joke.