Beardland: Rock Hudson and Phyllis Gates Set up Housekeeping in the Hills

Left: Rock Hudson and Phyllis Gates with their wedding cake; right Rock and Phyllis at home, with a small dog-like creature

After his breakthrough performance in “Magnificent Obsession,” in 1954, Rock Hudson purchased his first home, a sweet California cottage at 9151 Warbler Place [map] above the Sunset Strip in a neighborhood known as the Bird Streets, because the streets were named for birds-—Blue Jay Way, Sky Lark Lane, Oriole Lane, etc. But in Rock’s case, the neighborhood could well have been called the “Beard Streets,” because as his fame increased, so did speculation that he was gay, which was not only a career-killer then, it was a crime. Rock desperately needed a wife in order to quiet the whispering and to kill off stories he and his agent Henry Willson knew to be in the works at Confidential Magazine and elsewhere.

They had the perfect candidate for marriage — Phyllis Gates. She was not only Willson’s secretary and Rock’s longtime pal, she was also gay. Phyllis readily agreed to the ruse. She and Rock were married in Santa Barbara in November 1955. They “honeymooned” by moving her belongings into the honeymoon cottage on Warbler Place. Not surprisingly, however, the marriage soon became rocky as Phyllis became increasingly worried that Rock’s affairs with men would wreck his career and kill her cash cow. She even hired Sunset Strip private detective Fred Otash (who often worked for Confidential Magazine) to bug the Warbler house and record her conversations with Rock about his affairs.

Divorce was inevitable, and during negotiations for the split in 1958, the recordings seemed to have played a role. Phyllis got the house, valued at $32,000 then (the equivalent of about $250,000 today, although the house sold recently for $1.8 million), a car and a settlement of $250,000 (about $2 million today) over 10 years.

A year or so after Hudson’s death from HIV disease in October 1985, Gates wrote a book, My Husband, Rock Hudson, in which she portrayed herself as too naive to know that she had married a gay man and claimed that the marriage fell apart after that shocking truth was revealed to her. Hudson’s friends disputed this. In his autobiography, Rock Hudson: His Story, (which he wrote with Sara Davison, who finished it after his death), members of Hudson’s tightknit inner circle said Gates was fully aware that Rock had sex with men. It neither concerned nor alarmed her, they said, because Phyllis herself was gay.

After Phyllis Gates died on January 6, 2006, Robert Hofler, author of The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson, wrote in the Advocate Magazine that Rock Hudson’s contemporaries told him uniformly that Phyllis Gates was a lesbian:

“[Every] person I met who knew Gates called her a lesbian,” Hofler wrote. “Not straight, not bisexual, but lesbian.”