In the closeted Hollywood of the 1950s gay hunk ROCK HUDSON took a “wife” PHYLLIS GATES to keep his secret safe. Years later, she still described the nups as a “fairy tale” marriage gone horribly awry.
Before Phyllis’ death in 2006 at age 80, the one-time talent agency secretary who married Rock in the 1950s went to her death, insisting she married him out of love and not to cover up his homosexuality.
Phyllis Gates came from Dawson, Minnesota and had worked as a sales clerk, flight attendant and a talent agent's secretary in New York City before landing a job as a secretary for top Hollywood agent Henry Willson, who represented Hudson, Tab Hunter, Rory Calhoun, among other young risers.
In October 1954, Phyllis met Rock for the first time when he strode into Willson's office. Days later, Willson invited Gates to dinner with him and Hudson. She did, and the very next day, an apparently smitten Rock asked her out.
Their budding romance was deliberately leaked to the news media as columnists were fed such juicy tidbits as ''Rock Hudson has been enjoying hideaway dinners with Henry Willson's purty secy, Phyllis Gates."
In 1955, Phyllis accepted Hudson's offer to move into the rustic two-bedroom house he had bought in the hills above Sunset Boulevard.
''Living with Phyllis helped normalize Rock's reputation in Hollywood," Sara Davidson wrote in the 1986 book ''Rock Hudson: His Story by Rock Hudson and Sara Davidson" (which was pubb’ed after the truth was known)
With Willson's help, Rock fended off a blackmailer who claimed he had incriminating photos of himself with Hudson. Confidential magazine was also working on an expose of Hudson's homosexuality. As The ENQUIRER previously reported they cut a deal with the scandal sheet mag, outing fellow star Rory Calhoun as a jailbird to keep Rock’s secret safe.
After Life magazine ran a cover story on Hudson — ''Hollywood's Most Handsome Bachelor" — reporting ''Fans are urging 29-year-old Hudson to get married — or explain why not", Gates accepted Rock’s marriage proposal in November, 1955.
After he finished lensing "Giant” with Liz Taylor and James Dean, they wed. The fan mags ate it up as they spat out reams of copy describing their serene homelife and marital bliss.
''I was very much in love," Phyllis later told Davidson. ''I thought he would be a wonderful husband. He was charming, his career was red hot, he was gorgeous. . . . How many women would have said no?"
At first, Phyllis reveled being married to a major Hollywood star – a dizzying swirl of movie premieres, limos, swanky A-list soirees, jet travel and luxury hotels.
But cracks soon began to appear in the marriage.
Their sex life, Phyllis explained in ''My Husband, Rock Hudson," in 1987, was usually ''brief and hurried," and Hudson once told her that ''all women are dirty."
Ms Gates also answered the phones from young men, whom Hudson dismissed as ''fans," and then would disappear for hours, never explaining where he had been.
After their divorce in April 1958 after he “virtually abandoned her” and refused marriage counseling, the world still believed the myth of Rock’s sexuality. But with a tell-all interview in a major fan mag, Motion Picture, the public had its eyes opened with Phyllis' lurid revelations of Rock’s dark moods and sudden rages. He hit her twice and once tried to choke her.
The cover blared: WE FIND HIS WIFE! “WHY I HAD TO DIVORCE ROCK! He hit me…used me…ignored me! He was moody…He was a spoiled child…this was the man I married!”
In the lost interview, Phyllis wrote: “The Rock Hudson you see on the screen is very romantic but the Rock I lived with was NOT.”
Amid the revisionist publicist’s dream of housewifery to a star and a fabricated whirlwind romance with a “meet-cute” first date and after-dark charades parties with George Nader and Tom Tyron – and their dates – Phyllis detailed an idyllic fantasy world of married life.
Yet, the secrets were all but apparent to the love struck Gates.
“Once on a whim I bought him a pipe and slippers …but this didn’t seem to domesticate him.”
After a row in Rome, “Rock, having had many glasses of wine, hit me in a siege of temper. Days would go by without a word and I usually didn’t know what he was angry about. When I would ask what was wrong, he simply didn’t answer. Rock was terribly moody,” she wrote in the fan mag.
Phyllis finally had enough and filed for divorce April 1958, charging mental cruelty; Hudson didn’t contest the divorce, and Phyllis received a relatively small alimony of $250 a week for 10 years – despite reports saying she “took him” for millions. She never remarried.
Shortly before Rock died of AIDS in 1985 at age 59, he reportedly said he had loved only two people in his life.
One of them was Phyllis Gates.