On June 6, the Hollywood Reporter published excerpts from transcripts of secret recordings of Rock Hudson discussing his homosexuality with his wife, Phyllis Gates. The recordings were made by private eye Fred Otash, who was hired by Phyllis Gates to plant eavesdropping devices in their home at 9151 Warbler Place [map] above the Sunset Strip. According to Hollywood Reporter:
On January 21, 1958, Rock Hudson’s wife confronted him, demanding to know if he was gay and grilling the actor about a Rorschach test he had taken. “You told me you saw thousands of butterflies and also snakes,” she said “[A therapist] told me in my analysis that butterflies mean femininity and snakes represent that [sic] male penis. I’m not condemning you, but it seems that as long as you recognize your problem, you would want to do something about it.” She also complained about “your great speed with me, sexually. Are you that fast with boys?”
“Well, it’s a physical conjunction [sic],” replied Rock, then 32. “Boys don’t fit. So, this is why it lasts longer.”
Added Phyllis: “Everyone knows that you were picking up boys off the street shortly after we were married and have continued to do so, thinking that being married would cover up for you.”
“I have never picked up any boys on the street,” Rock insisted. “I have never picked up any boys in a bar, never. I have never picked up any boys, other than to give them a ride.”
This eye-popping dialogue — tape-recorded surreptitiously by a detective whom Phyllis had hired to check on her husband, and transcribed on thin, crinkly paper — is just part of the startling material that comprises the secret files of private eye Fred Otash. Now unveiled for the first time to The Hollywood Reporter by the detective’s daughter, Colleen, and her business partner Manfred Westphal (a veteran publicist with APA, whose parents were Otash’s neighbors), the records fill 11 overflowing boxes that for two decades have been hidden inside a storage unit in the San Fernando Valley.
But it is not the case that the transcript of the recordings made by Otash at Gates’ behest have been moldering in a box in the Valley. In fact, the transcript has been moldering in the pages of a book Otash wrote titled Investigation Hollywood! that was published by Henry Regnery Company in 1976. I checked the book out of the West Hollywood branch of the Los Angeles County Public Library and re-transcribed parts of it last year.
Granted, Otash did not use the Hudsons’ names. He referred to Rock as “Star” and Phyllis as “Wife.” Here’s a bit of what I transcribed from the book, starting on page 32:
On 21, January 1958, with the permission and request of Mrs. Star I concealed myself in the residence of Mrs. Star … to witness a conversation between Mr. Star and Mrs. Star.
At approximately 6:30 … Mr. Star arrived … and was admitted … At this time Mr. Star was wearing a long sleeved sports shirt, with multicolored stripes of green and beige, beige corduroy slacks with leather piping on the pockets, brown loafers and a tan tweed sports coat.
Mr. and Mrs. Star had dinner on a coffee table in front of the fireplace in the living room.
WIFE: …You know how the doctor knows your problem?
WIFE: By your ink-blots. You told me you saw thousands of butterflies and also snakes. Chris told me in my analysis that butterflies mean femininity, and snakes represent the male penis. I’m not condemning you, but it seems that as long as you recognize your problem, you would want to do something about it. Lots of people go through their entire lives without realizing they have a problem, but you know about yours.
WIFE: …There isn’t anything glandular about your homosexuality, it is only a freezing at an emotional state, and it’s up to the individual to grow out of it. Everyone has to help himself. No one can do it for you. Your great speed with me, sexually. Are you that fast with the boys?
STAR: Well, it’s a physical conjunction.
WIFE: I don’t understand.
STAR: Well, boys don’t fit. So, this is why it lasts longer.
WIFE: You told me you had an affair with your agent. How long did that last?
STAR: No time at all. Do you think I would enjoy having an affair with him?
[His agent, Henry Willson, was her boss.]
WIFE: But you did it. Why?
STAR: Because of naiveté, I guess.
WIFE: That’s no excuse. You must have wanted to do it. Did you do it for your career?
STAR: I don’t know. Maybe.
WIFE: You told Christine that you had found great happiness in homosexuality…
STAR: I don’t know why I said that, because I haven’t. You know there was Jack (unintelligible) … that was unhappy.
WIFE: Then there was Randy.
STAR: Oh, yes.
WIFE: Don’t you learn by your mistakes?
STAR: Yes, everyone does, for God’s sake.
WIFE: Then why do you continue to do it, over and over?
WIFE: Everyone knows you were picking up boys off the street shortly after we were married, and have continued to do so, thinking that being married would cover up for you.
STAR: I have never picked up any boys off the street. I have never picked up any boys in a bar, never. I have never picked up any boys, other than to give them a ride. That’s their word against mine. For God’s sake there is a story going around that I picked up a boy and raped him on Mullholland Drive.
WIFE: And Ebberhart [sic, Everard] Baths? In New York?
STAR: Never heard of it. What is that, some fag joint where they all hang out? I have never been in a steam bath in New York other than the Athletic Club.
WIFE: People don’t talk if you aren’t doing anything. You never hear these stories about Gary Cooper.
STAR: Well, I’ve heard stories about Cooper, too.
(Hey, I’ve heard the stories about Cooper, too, Rock. Details of his alleged affair with Andy Lawler can be found in Behind the Screen, by William Mann, pages 103-107.)
Phyllis Gates was a piece of work. As I noted in 1955: Rock Hudson Moves ‘Lavender Bride’ to Honeymoon House in ‘Beardland’ above the Strip in the Timeline for Playground to the Stars:
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.”
If Phyllis Gates was not the innocent naif she claimed to be in her book — if she knew the score about Rock when she married him — it puts her motives here in a very ugly light. It suggests she hired Otash to record her manipulating Rock into opening up about his sexuality so that she could use the recordings as leverage during their divorce proceedings. The legal term for that sort of behavior is “extortion.”
Jon Ponder | Jun 7, 2013
Section: Sunset Strip History