Rock Hudson's Wife Secretly Recorded His Gay Confession

Hudson was fed wedding cake by his bride, Phyllis, at a reception following their surprise wedding in 1955. Inset: Fred Otash
Hudson was fed wedding cake by his bride, Phyllis, at a reception following their surprise wedding in 1955. Inset: Fred Otash
 

This story first appeared in the June 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

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 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.

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BUT WHO IS FRED OTASH?

Otash was the Anthony Pellicano of his era, a notorious Hollywood gumshoe who charged hundreds of dollars per day and spied on everyone from Hudson to Marilyn Monroe to John F. Kennedy. A big, burly man who left the Los Angeles Police Department in 1955 after falling out with Chief William H. Parker, he was the go-to guy for some of Hollywood's top attorneys, including Melvin Belli and Jerry Giesler, and operated from the mid-1950s until he lost his private investigator's license in 1965.

Mike Wallace called him the "most amoral" man he had ever interviewed, and Robert Towne used him for inspiration when he wrote his Oscar-winning screenplay for 1974's Chinatown, about a morally dubious private eye played by Jack Nicholson. "There were several people I drew on," Towne says. "But he was one of them."

Born in 1922, the 6-foot-2 Otash grew up in Methuen, Mass., but left home to serve in the Marines before joining the LAPD. After exiting the police force, he set up the Fred Otash Detective Bureau on North Laurel Avenue in Hollywood, where he worked as a freelancer and "fact verifier" for notorious L.A. celebrity tattle magazine Confidential. Among the cases he reportedly worked on were Confidential's outing of Liberace and a gay pajama party with Tab Hunter. He once said: "I'll work for anybody but communists. I'll do anything short of murder."

Using a gun strapped to his calf and a specially designed truck loaded with surveillance equipment, Otash was hardly modest about his achievements.

He was "unreliable and unruly," says John Buntin in his 2010 nonfiction work L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City.

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"He was a con artist, bullshitter," insists novelist James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential), who met Otash several times before his death. "He did a lot of bad things [including] revealing secret details, mostly sexual in nature, about the lives of celebrated people, causing them to endure personal shame, emotional hardship, financial privation -- and doing this for a living. … He was always talking about bugging [JFK brother-in-law] Peter Lawford's beach pad and getting the goods on Kennedy. He told me Jack [sexually] was a two-minute man. But I did not trust him not to dissemble. I got what I could, and he died."

Otash is a recurrent figure in Ellroy's work and the subject of his recent e-book Shakedown, in which a fictionalized version of the detective looks back on his life from "Pervert Purgatory" and describes himself as a "rogue cop, private eye, shakedown artist. Soldier of fortune and demonic deus ex machina. The hellhound who held Hollywood captive. The man with all the sicko secrets you irksome earthlings want to hear."

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