It’s a love story perfect for Hollywood. A young extra pines for the biggest star on the silver screen and catches his eye. The pair begin a secret romance, whose memory endures for a lifetime. The star: Rock Hudson. The young extra: Retired stockbroker Lee Garlington, now 77, recently revealed as the movie legend’s true love.
Not until after Hudson’s death from AIDS in 1985 did Lee learn just how big a role he played in his life. Lee read in Rock’s biography that he was his true love, Garlington told People in an exclusive interview.
“I broke down and cried. I just lost it. He said his mother and I were the only people he ever loved. I had no idea I meant that much to him.”
Their love story is a quiet one. The pair took road trips, lounged around Rock’s house, went to county fairs. Hudson taught him how to shave properly.
Their affair lasted from 1962 to 1965, and began one day when Garlington stationed himself outside Rock’s Cottage at Universal “pretending to read Variety, which was probably upside down at the time.” He watched the actor, a “6-foot-4 monster,” walk down the street. He caught his eye once. A year later, Hudson’s assistant gave him a call and asked for a meeting.
“I think he had me checked out,” he said.
They tried to keep their true love secret in a town where being a gay actor was “career suicide,” though Garlington believed most people were aware of Rock’s secret and he never asked him to keep their true love under wraps. Even when a female fan broke into the actor’s house – where comprising pictures could be easily spotted – the pair stayed together, quietly.
“We thought we were being so clever. I’d come over after work, spend the night and leave the next morning. I’d sneak out at 6 a.m. in my Chevy Nova and coast down the street without turning on the engine so the neighbors wouldn’t hear.
Rock had no pretense. He was always casual. He liked to wear chinos and moccasins around the house and hang around and watch television. We’d go on road trips and sometimes he wouldn’t tell the studio where he was going.”
Lee attributed their breakup in 1965 to his own emotional needs – at the time, Rock wasn’t strong enough to be the father figure Lee said he was looking for. “He was a gentle giant.” After that, the pair lost contact.
Then came the news that Hudson was dying of AIDS.
“I was shocked. AIDS killed everybody in those days. I called up the people taking care of him, but they said he was so sick that he wouldn’t know who I was and it was best to remember him how he had been before.”
And how does Garlington remember him? “He was a sweetheart,” he said. “I adored him.”
[Photo Courtesy Hulton Archive/Getty Images]