I recently watched an episode of the series “The Will” that’s available on Amazon Instant Video right now, which investigates the controversies surrounding the settling of celebrity estates and trusts; the episode of note (Season 2, Episode 5: The Estate of Rock Hudson) was about what happened to Rock Hudson’s millions after he died in 1985 and the world finally “discovered” Rock was gay (shocker!)…and had purposefully never disclosed his HIV status to his live-in male lover at the time, Marc Christian MacGinnis. I’m 36 and was just a kid when Rock died…but I remember most people being shocked to learn that this famous Hollywood leading man was actually gay for all those many years of his career as a heterosexual heartthrob, having Pillow Talk with Doris Day, smooching Julie Andrews in some random movie, running around with Susan St. James as his pretend wife on the tee-vee, tangling with Elizabeth Taylor in Giant, bearding it up with Phyllis Gates as his pretend wife in real life, and finally freaking Linda Evans out by kissing her on “Dynasty” (back when people were largely ignorant of how HIV spreads and the poor woman thought for many months she’d caught the then-quickly-fatal disease (and not to mention cooties) from her on-screen lip lock with deeply closeted gay Rock Hudson).
As you’d see if you click the link above, the investigators on “The Will” spent a good amount of time explaining to the audience why so many people were so stunned to learn that Rock was gay…even though those who lived and worked in Hollywood knew about his romantic preferences and general antics for years. Looking back on the man and his career, it’s incredibly obvious that he was gay, was hosting fabulous pool parties for barely-dressed young bucks, and that he engaged in a sham marriage with a studio secretary (that would be Phyllis Gates) because he needed that playacting for his public image (to beard what he was doing in private).
In case you haven’t figured this part out, “beards” in this context aren’t the scruffy, manly thing actors Chris Pine and Ben Affleck look awesome sporting on their faces…but the opportunistic sort, of the female persuasion, that closeted male celebrities squire on their arms (to fool the rubes into believing they are He-Man, die-hard, heterosexuals). Actors have been doing this since the advent of Hollywood fame (if not before motion pictures even existed)…and somewhere along the line in recent decades the political world has followed suit. Maybe when the country elected a former actor to be president in the 1980s the Washington establishment decided the best way to manage political image was by cribbing notes from the honchos of the old studio system in California, which protected the “brand” of marketable gay-men-posing-as-straight by teaming them up with beards best suited for the role.
This, of course, makes Michelle Obama the most high-profile and powerful beard in history (even if it can’t get her to dress worth a damn (or find a convincingly realistic wig and stick with it), unlike the countless Hollywood beards that have sprouted up before her)