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Hollywood on Netflix - What happened to the real-life people, from Rock Hudson to Hattie McDaniel

Jon O'Brien
·7 min read
Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

From Digital Spy

Described as a love letter to the apparent Golden Age of Tinseltown, Ryan Murphy's second Netflix outing, Hollywood, attempts to rewrite showbiz history by combining fictional characters with very real legends of the silver screen.

Here's a look at what happened to six of the show's famous names.

Rock Hudson

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

Rock Hudson became one of the post-war era's ultimate matinee idols thanks to his dashing good looks and debonair charm. He shot to fame in 1954's Magnificent Obsession before picking up an Oscar nod for his role in Giant and forging a hugely successful rom-com partnership with Doris Day.

His homosexuality may have been an open secret in the industry – Elizabeth Taylor, Mia Farrow and Julie Andrews are just a few of the co-stars who later claimed to have known all along – but his sexuality was not widely known among the public.

Guided by his agent Henry Willson, Hudson attempted to put any rumours to bed by walking down the aisle with secretary Phyllis Gates in 1955. But after three years of constant rows, Gates filed for divorce.

Played by Jake Picking in Hollywood, Hudson managed to keep his subsequent relationships with the likes of stockbroker Lee Garlington and publicist Tom Clark entirely private. However, in the early 1970s an urban myth began circulating that he'd wed fellow actor Jim Nabors.

Photo credit: Herbert Dorfman - Getty Images
Photo credit: Herbert Dorfman - Getty Images

By this point, Hudson's star had begun to significantly wane and he spent the next decade in a string of forgettable TV movies and miniseries. In 1980 he underwent quintuple heart bypass surgery following a heart attack reportedly brought on by years of smoking and hard drinking.

Hudson appeared poised to make a comeback of sorts playing a rich horse breeder in the quintessential 1980s soap Dynasty but instead this proved to be a swansong: just a year before landing the role, he discovered he was HIV-positive.

One of the first household names to be linked with the AIDS crisis, Hudson sadly succumbed to the illness in October 1985 at the age of 59.

Henry Willson

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

Hudson's agent, portrayed by The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons, began his career as a writer for The Hollywood Reporter before setting up his own talent agency.

Having learned that Confidential magazine was about to expose his client in the mid-'50s, Henry Willson instead threw two of his others under the bus, revealing that Tab Hunter had been arrested and that Rory Calhoun had spent time in jail.

Willson would often scour the gay bars of Sunset Strip to promise those he found attractive fame and fortune in exchange for sexual favours.

Despite the fact that many of his conquests had no discernible acting talent, Willson managed to turn several into big-screen sex symbols, spearheading the "beefcake movement" in the process.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

But Willson's reputation eventually caught up with him. Several of the faces he helped launch to fame turned their back on him, and by the mid-1970s he became addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Willson passed away from cirrhosis of the liver in 1978 and without any money to his name ended up being buried in an unmarked grave.

Hattie McDaniel

Photo credit: Saeed Adyani - Netflix
Photo credit: Saeed Adyani - Netflix

Played by Queen Latifah, Hattie McDaniel made history in 1940 when she became the first black person ever to pick up an Academy Award. But her winning performance as Mammy in the epic Gone with the Wind wasn't appreciated by everyone.

McDaniel had built her career on playing characters subservient to the white elite. And organizations like the NAACP believed that by doing so, the actress was helping to perpetuate the negative stereotypes of black people in Hollywood.

Photo credit: John Kisch Archive - Getty Images
Photo credit: John Kisch Archive - Getty Images

"Why should I complain about making $700 a week playing a maid? If I didn't, I'd be making $7 a week being one," was her response.

And McDaniel certainly hadn't enjoyed an easy ride to the top, either. She lost her first husband just four years after their wedding and then her second was fatally wounded by a gunshot.

Also a gifted singer-songwriter, McDaniel then sank into a deep depression after suffering a false pregnancy during her third marriage, while her difficult fourth lasted less than a year. She sadly passed away from breast cancer aged 59 in 1952.

Anna May Wong

Photo credit: Saeed Adyani - Netflix
Photo credit: Saeed Adyani - Netflix

Hailed as Hollywood's first Chinese-American star, Anna May Wong (or Wong Liu-Tsong), played by Michelle Krusiec, was also scrutinised over her early acceptance of stereotypical roles in the likes of The Thief of Bagdad and the Fu Manchu films.

But unlike McDaniel, Wong later fought against such typecasting. She briefly relocated to Europe in the late 1920s where she impressed in a number of works, and on her return to Tinseltown she became renowned for her political activism.

Photo credit: General Photographic Agency - Getty Images
Photo credit: General Photographic Agency - Getty Images

But she struggled to deal with the pressures of fame and the constant disappointment of being overlooked by American casting agents, and by the end of the 1930s she was said to be experiencing depression and relying on alcohol.

Her heavy drinking was said to be a major factor in the internal haemorrhage she reportedly suffered in 1953 and eight years later she died from a heart attack aged 56.

Vivien Leigh


With only 18 credits to her 30-year film career, Vivien Leigh wasn't the most prolific of actresses. But proving that it's quality that matters, not quantity, she still managed to bag two Oscars (Gone with the Wind, A Streetcar Named Desire) and forge a reputation as one of the most gifted Hollywood stars of her generation.

Unfortunately, her later years were defined by mental health struggles. In 1953, she was replaced by Elizabeth Taylor in Elephant Walk after experiencing a nervous breakdown. Three years later she became severely depressed after suffering a miscarriage. And she gained a reputation for being difficult on set due to her constant bouts of paranoia.

Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images
Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images

Leigh's 20-year marriage to Laurence Olivier also broke down in 1957. But the actress (played by Katie McGuinness) still went on to deliver fine performances in the likes of The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone and her final movie, Ship of Fools.

But tragically, following a lengthy battle with tuberculosis she lost her life to the disease in 1967 at the age of 53.

Eleanor Roosevelt


Hailed as the First Lady of the World due to her work as a human rights activist, Eleanor Roosevelt had suffered more tragedy by the age of 10 than most people have to endure in a lifetime.

She lost both her mother and younger brother Elliott Jr to diphtheria within a year of each other, and then her mentally ill father died from a seizure having jumped out of a sanatorium window.

Photo credit: Keystone - Getty Images
Photo credit: Keystone - Getty Images

Roosevelt battled with depression herself for much of her childhood and sadly things didn’t get much easier when she married the future 32nd President in 1905. Her third-born passed away at just a few months old and she later discovered her husband was having an affair with her social secretary. The woman in question, Lucy Mercer, was actually with Franklin D Roosevelt when he died in 1945.

Played by Harriet Harris, Roosevelt is also believed to have had a romance with reporter Lorena Hickok during her 12-year stint as First Lady.

Unlike Hollywood's other real life figures, Eleanor Roosevelt lived to a relatively good age, being 78 years old when she passed away from cardiac failure in 1962.

Hollywood is streaming now on Netflix.

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