Jim Parsons steals the show as the acerbic and formidable Hollywood agent Henry Willson in Ryan Murphy’s newest Netflix series Hollywood. Seriously, just give him the Emmy already. While many of the characters in Hollywood are fictional, Henry was a real-life person. So, who is Henry Willson? HollywoodLife has rounded up 5 key things to know about Henry.
1. Henry Willson was one of Hollywood’s most powerful agents. He had a number of high-profile clients during his career, including Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Robert Wagner, Troy Donahue, Rory Calhoun, and more. Since most of his clients were young and attractive male actors, Henry is credited for popularizing the “beefcake” trend in the 1950s. Henry wasn’t necessarily always looking for the most talented actors to represent. “Most of these people had no acting experience; what they did have was that they were extraordinarily good looking, and for the most part they were ‘personalities,'” Robert Hofler, the author of The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson, said during an NPR interview in 2005. Henry also helped kickstart Lana Turner and Joan Fontaine’s careers.
2. He helped catapult Rock Hudson to superstardom. Rock and Henry first met in 1947 when Rock was on a mail delivery to the offices of David O. Selznick Productions, writes Hofler in his book. When Rock first met Henry, his name was Roy Fitzgerald and he was just a small-town boy from Illinois. Henry helped change Rock’s image, including his name, and cemented him as a Hollywood leading man.
3. Henry arranged a marriage between Rock and his secretary to hide the fact that Rock was gay. Henry and Rock were worried that Confidential, a gossip magazine, was going to go public about Rock’s secret homosexuality. At one point, two of Rock’s ex-boyfriends had been offered $10,000 to tell Confidential about their relationship with Rock, according to Hofler. In order to stifle the rumors and prevent the expose from being published, Henry urged Rock to marry Phyllis Gates, who was Henry’s new assistant. Rock and Phyllis married in 1955 and got divorced in 1958.
4. He worked alongside the famed Gone With the Wind producer. When Henry first crossed paths with Rock, Henry was working as the head of talent for David O. Selznick, who produced the 1939 epic.
5. Henry was buried in an unmarked grave. Jim reflected on Henry’s tragic end in a recent interview. “He ended up destitute because he’d used every resource he had to get his clients to the place that he wanted them to be and that they wanted to be — paying for clothes, paying for lessons, paying for teeth — and so as nasty and weird and slimy as he could be at times, I felt for him when I read he died penniless in a Styrofoam coffin,” Jim told The Hollywood Reporter. He said it was years before someone got Henry a tombstone with his name on it.