Back in the mid-1970s actors Rock Hudson and Martha Raye filmed an episode of “McMillan &Wife” at Hoover Dam. The television series was a police drama produced by NBC. Originally, Hudson’s costar was Broadway star Nancy Walker (who was born today, May 10), but she left the show and Raye acted as her replacement.
Episode one of season six for “McMillan &Wife” was titled “All Bets Off.” The episode’s plot took Hudson and Raye to the Arizona/Nevada border at Hoover Dam, as the main character has to clear his girlfriend of murder after a Las Vegas tennis tournament turns into a plot to steal a diamond alongside a case of mistaken identity mixed with an attempt to frame an innocent woman.
Hudson, whose real name was Roy Harold Scherer Jr., knew a thing or two about concealing real identities. His real life’s theme almost mirrored that of “All Bets Off” with the smoke and mirrors used to conceal what was really going on with the actor.
Hudson was homosexual, and his sexual orientation was well-known in Hollywood as far back as 1955. However, the general public had no idea (for a long time, that is) about Hudson’s double life. As a handsome movie star who would end up making over 70 films during his lifetime, Hudson made a lot of money at box offices going through life portrayed as a straight Hollywood heartthrob. His agent, and the many press hands for the industry’s production companies, worked together to disguise the actor’s preference to date other men.
Raye’s life was also one of concealed true identity. The actress, born Margy Reed in Montana, had Hollywood assist in hiding her battle with mental illness.
A Methodist and a Republican, Raye’s views contradicted her lifestyle. She was married seven times and engaged even more. Besides her numerous roles within film and television, her later years were spent being known as “the Polident denture lady” from commercials.
She battled depression and anxiety, even attempting suicide by overdosing on pills in 1956. She appeared to be a strong, funny and put-together actress, but after the production teams went home, she was vulnerable, insecure and plagued by nervous breakdowns and related hospitalizations.
In 1985, Hudson appeared with actress Doris Day at a Hollywood press conference. Day was announcing her new television show, “Doris Day’s Best Friends.” Hudson was one of the featured guests, and the piece was filmed at Day’s ranch home in Carmel, California. Hudson’s appearance didn’t reflect that of a glamorous leading man in Hollywood. Instead, he was thin and had a gray tone to his skin. The movie industry covered for him, yet again, and falsely announced the actor had cancer. In fact, Hudson was HIV positive. Months later, Hudson would succumb to complications from the virus and pass away at the age of 59.
The “All Bets Off” episode of “McMillan &Wife” is my Throwback Thursday recommendation today. Of course, the glimmer of Hoover Dam in the background of a scene is interesting enough as a reason to rent or download it in digital format, but I also find who these actors portrayed themselves as publicly and who they truly were personally fascinating.
They had it all professionally financially and when it came to popularity — but what they seemed to be lacking was being comfortable with who they were at the end of the day. They tried to hide what was then considered societal flaws or human imperfections, but isn’t it the so-called “imperfections” combined with our own talents that make us more interesting? Considering this, I wonder if Hudson and Raye ever resented the trade-off that came with being famous.
Success often comes with several price tags, including envy and losing sight of what is important, which is why we should ask ourselves if our own successes are worth being penniless when it comes to real relationships with others and who we are at the core.
Tanya Vece is an entertainment and music writer who resides and volunteers in Boulder City. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @hollywoodwriter.