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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Wednesday Word: The Man Who Invented Lee Majors

There's a Datalounge thread all abuzz about The University of Kentucky, Lee Majors and Rock Hudson. If true, oh to have been a fly on that wall[s]! Experiencing the young Mr. Majors in The Big Valley was magnificent fodder for adolescent hormonal terrain. In researching this legend, there was an interesting entry on a UK site dedicated to Lee Majors. See below and go here. And now appearing in the role of Henry Willson, Rock Hudson.

The thread starts out with this: ... The Thin Thirty, by Shannon Ragland, chronicles Hudson's involvement in a 1962 sex scandal at the University of Kentucky involving the football team. Ragland writes that Jim Barnett, a wrestling promoter, engaged in prostitution with members of the team, and that Hudson was one of Barnett's customers. [source: Wikipedia]

Lee Majors was a chaffeur for Jim Barnett, by the way.

Two review blurbs from Amazon.com on The Thin Thirty

If I hadn't lived through the University of Kentucky s shameful Thin Thirty Days, I would swear that a new book, The Thin Thirty, is a work of fiction. But you couldn't make up what a Louisville author, Shannon Ragland, has written about the shameful period when Charlie Bradshaw coached UK and so brutalized the UK football players that all but 30 quit the team. Shortly after Bradshaw returned to Lexington to coach his alma mater, I had a conversation with him in front of the Wildcat Bowling Lanes next to Memorial Coliseum. He said that Dr. Ralph Angelucci, the team physician and a member of the UK trustees, told him that the first thing the coach had to do was run off the gays, including actor Rock Hudson, who were dating some of the football players. You read that right. Ragland has done thorough research. I told him that his book could be a good textbook for use by colleges. It should be required for football players planning to be coaches. --Earl Cox - Louisville Voice Tribune

Southeastern Conference football, exploitation of players, game fixing and a gay sex scandal involving a legendary pro wrestling promoter and a Hollywood film icon. How's that for a tease? And it's just the tip of the iceberg in one of the best books on college football to come down the pike in quite some time. Shannon Ragland's, The Thin Thirty, is a disturbing yet fascinating look at the 1962 University of Kentucky football team and its first-year coach Charlie Bradshaw, a Bear Bryant disciple, whose team was thinned from 88 to 30 players by his brutal conditioning tactics. --Mike Mooneyham, Charleston (SC) Post & Courier

Rock Hudson & Lee Majors
Globe Magazine, October 1, 1985

Rock Hudson put Lee Majors on the road to fame and fortune, but as the superstar lay dying, his protégé was nowhere to be seen. Rock discovered Lee in a backwater Kentucky town 23 years ago, persuaded him to go to Hollywood and went out of his way to introduce him to agents and producers. But as the AIDS-stricken actor fought for life, Majors was not among the string of celebrities - including Liz Taylor, Roddy McDowall and Nancy Walker - who were rushing to his bedside.

Paul Bloch, Majors' publicist, is on record as denying that his client and Rock even knew each other. Recently, confronted with undeniable photographic evidence of the mysterious friendship, he issued on behalf of Majors, a terse "no comment".

Yet, observers of the Hollywood scene in the 1960s told GLOBE that the friendship between Rock and Majors was widely known. Another source says frankly, that Rock considered Majors to be his protégé. However, he adds: "I had the impression that the feeling was not mutual."

The insider continues: "Rock insisted Lee dye his hair blond to make him look more like the macho surfer type - an image Rock thought was most popular with the studio executives. Lee used to come to parties at Rock's house shortly before he landed the part in The Big Valley in 1965, but he always seemed uncomfortable, especially if Rock was bragging about what a big star Lee would someday become. "This guy is going to go places and will be a romantic leading man someday," Rock once predicted during a small house party. Lee would blush and go off and stand alone either at the bar or out by the pool. You could tell Rock's constant stream of compliments about Lee's looks bothered him."

One veteran Tinseltown reporter saw the picture of Rock that Majors kept in his bedroom while working on The Big Valley, his first TV break. When she asked him why it was there, he said: "I admire him."

One source says that Lee quietly kept in touch with Rock until he really made it big in The Six Million Dollar Man. He and his first wife divorced shortly after he arrived in Hollywood and he went on to marry Farrah Fawcett. "His star was shining a lot brighter than Rock's, and frankly Lee was really too busy with his career and his marriage to Farrah to need Rock as a mentor for anything," the insider explains. "Rock would mention that he heard from Lee from time to time, but I sensed that they were no longer what you would call close friends after Lee hit it big." He adds, "Rock almost felt it was his duty to the acting world to make certain there were enough handsome, young leading men types around to fill his own shoes, I guess."

The source hints that Rock, whose gay lifestyle was then a secret, thought of himself as a Svengali to handsome, young actors like Lee. Rock first met Majors, who was then known as [Harvey] Lee Yeary, in 1962 when Lee was playing football at Eastern Kentucky State College in Richmond, Kentucky. Rock astonished Majors' adoptive parents by driving up to their house in nearby Middlesboro one day for a visit, and he willingly posed for pictures with Majors and his bride. Sources who knew Majors then have revealed that Rock persuaded him to launch an acting career by enrolling at the Pioneer Playhouse in Danville, Kentucky. He also urged Majors and Kathy to pack up and move to Hollywood - a decision that spelled the end of their brief marriage. Kathy filed for divorce shortly after and returned to Kentucky with their son.

"Rock loved football and always said that there were many good-looking college and professional football players around that they should get into acting before some injury would mess up their faces or bodies," the Hollywood source says.

"Rock was also a friend of former pro football player Roman Gabriel, and he tried to push him into acting, but Roman just couldn't cut it," he says. "Roman wasn't into acting and I think he made one film, thanks to Rock, which was just plain awful.
"Rock had better luck with Lee and always considered himself a close friend. He told me once that he was the one who got Lee his first contract with Universal Studios.
Young actors like Lee and others looked up to Rock because he was such an established star and definitely had influence in the business. He would try and give Lee and others guidance on how to defend themselves and to know when they were being abused professionally. "They will try and work you 'till you drop if you let them," I recall him saying more than once."

But when Rock dropped, a victim of the bizarre [sic] Hollywood lifestyle the former Lee Yeary was not there to help him.

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