The Casting Couch; True Story of a Hollywood Predator

kaylarStarred Page By kaylar, 5th Sep 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Celebrities>Hollywood

The true story of Henry Willson, casting agent whose couch was, for thirty years the only way an actor would get a break.


There really was a predator in Hollywood who demanded sex before taking on a client or sending an actor on a casting call.

We tend envision a Marilyn Monroe type or an innocent girl, tears rolling down her face as she submits.

Although the image is true in some cases, the real predator was Henry Willson, and he went after young men.

Most of the men were gay. But some weren't. However, if one didn't 'cooperate' he really "would never work in this town.'


Willson was born into a prominent show business family in the East. His father, Horace, was vice president of the Columbia Phonograph Company and became president of Columbia Gramophone Mfg. Co. in 1922.

Henry displayed his orientation very early, and his father sent him to Asheville School in North Carolina, where he thought the rough sports and rugged weekend activities such as rock climbing would 'straighten him out'.

It didn't.

It was mutually agreed that Henry would go away, and he went to Hollywood. He didn't go overland. He cleverly booked himself onto a cruise ship on which Bing Crosby and his wife Dixie Lee were traveling. He ingratiated himself into a friendship with Dixie, and she undertook to introduce him to Hollywood elite and secured him a job at Photoplay.

He began writing for The Hollywood Reporter and The New Movie Magazine, then became a junior agent at the Joyce & Polimer Agency.

Horace, wanting to insure that Henry didn't come back, purchased a house for him in Beverly Hills. With his job, his house, and his contacts, Henry Willson became the scourge of Sunset Strip gay bars.

From Junior to Lana

One of his first clients and lovers was Junior Durkin, who was killed in an automobile accident on May 4, 1935. Willson, behaving in a manner which proved Durkin far more than just a client, drew the wrong attention.

To mask his proclivities, Henry searched for a female he could turn into a major star and discovered Lana Turner.

This rocketed him to fame, squelched negative hype. No less than David O. Selznick hired Willson to head the talent division of his newly formed Vanguard Pictures. This gave Willson more credibility, and much more power.

The Shark

The first film Willson cast was the World War II drama Since You Went Away with Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, and Shirley Temple.

He placed three of his lovers, Guy Madison, Craig Stevens, and John Derek (billed as
Dare Harris) in small supporting roles.

This proved to the Sunset crowd that Willson could deliver.
Flushed with this power, Henry Willson opened his own talent agency, where he nurtured the careers of his young finds, coercing them into sexual relationships in exchange for publicity and film roles.

Richard Barrios, In his book, Screened Out: Playing Gay in Hollywood from Edison to Stonewall (2002), wrote, "Talent agent Henry Willson... had a singular knack for discovering and renaming young actors whose visual appeal transcended any lack of ability. Under his tutelage, Robert Mosely became Guy Madison, Arthur Gelien was changed to Tab Hunter, and Roy Fitzgerald turned into Rock Hudson."

Creating the Rock

Roy Fitzgerld was a clumsy, naive, Chicago-born truck driver. Willson, in over lust, molded him into one of Hollywood's most popular leading men.

Creating another of his super macho names, Roy became Rock Hudson.

When in 1955 Confidential magazine threatened to publish an expose about Hudson's
homosexuality, Willson disclosed information about two of his other clients; Rory Calhoun's years in prison and Tab Hunter's arrest at a gay party. Willson would do anything to protect Hudson.

It was Willson who organised the marriage of Hudson to his secretary, Phyllis Gates. This killed the rumors.

Although the marriage only lasted three years, (Gates was a lesbian), it was sufficient to end the questions of Rock Hudson's sexuality. Most of Willson's clients married. Some more than once, others fathered children to dispel the question of their orientation.

The end of a scoundrel

For nearly thirty years, Henry Willson exploited young attractive males. Promising stardom
in return for sex, making it clear to Gay and Straight alike that there was only one way to get into pictures.

By the late sixties, Willson was a drug addict, had bouts of alcoholism, paranoia, and weight problems. As his own homosexuality was well known, many of his clients abandoned him

In 1974, unemployed and destitute he moved into the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital, where he remained until he died of cirrhosis of the liver.

With no money to cover the cost of a tombstone, he was interred in an unmarked grave, in Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery, in North Hollywood, California.


Acting, Agent, Beverly Hills, Casting, Henry-Willson, Hollywood, Homosexual, Lana-Turner, Rock-Hudson

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author avatar kaylar
I am passionate about history, culture, current events, science and law

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author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
6th Sep 2010 (#)

he deserved to die alone and broke.. to bad people had to really deal with this to get ahead.. but then again, I suppose if they didnt crave the fame as much they wouldnt have gone along with it either.

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author avatar Raggz
15th Jan 2013 (#)

karmas a bitch hahaha

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author avatar JAMIE
28th Apr 2017 (#)

Too bad you cannot only spell correctly, but that you are also a sad, lonesome individual of no accomplishment or merit.

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author avatar kaylar
6th Sep 2010 (#)

If they weren't so desperate and willing to do anything they could have said; 'later for you', but this is Hollywood...and Willson could really deliver.
Troy Donahue was one of his clients...

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author avatar
18th Mar 2013 (#)

pease do not add insult to a bright sunny young man as Troy Donahue...his life and good looks were surrounded by alcoholism, drugs and women...alcohol actually destroyed his life and he could not state sober for too long due to the abuse he and his mother suffered at the violent hands of his father Merle Johnson Snr...his wife still mourned for him even after his death..Troy had two children and various liaisons with other women but he loved alcohol and admitted to it...a couple of years ago they interviewed him and he was drunk as anything...thank you for letting me own opinion.

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author avatar Stef
24th Feb 2011 (#)

Wrong photo of Henry...bad article...plagerised from a biography. has an accurate image

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author avatar kaylar
18th Mar 2011 (#)

nah, Stef. You're wrong. Never read that bio, and the photo I used is a bit more 'recent' than the 40s.

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author avatar
18th Mar 2013 (#)

thanks Kaylr...for letting us know about the sexual depravity of this hellish man Henry Wilson..he deserves everything that happened to him...I don't feel any pity for him...thanks for letting me share my opinion.

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author avatar Humza
18th Sep 2011 (#)

Still there are ppl who exist like wilson!!

nice one kaylar, star well deserved

thnx for sharing :)

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author avatar kaylar
18th Sep 2011 (#)


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author avatar
18th Mar 2013 (#)

well done Kaylar..thank you. Please let us know more about these sexual perverted animals that prowls everywhere and specially in Hollywood.

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author avatar Filomena
18th Mar 2013 (#)

It is okay to let us know about the depravity of this trashy Henry Wilson...but up till the date I do not believe that Merle Johnson Junior aka handsome Troy Donahue was his own biography and his wife's Suzanne Pleshette, they divorced due to Troy's alcoholism and women...then drugs...why do we state that Troy is gay is unbelievable...thanks for allowing me to state something...others I did believe that they were...including Tab Hunter...thanks Filomena.

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author avatar kaylar
20th Jun 2013 (#)

Many homosexuals get married, as did Rock Hudson to hide the fact.

All of those male actors with funny names came through Willson, and there was only one way.

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author avatar kaylar
9th Sep 2013 (#)

One of the realities of Willson, which is why he was so despised is that any man who came through his agency came only one way.
There were straight men who submitted for stardom...or the promise thereof.

This is why somone like Donohue wound up as he did. The guilt and shame of it destroyed him.

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author avatar SHEILA SCOTTI
29th Mar 2016 (#)

was Chad Everett in the stable of Henry Willson's lovers..if so when????

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author avatar Paul Valentine
9th Aug 2017 (#)

I wonder if Willson bugged the cookie companies about "coming out" with a cookie for gays patterned after the fig newton...the FAG newton.

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author avatar Keebler Ernie
15th Oct 2017 (#)

Oh you just had to say that - I just are fig newtons.

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