Origins: Sometimes the most ridiculous rumors are the ones that prove the longest-lived. That is certainly the case with the rumored Nabors-Hudson union, a fabrication that entered popular lore in 1971.
Unlike many bits of celebrity gossip, this tale began as a good-natured in-joke about two men in the entertainment industry whom insiders knew to be homosexual but who remained closeted to the public; a bit of silliness that was not intended to malign either man or be mistaken for fact. No one, it appears, was looking to harm either Hudson or Nabors; this was an instance of playful exuberance taken as dead seriousness.
As Rock Hudson reported about the tale's origins:
The rumor was so prominent that both stars addressed it in the national press and considered filing lawsuits over the matter, with Nabors telling a newspaper syndicate in 1971 that:
"What can I say?" he began. "It's like a nightmare, a bad dream."
"It's so ridiculous, yet so horrible, I really don't know what to say. Of course, it's untrue. But how do you convince people of something like that? What do you do about a story as horrible as that?"
The story of Nabors' supposed affiliation with Hudson began several months ago when a fan magazine carried an article which, without mentioning any names, led readers to believe it was written about Nabors and Hudson.
Nabors confided that his first reaction to the story was to sue for libel and slander, a tactic currently being pursued by Rock Hudson who has reportedly hired a battery of lawyers to gather evidence (or lack of evidence) for a future legal battle.
"But," he said, "[my manager] talked me out of it."
"That's right," his manager added. "What would we gain?" All it would accomplish would be to draw attention to it. You sue a fan magazine and you get nowhere. Nobody cares and they have ten lawsuits in front of you. It would take years to get it into court, and then, by that time, so what?"
"I haven't seen Rock Hudson since two seasons ago when he did my television show."
Nabors shook his head. "As God is my witness, I've never done anything to hurt anybody. Why would somebody do something like this to me?"
"I love kids, he continued, "But I've been so busy with my career that I really haven't given marriage much thought."
"I heard from time to time that 'it' happened in
Which indeed they couldn't, lest they add substance to the rumor.
News that Rock Hudson was a homosexual long ago fell into the province of common knowledge, but at the time of the Nabors-Hudson marriage rumor Hudson's public acknowledgement of his homosexuality was still fifteen years away. Hudson's short-lived 1955 marriage to secretary Phyllis Gates (which insiders claimed had been arranged by his studio to quell rumors) and other carefully managed publicity efforts were largely successful in deflecting gossip about Hudson's sexual preferences until the terminally ill actor shattered his lifetime secret by announcing he was dying of AIDS. At that time the media were for the most part ignoring AIDS, viewing the scourge as a phenomenon limited in scope, unnewsworthy, and of no real interest to the public at large. Hudson's public suffering was a watershed event in the history of the fight against AIDS: overnight the disease suddenly shifted from being an illness some nameless folks occasionally contracted to something that was visibly sapping the life of a beloved movie star.
Although Hudson's sexual orientation was known among friends and
Jim Nabors also had his reasons for being perturbed by the rumor, primarily that his homosexuality was still not public knowledge and he already had a tough enough row to hoe in being taken seriously, so any story that poked fun at him worked to undermine his screen credibility. Having made his living in the entertainment industry playing the bumpkin, Nabors was handicapped by a negative and less-than-adult image. His chief claim to fame was as Gomer Pyle, a role originated on The Andy Griffith Show and spun off to its own series, Gomer Pyle, USMC. Pyle was a bumbler, a "gosh, golly, gee" farm boy who was possessed of all the best intentions but rarely turned them into positive results. Thanks to the blurring of the actor with the role, Nabors' success doomed him to being typecast, as viewers proved unaccepting of him in anything but a Gomer Pyle-type role.
Nabors hosted The Jim Nabors Hour, a television variety show that aired on CBS from
Although rumors of Nabors' homosexuality floated about for decades after the 1970s, they were not publicly confirmed until January 2013, when Nabors and his male partner of
Did the mental image of a bridal-gowned Jim Nabors hinder his career? Well, put it this way: it couldn't have helped. Neither did similarly titillating thoughts help Hudson, who was then battling to keep knowledge of his sexual orientation quiet lest it wipe out his career.
Last updated: 31 January 2013
D'Zurilla, Christie. "Jim Nabors of 'Gomer Pyle' Fame Marries Male Partner of 38 Years." Los Angeles Times. 30 January 2013. Gardner, Marilyn and Hy. "Rock Hudson Blames 'Sickies' for Rumors He Wed Jim Nabors." The [Youngstown, OH] Vindicator. 1 September 1985 (p. C19). Schaer, Sidney. "The Star Who Became a Symbol: Part II." Newsday. 3 October 1985 (p. 2). Wagner, Joyce. "Beleagured Nabors Denies Wild Rumors." The [Saskatoon] Star-Phoenix. 23 July 1971 (This Week; p. 9). The San Diego Union-Tribune. "Today's People." 21 August 1985 (p. A2). The Seattle Times. "Postscripts." 21 August 1985 (p. A3). Spokane Chronicle. "Rock and Jim's 'Wedding' Was Just a Silly Joke." 22 August 1985 (p. B2).