7 Things Netflix's 'Hollywood' Got Wrong About Henry Willson, According to His Biographer Robert Hofler

Hollywood, Ryan Murphy's latest Netflix miniseries, reimagines the golden age of movies by mixing fact with fiction. Perhaps the most chilling real-life character in the drama was actor Rock Hudson's agent Henry Willson, portrayed by Jim Parsons.

Willson manipulated his clients and had dirt on everyone, but was also very successful and friends with all of Hollywood. He was known for grooming his clients into marquee-ready leading men, and was credited with kickstarting Hudson's career.

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Jim Parsons is pictured attending 'The Boys In The Band' 50th Anniversary Celebration on May 30, 2018, in New York City. He portrayed Henry Willson in Ryan Murphy's 'Hollywood.' Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

However, Robert Hofler, author of The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson, shared with Newsweek several things that he felt Hollywood did not accurately depict regarding the predatory Willson. However, he also revealed one anecdote about Willson that the miniseries got right.

Here's what Hollywood got wrong about Willson, according to the author.

The anti-gay trope

"Many Hollywood power brokers like Darryl Zanuck, Harry Cohn, and Willson demanded sexual favors," Hofler said. Willson had learned this behavior from his old boss David O. Selznick. In turn, Hudson learned from Willson when it came to "extracting sexual favors for professional services rendered."

"What Hollywood gets wrong is how 'innocent' and 'naive' young actors like Roy Fitzgerald [Hudson's real name] and others were. Most of these men, gay or straight, willingly participated because, beyond their good looks, they had little or no acting ability."

Theater actors in Hollywood, however, didn't have to put up with this kind of behavior. "In films like Tarnished Angels starring Rock Hudson, Willson often filled them with his minor clients. Rock, in turn, hit on those actors, feeling it was his due for them to service him sexually. After all, they had been employed in his movie through his connection to Willson."

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The portrayal of Roy Fitzgerald as an innocent

Rock Hudson appeared more naive in Murphy's Hollywood, and some fans even complained that Hudson was "dumbed down." "Right after World War II, he developed a romantic relationship with a minor producer/real estate agent who knew Willson at the Selznick Studios. This boyfriend facilitated that meeting, and wanted to be Fitzgerald's agent. Roy, of course, immediately dumped this boyfriend to sign with Willson, who at that time was head of talent for Selznick. But this was 1949, not 1946," Hofler told Newsweek. "In 1949, Selznick was bankrupt and Willson left his studio to become an agent. One of his first clients was Rock Hudson."

In over 200 interviews, Hofler never heard anyone say that Willson did drag

During the third episode of Hollywood, Parsons infamously twirls and spins to Salome's Dance of the Seven Veils dressed as a woman. The biographer told Newsweek that Willson never did drag.

"Now, he might have done drag as a kind of Halloween or Mardi Gras thing," Hofler posited. "I don't know. But I guarantee you that he never would have done drag to 'seduce' Rock Hudson or any other young client." Hofler also noted that Willson was "super-macho" and would receive sexual favors in exchange for setting up interviews at studios.

Willson often berated clients' acting talent

"But never in public," Hofler noted, as opposed to what Wilson does onscreen at director George Cukor's party during the third episode of Hollywood. "Willson did demand sex, but he also took care of his clients: fixed their teeth, dressed them, groomed them, often taking them to the same dentist, barber and clothing store."

Willson was also known for giving his clients more marketable names, and sometimes recycled them when they didn't work for one of them "For instance, Rory Calhoun was first nicknamed 'Troy' but dropped it for 'Rory.' The name Troy later ended up on Troy Donahue, whose real name was Merle Johnson," Hofler explained. "One name he created was Chance Gentry. Tennessee Williams knew the actor and took the name 'Chance' for his lead male character in Sweet Bird of Youth. In Hollywood, Willson forces Rock to have sex with Rory Calhoun and a character named Lank Meyers. Willson would never have repped anyone with a Jewish (or Italian or Greek) name. He would have changed the name to something Anglo and bland."

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In Hollywood, Willson arranges for the Mafia to beat up a man who is going to blackmail Dick Samuels and Avis Amberg (portrayed by Joe Mantello and Patti LuPone respectively).

However, the true story is much more interesting. According to Hofler, "Willson did have some underworld figures 'threaten' a failed actor who was going to expose Rock Hudson as homosexual. This guy was not beaten up, but he was threatened."

He added, "Willson [also] exposed the prison record of Rory Calhoun, a former client, to Confidential magazine in exchange for not running a story on Hudson. He also gave Confidential the story of Tab Hunter's 1951 arrest for attending a gay party in Glendale. Hunter had fired Willson in 1955, right before the release of Battle Cry, and three months later, Confidential published this arrest story."

In Hollywood, Willson has a secretary named Phyllis Gates

Willson famously arranged the marriage of Gates with Hudson when the tabloids began to question why a handsome leading man in his twenties wasn't married. "The real Gates started as Henry's secretary in 1954 or '55. Phyllis Gates' autobiography is completely debunked in The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson. She was a lesbian who told her lesbian and gay friends (quoted in my book) that she was marrying Rock Hudson because it would be 'fun,'" Hofler revealed. "Gates went on to blackmail Rock, as well as lesbians she had affairs with. Her autobiography is a complete fantasy. The columnist Liz Smith actually had compromising photos of Gates, and these were used to prevent her from blackmailing Rock."

Much of Hollywood is a fantasy and misrepresents Willson's career

"At that time, Willson was head of talent for David O. Selznick," says Hofler. "He became an agent again (he had been an agent in the late 1930s after his movie magazine career) in 1949, working for the super agent Charles Feldman at Famous Artists, where he inherited the moppet star Natalie Wood. Later, he got her role in Rebel Without a Cause."

However, the author did note one anecdote that the Netflix show lifted directly from his book. "During interviews I did with two of Willson's assistants, they spoke of a young actor Willson was infatuated with in the 1930s," he recalled. "These assistants told me this teenage actor had died in a car accident, but they couldn't remember his name. So, I then spent every Saturday afternoon for months going through every copy of Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Photoplay and other fan magazines of the 1930s.

"I found the name Junior Durkin, a teenage actor killed in a car accident. He had played Huckleberry Finn in film versions of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Willson, then a fan magazine writer, wrote about Durkin and a club of actors he belonged to called The Puppets. They even had a 'clubhouse' in Bronson Canyon. Willson was not an actor and older than most of these actors (then in their teenage years), but they made him an honorary member of The Puppets."