American actor Rock Hudson was born Roy Scherer, adopting the last name Fitzgerald when his mother remarried in the mid-'30s. A popular but academically unspectacular student at New Trier High School in Winnetka, IL, he decided at some point during his high school years to become an actor, although a wartime stint in the Navy put these plans on hold. Uninspiring postwar jobs as a moving man, postman, telephone company worker, and truck driver in his new home of California only fueled his desire to break into movies, which was accomplished after he had professional photos of himself taken and sent out to the various studios. A few dead-end interviews later, he took drama lessons; his teacher advised him to find a shorter name if he hoped to become a star, and, after rejecting Lance and Derek, he chose Rock ("Hudson" was inspired by the automobile of that name).
Signed by Universal-International, Hudson was immediately loaned to Warner Bros. for his first film, Fighter Squadron (1948); despite director Raoul Walsh's predictions of stardom for the young actor, Hudson did the usual contract player bits, supporting roles, and villain parts when he returned to Universal. A good part in Winchester '73 (1950) led to better assignments, and the studio chose to concentrate its publicity on Hudson's physical attributes rather than his acting ability, which may explain why the actor spent an inordinate amount of screen time with his shirt off. A favorite of teen-oriented fan magazines, Hudson ascended to stardom, his films gradually reaching the A-list category with such important releases as Magnificent Obsession (1954) and Battle Hymn (1957). Director George Stevens cast Hudson in one of his best roles, Bick Benedict, in the epic film Giant (1956), and critics finally decided that, since Hudson not only worked well with such dramatic league leaders as Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean -- but frequently outacted them in Giant -- he deserved better, less condescending reviews.