Friday, April 22, 2011

Well, I Guess I'll See You Nader!

When Rock Hudson's declaration of, and resultant death from, AIDS happened in 1985, the world at large got a pretty good idea of the way Hollywood was able to keep secrets, both back in the early days and up till then (a situation that continues on some level now as well!) Hudson, the tall, handsome symbol of manly strength to millions, was publically revealed to have been gay and having led a double life of public heterosexuality and private (sometimes heavily promiscuous) homosexuality. On the fringes of this story lies another one. A story of a similarly gay man who was also tall and handsome, but whose refusal to play the game meant that he would never be able to achieve the same degree of stardom. He found a level of success, regardless, but was never able to become the household name that Hudson (his close friend) was. The man is Mr. George Nader.

Nader was born in Los Angeles on October 21st, 1921. A lean, rugged-looking youth, he took an interest in acting from the very start, performing in school plays and continuing to do so in college. He was graduated from Occidental College, with a degree in English, in 1943 whereupon he joined the U.S. Navy and served during WWII in the Pacific Ocean.

When the war ended and he returned home, he began to pursue a career in the theatre. He worked at The Pasadena Playhouse where he took part in many of their productions. One fateful show was the musical Oh, Susannah!, in which the leading male part was played by a fledgling opera singer named Mark Miller. Nader was in the chorus and soon fell for Miller, with feelings reciprocated. Miller, recognizing Nader's potential as a working actor, decided not to go through with his own plans to study opera in New York, but rather decided to stay in L.A. and live with Nader, supporting him by doing odd jobs until his career took hold.

Within a couple of years, Nader landed his first gig onscreen. The hilariously suggestive title of the film (to dirty minds like mine, anyway!) was Rustlers on Horseback. Considering that this was his debut, he got a fairly decent part, though his name was misspelled as “Nadar” in the credits! Nader was already twenty-nine years of age and getting a late start in the biz.

After this, he began landing small, usually uncredited, roles in films, many with Twentieth Century Fox. You're in the Navy Now (which was certainly no stretch for the ex-sailor), The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel and Phone Call from a Stranger contained appearances by George. The stars of these films were Gary Cooper, James Mason and Bette Davis, so it's not like he was slumming... yet.

In 1952, he was given the male lead in Monsoon, a love triangle drama set in India, which costarred Kirk Douglas' ex-wife Diana and Robert Taylor's future wife Ursula Thiess. (The pic at left is not actually from Monsoon, by the way.) In what would soon become a pattern, Nader was shown shirtless in the movie, his tan, well-toned physique one that caught many viewers' attention.

This lesser-known film didn't lead to any more significant parts right away. He continued to work in small roles and on television, notably on Fireside Theatre. 1953 brought what would go down as one of the worst films in cinematic history, Robot Monster! Shot in four days on a shoestring budget, the inane, incomprehensible story of an alien invader (actually a guy in a gorilla suit with a diving helmet on his head!) was released in 3-D. Hailed as a laughable, unintentionally uproarious masterpiece of schlock, it's sometimes easy to forget that the $16,000 movie made $1,000,000 at the box office!! Try those numbers on for size.

His next movie had a bigger budget, at $100,000, but was shot in even less time - three days! - as he portrayed the younger love interest for Miss Paulette Goddard (close to fifty at the time) in Sins of Jezebel, a slapdash Biblical epic.

Things finally started to come together around 1954. He was one of Anne Baxter's lovers in Carnival Story, a hooty picture that also starred Steve Cochran. He then was hired by Universal-International as a contract player, which meant steady work in their vast output of movies. A supporting part in Rory Calhoun's western Four Guns to the Border led to Nader being presented with “Most Promising Newcomer” awards from both Photoplay magazine and The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (aka – The Golden Globes.) Then he was given a costarring role in Tony Curtis' Six Bridges to Cross Incidentally, Though Nader was only four years older than Curtis, he was playing a married adult while Curtis was a delinquent youth!
Now Nader was plowing ahead in a series of colorful and varied Universal movies doing everything from the western musical (in which his voice was dubbed by Bill Lee in spite of his experiences in the theatre) The Second Greatest Sex to playing “Mister” to Maureen O'Hara's Lady Godiva of Coventry. Nader's strong, chiseled jaw line made for a great counterpoint to his many softly pretty leading ladies. For this film, he was outfitted with a longish, golden brown wig. I do love Mo's twisty 'do, but still think that, let down, even as sizeable as it is, it wouldn't have covered most of her body! Then there's Congo Crossing, an African adventure with Virginia Mayo (who most certainly is NOT pictured with him below! That photo is actually from 1954's Miss Robin Crusoe.) By this time, his partner Mark worked for him as his business manager.
Nader was never quite able to glean the same amount of attention or caliber of roles as his fellow contractees Rock Hudson (who was, by now, a good friend of his and his partner Mark's), Tony Curtis or Jeff Chandler. In Away All Boats, he was second-billed behind Chandler. He then played a sympathetic police detective opposite threatened schoolteacher Esther Williams (in a rare dry role) in The Unguarded Moment. Her tormentor was a young John Saxon. Incidentally, while Rock and George were great pals, they never worked on a film together and, in fact, were deliberately photographed together on only the rarest of occasions, all part of proactively defraying potential gossip. Ostensibly a platonic friendship, George (and Mark) would marvel at the sexual adventures of their towering, charismatic pal Rock.

Four Girls in Town, in 1957, was a pretty high-profile movie for the studio at the time of its release, though it's virtually forgotten now. He was given top-billing in it over fellow actors Sydney Chaplin, Grant Williams and John Gavin. He was the only one depicted in a swimsuit, something that was close to a trademark for him by now. (Oddly, I've never seen this film even though, with Nader, I have profiled four of the eight stars in it! Williams, Gavin and Julie Adams being the other three.)

In Man Afraid, he played a Reverend married to Phyllis Thaxter who stumbles upon a burglar in their home. When Thaxter is temporarily blinded by the thief, Nader assaults him and accidentally kills him, setting off a whole series of agonizing recriminations and upsetting feelings. Then the burglar's father decides to strike back! It was a good (and rare) opportunity for Nader to sink his teeth into a part.

Nader was starting to be trusted with the leading male roles in the studio's less-important films (in the case of 1957's Appointment with a Shadow, he replaced a hepatitis-stricken Jeffrey Hunter after just one day of shooting) and, as such, was becoming more and more well known as a property. Though all this time he had been living with his partner Mark Miller, he would occasionally be seen on a publicity-dictated date with starlets such as Martha Hyer, Piper Laurie and even Mitzi Gaynor. Check out this article about Barbara Rush and him, building romance where there was none. With him now at thirty-six years of age, it was becoming a little more difficult to explain the lack of a wife or even a steady girlfriend in his life to an adoring public. He watched as pal Rock Hudson married a woman for just under three years as part of a public smoke screen and considered doing the same (at the studio's urging), but ultimately decided he could not endure that type of situation for himself or for Miller.

He continued to make films for Universal, including The Female Animal, which paired him with none other than Hedy Lamarr in her very last on screen acting appearance! She plays the mother of (the usually squeaky clean) Jane Powell, an alcoholic(!) Both ladies portraying actresses, they vie for Nader, a hunky extra who catches their eyes. Once again, he is shown all lean and tan in a set of trim swim trunks. Many publicity photos were released with him wearing them and, in a deparature for male movie stars of that time, he trimmed, but did not shave, his chest. His skin looks positively glowing in this shot with Powell, though there was more than likely some retouching involved. Lucky girl, getting to grapple onto him this way!

Nader seemed to work with a lot of older leading ladies who had once enjoyed higher distinction on the screen. (He was even briefly slated to play opposite Joan Crawford in 1968's Berserk! at one point, but withdrew to make another German spy film, leaving Ty Hardin the pleasure.) His reflections on working with these women would have been most welcome, but I suppose we'll never know what they were now. He also has the amusing distinction of having played characters with the names Chris Farley, in this film, and Steve Martin, in his very next picture Flood Tide! What are the chances?!

In this shot from Flood Tide (with Cornell Borchers), one could be forgiven for initially thinking that it's actually a shot of Hudson instead of Nader. Hudson was 6'4” while Nader was 6'1”. They both had tan skin, strong chins and dark hair, but Rock's eyes were brown while George's were a deep blue. Since so many of George's films were in black and white, while Rock tended to be placed in color movies, this is an aspect of him that escapes a lot of viewers. In fact, it is not particularly easy to even find still photos of George Nader in color.

Having opted to stay true to his life partner and resist the pressure to marry, Nader left the studio and proceeded to eke out a living in other avenues. First up was Nowhere to Go, a British-made thriller with Maggie Smith, in which he played a thief on the run from his greedy accomplices. Look how young Miss Maggie is here! He then went to New York to work on the television series The Further Adventures of Ellery Queen, a mystery show done live. After twenty-five episodes, he departed the series and Lee Philips took over for the remaining nineteen.

Nader was on to another show, The Man and The Challenge, where he played a scientist plunged into various scenarios that tested his ingenuity and inventiveness, often with a science-fiction bent to them. It ran for thirty-six episodes and, when it ended, he swiftly went into another series in 1961 called Shannon. This one had him playing a gadget-utilizing insurance investigator. A late-night syndicated series, it also ran for thirty-six episodes.

From here, Nader made a dramatic turn. He and Miller moved to Germany where he embarked on a career as a leading man in a dozen films made there, eight of which were about a spy named Jerry Cotton. The colorful, action-filled romps were made to cash in on the explosion that came in the wake of the James Bond series and they provided Nader with not only a considerable salary, but also the freedom to live as he pleased with his partner of, by now, over a decade.
He made other films as well during the decade he resided in Germany from the action/crime genre to science-fiction. He also played a different secret agent in a far-out film costarring Frankie Avalon (!) called The Million Eyes of Sumuru. Ex-Bond girl Shirley Eaton went brunette as a villainess bent on replacing all the important men of the world with her legion of strong, deadly females. Even then, at forty-six, Nader could still proudly show off his impressive physique. (Remember, this was not a time when most people of that age took any sort of interest in fitness.)
In 1972, George and Mark returned to the U.S. and George began to reenter the show business scene. He began with television appearances on the shows Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law and The F.B.I. He then went to The Philippines to film the cheesy adventure flick Beyond Atlantis, starring Patrick Wayne and John Ashley. Again, now over fifty, Nader was shown in skimpy undersea costuming that revealed his still considerable body. The face, it must be said, after a lifetime of sun and cigs, was definitely beginning to show some wear, though.

Just as things seemed as though they might continue on successfully, Nader found that he could no longer work before the camera. He had previously worked on a low-budget action film called Zigzag and, in one scene, a blank from a pistol he was using went off too soon and too near his eye. This injury caused him to be especially sensitive to the lights used in filming and in short time he found he couldn't tolerate them at all. He also developed glaucoma and partial loss of vision in the eye.

Mark contemplated selling real estate as a way of providing income, but as soon as Rock Hudson discovered the situation, he offered Mark a job as his secretary. Friends that they were, Miller gladly accepted the position. He knew the demands of corralling the details of a movie star's career. Now in forced retirement, Nader put his English degree to use, penning a highly unusual science-fiction novel called Chrome. Why unusual? It is the first mainstream novel of its type to have the hero depicted as engaging in homosexual feelings and relationships. (The main character falls for a “male” android and is made to pay for it by being separated.) How interesting that the cover blurb is by fellow gay actor-turned-novelist Tom Tryon!

Things went rather swimmingly until Hudson's AIDS dilemma and resultant fallout. Miller had been informed of Hudson's diagnosis, but sworn to reveal the information to no one other than George. This included Hudson's live-in lover, Marc Christian, and, once Hudson was dead, Miller was one of those named in the lawsuit that Christian brought forth over being exposed to the disease without his knowledge. It was a horrible situation that was and will be debated for years to come.

Nader and Miller were chief beneficiaries of Hudson's estate, enabling them to live securely long after his demise. It was a generous gesture to a close friend who had taken the hard road in order to live life on his own terms instead of as the system dictated. Nader and Miller remained together for fifty-five years, a rare example of a movie star “marriage” that worked, ending only upon Nader's death in February of 2002 from heart trouble and pneumonia at the age of eighty.

Having been off screen for nearly three decades by then and having spent the prior decade out of the United States, he was not especially well remembered by most of the general public. He had a nephew who enjoyed a certain amount of his own success from the late '60s through the late '80s, named Michael Nader. If you ever watched Dynasty, you know that Mike Nader played one of Joan Collins' most enduring lovers, “Dex” Dexter, and was a staple of the show for several years. He had similar dark good looks and a furry chest as well. Unfortunately, he became embroiled in his own series of issues, some concerning drug possession, that kept him off the screen for close to a decade, but that is another story.

In The Underworld, we celebrate Mr. Nader not only for his handsome, amiable appeal, but also for his commitment to the one he loved, even if it came at a price. In a world of people all too eager to sell out, he chose to scratch out a living his way rather than to disrespect his own way of life and his relationship with his partner. Incidentally, upon his death, columnist Army Archerd announced that Nader had penned another book, The Perils of Paul, all about a gay actor navigating Hollywood and based on his own experiences, with the names changed to protect the innocent (and guilty!) It was not to be published until after his death. With that having occurred a decade ago, we're still waiting. Bring it on!

4 comments:

Michael O'Sullivan said...

Fascinating stuff as usual - I just finished the "The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson" yesterday ! - with its expose of the Henry Willson years, George isn't mentioned much, but we get a juicy bit on Guy Madison and Rory Calhoun! I caught "The Female Animal" a while back too, delirious trash, particularly with Jan Sterling in a ratty blond wig and fur coat, is on the prowl....

Topaz said...

I remember hearing about a gay actor who was outed to a tabloid by the studio in exchange for the tabloid not publishing an expose of Rock Hudson. I always thought that was George Nader and that was why he had to leave Hollywood but I might be mistaken. Have you ever heard that story?

Really cool that Nader and Miller stayed together for life. And so sad about Michael Nader and his troubles. He was so attractive on Dynasty.

Poseidon3 said...

MOS, I've read that book as well. It's a juicy page-turner and fun in a way, but also REALLY trashy and, to my mind, a little bit embellished. Or maybe it's all true and it just takes a bit too much pleasure wallowing in the underside of things. It paints a very bad picture of Rock and someone as popular and beloved as he was by those who knew and worked with him all those years simply could not have been as dismissive, uncaring and callow as he's painted there. Someone would have exposed him long before he came out. Mixed review from me.

Topaz, yes, I've heard that and it has been (falsely) attributed to Nader. False in that no story on him like that was ever written. There may have been threats or worry of such, though. In Rock's case, Rory Calhoun's past as a jailbird was given to Confidential magazine in exchange for laying off. Also, Tab Hunter's involvement in a (past) gay party was offered up. Both men were considered less important star investments than Hudson.

The bigger question is, what really keeps the tabloids TODAY from spilling what they know?! Money? Pressure from large and monied organizations? Fear of litigation and long, expensive cases? Admiration for the personalities involved? Hmmm...

Michael O'Sullivan said...

Very good points there Poseidon! Today's celebs get away with so much - but now its a total celebrity culture. I had to laugh seeing Russell Brand and Helen Mirren doing the talk show circuit bigging up the new version of Arthur! - I didnt even want to see the first version, but they are all pretending this new pice of rubbish is good and important!

The Willson tome was eventually depressing - as one got tired of the sheer greed, venality and stupidity of them all - and the closeted lives they led. Hudson seemed a major jerk too (dismissing others as "having small dicks", the sham marriage etc. but as you say the studios and agents etc all went along with it, protecting their investment. Henry wouldn't let 2 guys even have a meal together in case it was seen as a "date" - there always had to be 3! - and as for 2 guys living together - no way ! How could people live like that. and Troy (much as I love him) being annoyed that Kazan would not see him for "Splendour in the Grass" - they could not see that the era of dumb hunks was over and the new guys like Hoffman were taking over ...