Thursday, 13 March 2014

Actress and Spy: Rochelle Hudson

Named as one of the hopeful starlets predicted for Hollywood stardom in the 1931 WAMPAS’s roll call, Rochelle Hudson overcame her chorus girl roles and bit parts to become a leading lady with a long and distinguished career. But her legend includes more than acting successes with stints helping one of her husbands, a naval officer, with espionage and intelligence work in Mexico and Latin America on the commencement of America’s involvement in World War II.
She was born Rochelle Elizabeth Hudson in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on March 6th 1916. The daughter of Ollie Lee Hudson who worked as a public servant and an ambitious film loving mother she was pushed into pursuing acting at a young age. As a first step her family moved to Hollywood and she began taking singing and dancing lessons as the famed Ernest Belcher Academy in Hollywood. Her first appearances came aged just 14 as the voice of Honey in a series of short cartoon films which chronicled the adventures of the character Bosko. This role became a staple of her career and she was featured in over 30 of these shorts until 1937. Hudson was surprisingly mature both physically and mentally but problems arose a year later – in 1931 – when she was signed to a contract with RKO Pictures. Intending to star the teenager in future pictures they were forced to add two years to her age in order to align with public opinion and allow her to play adult roles. That same year she was named alongside Joan Blondell, Marian Marsh and Karen Morley as a promising female talent in the 1931 WAMPAS promotion.   

She soon moved up to supporting parts in a number of noteworthy Precode films. These include in Hells Highway (1932), Wild Boys of the Road (1933) and as the mistreated young women in She Done Him Wrong (1932) to whom Mae West remarks, “When a girl goes wrong, men go right after her!” The next few years brought more break out performances first as Claudette Colbert’s daughter in the popular Imitation of Life (1934) then as Cosette in the critically acclaimed drama Les Misérables (1935), as Shirley Temple’s sister in Curly Top (1935) and in W.C Field’s vehicle Poppy (1936).
Hudson in Hawaii during the war (from wanderling.com) 
By the beginning of World War II in Europe, Hudson’s career began to falter. Her roles were less demanding and in smaller B pictures. Already a divorcee to after marrying a man named Charles Brust some years before, she remarried in 1939 to Harold Thompson who was working at Disney Studios as the head of the Storyline Department. This relationship began a new era in Hudson’s life including her work for the government helping to detect future attacks on US soil by the German army. By 1941 Thompson had enlisted as a naval officer stationed in Hawaii working mainly for the Naval Intelligence Office. Hudson joined her husband on many of his postings and being fluent in both Spanish and French, she proved an asset on his missions. When the couple was moved to a post in Mexico they posed as civilians innocently vacationing around the country to detect any suspicious German or Japanese activity. They were successful in a trip to Baja California in which the couple discovered a supply of aviation fuel hidden by German agents and could have been used to fuel planes for air attacks. From their information the stocks were removed preventing further missions to bomb US cities. 
Sadly, the union between Hudson and Thompson barely outlasted the war and the couple divorced in 1947. A year later she remarried again to Los Angeles Times sportswriter, Dick Irving Hyland. They would only remain together for two years when Hudson remarried for the last time to hotel executive, Robert Mindall, which lasted until 1971. Aged in her 30’s and still itching for more acting roles, Hudson made the move to television featuring in episodes of The Racket Squad (1951), I’m the Law (1953) and co-starring in comedy series That’s My Boy (1954-55) alongside Gil Stratton and Eddie Mayehoff. Another memorable appearance would come the same year in 1955 with the 39 year old Hudson playing Natalie Wood’s mother in the cult classic Rebel Without a Cause.
Hudson in Rebel Without a Cause
After this role she decided to abandon the film industry first to run a 10,000 acre ranch in Arizona and later she moved back to her native Oklahoma to work for a Tulsa petroleum refinery. She returned to the film industry only for select film and television parts, retiring completely in 1967. She then made another career move beginning a successful real estate business in Palm Desert. In 1972, Hudson was discovered dead by a business associate in her home at the Palm Desert Country Club. Aged only 55, she died of a heart attack caused by a liver ailment. Hudson managed to fit a large amount into her short life from travel, marriages, acting, singing, dancing, business ventures and not to mention a bit of spy work. She was another remarkable element of the Precode era and, more correctly, the entirety of Hollywood’s Golden Age.  


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    I really enjoyed this great post on a fascinating lady. It's always a pleasure discovering hidden depths of people.

  2. Wasn't she also in Crawford's STRAIGHTJACKET in the 60's?

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