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Rock Hudson, Marshall Field's, and the Father of Gay Chicago

The "founding father of gay Chicago" documents a one-time sexual encounter with movie star Rock Hudson

In the 1940s, Chicago department store Marshall Field & Co. was known as a gay cruising ground. At least that's how author Justin Spring describes it in his book on Chicago cult artist and writer Samuel Steward: Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade (2011).

As Spring's book title suggests, Samuel Steward was, first, a popular professor. He taught English at DePaul University and Loyola University. He also wrote and published literary fiction and gay pulp fiction.

Second, Steward moonlighted as a tattoo artist under the name Phil Sparrow. That's how he was known to the Hell's Angels who befriended him.

Finally, Steward was a relatively open gay man during an era when homosexuality could mean jail time. He documented all of his intimate encounters, including those with Thornton Wilder, Rudolph Valentino, and Rock Hudson. Hence, Spring's nickname for him: the "founding father of gay Chicago."

book cover
Justin Spring's book on Steward, published 2011.

During the 1946 Christmas season, Samuel Steward worked in the bookstore at Marshall Field's, which he describes as "a howling madhouse, a lunatic Sabbath, and a frenzied nightmare of females and squalling brats." (Yikes.)

While working at Field's, one day, Steward took interest in a handsome, young male employee wrapping presents. After confirming from his (gay) boss that the handsome fellow was indeed "a club member," Steward approached.

A conversation ensued. Shortly thereafter, the two men nonchalantly boarded the store's freight elevator, stopped it between floors, and engaged in a quick sexual encounter. That is, of course, according to Steward's "stud file," a metal box containing index cards that recount in detail all of his sexual relationships.

In any event, the Marshall Field's gift-wrapper was named Roy Fitzgerald. Within a few months, Fitzgerald would leave his department store post—and his hometown of Winnetka, IL—for a remarkable career in Hollywood as Rock Hudson.

Man in suit
Rock Hudson, Photoplay, January 1955.


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