For reference and background on Wampas and the full listing of Babies, see my original post in this series.
Year that she was crowned: 1931
Baby who?: Rochelle Hudson was born March 6, 1916 in Oklahoma, but moved to California with her family when she was a child. 11 year old Rochelle got her entree to Hollywood by way of a voice test. Her childish timbre won her a voice acting part in a cartoon, but when puberty struck and her voice changed at age 13, she moved on to physical acting. She signed contracts first with Fox (who didn’t even put her in a movie) and then RKO studios where she was working in mostly uncredited roles when she was marked for Babydom.
Why could she have been picked by Wampas?: The year that she was named a Baby was the year that she made her first feature length film (she made one short in 1930). Though her initial studios didn’t seem to know what to do with her, there was clearly something there. Physically speaking, it’s a given why she was chosen. Looking at photos of her, it’s pretty difficult to find a flaw in the lovely face and 5’3 and 105 ib figure. In short, she was a looker. There was also a frequently acknowledged acting potential there. Many newspapers had her pegged for stardom.
Life after Babydom: She worked at RKO for about three years (between 1930-1933) in bit parts and uncredited roles before her option there was finally dropped. It was in a 1933 Will Rodgers movie for Fox, who had resigned her, that offered Rochelle her first big break. Her performance so impressed the Fox higher ups that they started throwing more roles her way. Until 1949, she worked steadily in a handful of memorable films and a host of B-movies. Her wide, sweet smile ensured that most of her roles were that of ingenue, sister, mother, daughter, or some lad’s wholesome sweetheart. She starred as Natalie Wood’s (character’s) mom in Rebel Without a Cause in 1955 and did some TV work before returning again to the screen in 1964 in the Joan Crawford thriller Strait-Jacket. She made only a couple more film appearances before retiring completely in 1967.
She left Hollywood initially because she “wanted to do things that weren’t in scripts, to see things besides sound stages and other actors, to go places besides location sites. So I took off.” She lived her dream and traveled across the United States and to Europe. Before her Strait-Jacket comeback, she ran a 10,000 acre cattle ranch in Arizona and taught rich business execs the basics of public speaking.
Rochelle, though apparently drawn in large part to acting, realized that there was a life outside of the screen. Several news articles mention her unaffected and innate sense of self and level headedness. “When she opens her mouth you’re confronted with honesty- in healthy doses,” wrote the Dayton Daily News. Not considered a party girl, she lived with her mother before marriage and never went to Hollywood parties, though she admittedly loved to dance.
An old soul at age 19, Rochelle was quoted in a 1935 article by Alice L. Tildesley: “Learn to distinguish between your really loyal friends and those who merely wish to bask in your sunshine. Cultivate friends outside the business who will keep you on your toes with fresh viewpoints.”
Rochelle was quoted in a 1935 article in the Dayton Daily News: “Men say they want clinging vines for wives, but I notice they are terribly impatient if their wives cannot cope with whatever situation comes up. Girls of this year cannot be shy violets. They are out of place. We need people who are not self-conscious, who are at ease and can make others feel so. You can’t be beautiful and dumb today.”
Speaking of wives, Rochelle was married (and divorced) 4 times. It is said that she and 2nd husband Harold Thompson, head of Disney’s Storyline Department, spied on German agents in Mexico for the United States during World War II.
She died in 1972 of a heart attack.
Best known for: Supporting roles in lasting hits such as She Done Him Wrong and Rebel Without a Cause.
How accurate was Wampas: 3/5. Though her career was not filled with many exclamation points, it was long and steady. When she retired from the screen, she had somewhere around 70 films under her belt. One could not call that an unsuccessful career, though it would be surprising to find anyone other than a dedicated film buff who would know her name today.
Zoe’s take: Rochelle Hudson missed her calling as a self help book author. Also, she had great teeth.
Liebman, Roy. The Wampas Baby Stars: a Biographical Dictionary, 1922-1934. McFarland, 2009.
Tildesley, Alice L. “Shall We Go in for Sophistication?” The Charleston Daily Mail, 15 Sept. 1935, p. 31.
Meehan, Jeannette. “Waited Six Years for Her Hollywood Break.” Dayton Daily News, 10 Nov. 1935, p. 37.