Gay actor Rock Hudson was not…
It’s surprising that back in the mid-1980s some people were surprised to learn that Rock Hudson was gay, when the star of Magnificent Obsession, Giant, and the television series McMillan & Wife became the best-known person with AIDS in the world. After all, since I was a little kid I’d heard stories about Hudson’s sexual orientation.
Looking at the above photograph, today’s jaded crowd will surely assert that it’s totally obvious that Rock Hudson was gay – even if there’s nothing “obvious” about Hudson’s sexual orientation in the photo. The guy just looks like a man – gay, straight, anything in between – doing his best to appear classy, or at least what used to pass for classy.
Rock Hudson may not have been all that convincing as a “classy” type à la Cary Grant. Although I’ve always enjoyed Hudson in his comedies with Doris Day, he invariably comes across as an actor – however likable – playing the role of suave seducer. (See “Doris Day: Rock Hudson Remembered“.)
On the other hand, I’ve always found Rock Hudson fully believable in rugged roles, such as his gardener romancing middle-class widow Jane Wyman in Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows and, especially, his Texan rancher in George Stevens’ Giant, married to Elizabeth Taylor while competing with James Dean.
Rock Hudson photo
Now, I should add that the above photo is from the August 1967 issue of Movie Life magazine. But more importantly, you ask, What was Rock Hudson not?
Well, the answer, as per Movie Life, is the following: Regardless of what people say, Hudson was not “Going to the Dogs.” The magazine wasn’t referring to his film career; the promo piece featured eight photos of the actor and his canine pals.
The end of Rock Hudson’s stardom
In truth, by the late ’60s Hudson’s movie stardom, despite a well-received “serious” role in John Frankenheimer’s 1966 thriller Seconds, was headed straight to the kennel. Think A Fine Pair, Hornet’s Nest, and Blake Edwards’ box office disaster Darling Lili, which all but ruined Julie Andrews’ film career.
The television series McMillan & Wife, co-starring Susan Saint James, boosted Hudson’s popularity in the early ’70s, but only on the small screen. He was never to star in another major motion picture – unless, that is, you’d call Pretty Maids All in a Row, Embryo, Avalanche, and The Mirror Crack’d grade-A productions.
At the age of 59, Rock Hudson died of AIDS complications on October 2, 1985.
Rock Hudson documentary
Andrew Davies and Andre Shafer’s Rock Hudson: Dark and Handsome Stranger was screened in the 2010 Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama sidebar. Universal star Rock Hudson, one of the top box office attractions in the United States in the 1950s and early 1960s, died of AIDS complications in his Beverly Hills home in 1985. Hudson, who was gay, lived a closeted life; he was briefly married to his agent’s secretary and reportedly managed to broker a deal with scandal sheet Confidential when the gossip rag threatened to expose him.
Among Hudson’s best-known vehicles are Douglas Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession (1954) and All That Heaven Allows (1955), both co-starring Jane Wyman; George Stevens’ Giant (1956), in which Hudson’s co-stars were Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean, and for which he received his only Best Actor Academy Award nomination; Charles Vidor’s poorly received but highly popular A Farewell to Arms (1957), with Jennifer Jones; Robert Mulligan’s Come September (1961), with Gina Lollobrigida; and his three pairings with Doris Day: Pillow Talk (1959), Lover Come Back (1961), and Send Me No Flowers (1964).
Hudson’s best notices were probably for his role as a man who gets a new identity and a series of new problems in John Frankenheimer’s dark thriller Seconds (1966). The film, however, was a box office disappointment.
On television, Hudson had one big hit: the humorous crime series McMillan and Wife, opposite Susan Saint James.
Rock Hudson: Dark and Handsome Stranger features several famous interviewees, including Elizabeth Taylor, Paula Prentiss (Hudson’s co-star in Howard Hawks’ Man’s Favorite Sport?), and Dynasty‘s Linda Evans and Heather Locklear, in addition to Hudson’s assistant of ten years, Tom Clark.
In 1989, Hudson’s last lover, Marc Christian, won a lawsuit against the Hudson estate. Christian was awarded $14.5 million in damages because Hudson had hidden from him the fact that he was HIV-positive. Christian didn’t acquire HIV from Hudson; a heavy smoker, he died of pulmonary problems in June 2009.
Photo: Courtesy of the Berlin Film Festival
The synopsis below of Andrew Davies and Andre Shafer’s Rock Hudson: Dark and Handsome Stranger is from the Berlin Film Festival website:
Rock Hudson was a dream of a man; the epitome of masculinity: tall, slim and muscular, with a deep, mellifluous voice. His glossy black hair, sparkling eyes, high cheek bones and sensuous lips made Rock Hudson one of the sexiest film stars that Hollywood has ever produced. Twenty-five years ago, shortly before his sixtieth birthday, Rock Hudson died of Aids-related illnesses. He was the first Hollywood celebrity to succumb to the acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
But who was Rock Hudson really? This documentary sheds light on a famous actor star who performed a clandestine balancing act between his private and public lives; between the heterosexual world of an extremely manly looking screen idol and a darker side of forbidden sexuality lived by a secretly gay man.
The film combines extensive archive material, trailers and excerpts from his films, but also photographs, footage from his private archive and interviews in order to commemorate Rock Hudson’s life and career. The filmmakers met up with the star’s childhood friends in his birthplace in Winnetka, Illinois, and went to New York and Los Angeles to conduct interviews about his Hollywood career. Rock Hudson’s close friends and confidantes – including best-selling author Armistead Maupin (Tales of the City), producer and director Stockton Briggle and PR manager Yanou Collart – all provide an insight into the life of a Hollywood legend.
Film historians Richard Dyer and Robert Hofler, author of the book The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson, as well as gossip columnist Rona Barrett also explain the way in which Hollywood’s star and studio systems function. In addition, actors Richard Anderson and Salome Jens as well as Leonard Stern, who produced a television series with Rock Hudson, all share their experiences of working with the star on set.
Photo: Courtesy of the Berlin Film Festival
Note: This synopsis of Rock Hudson: Dark and Handsome Stranger was initially posted in Feb. 2010.