MORE THAN A HEART­THROB

Book re­flects on Hud­son’s star­dom, clos­eted love life

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Books - DOU­GLASS K. DANIEL

All That Heaven Al­lows: A Bi­og­ra­phy of Rock Hud­son Mark Grif­fin Harper

Had Rock Hud­son not died of AIDS in 1985, he might be best re­mem­bered as the most suc­cess­ful of the post­war male stars who got into the movies solely on their looks. He re­mained on the screen for decades be­cause of a lik­a­bil­ity that can’t be learned or man­u­fac­tured.

In­stead, Hud­son be­came the first celebrity to ac­knowl­edge that he suf­fered from the mys­te­ri­ous dis­ease that seemed to tar­get gay men. The po­ten­tially ca­reer-end­ing sex­ual se­cret he had pro­tected was all but con­firmed in the last months of his life.

Mark Grif­fin’s per­cep­tive and sym­pa­thetic bi­og­ra­phy All That Heaven Al­lows gives Hud­son, both the movie star and the man, the kind of re­assess­ment only time can al­low. He im­proved as an ac­tor yet never lost the fear that movie­go­ers would dis­cover their ideal lead­ing man was only play­ing a role.

While he needed time and ex­pe­ri­ence to hone his craft, pre­tend­ing for the cam­eras came easy to hand­some, Illinois-born Roy Fitzger­ald. Es­cap­ing re­al­ity at the Win­netka movie theatre was a must for the boy with an over­pro­tec­tive and dom­i­neer­ing mother, a fa­ther who walked out on the fam­ily, and a step­fa­ther who beat him. Child­hood friends re­mem­bered Roy for many of the same qual­i­ties that made him a favourite with fel­low ac­tors and film crews: dili­gence, gen­eros­ity, easy­go­ing charm and fun-lov­ing spirit.

Liv­ing a clos­eted life and try­ing to make it as an ac­tor only added to his in­se­cu­ri­ties. With his new name, Hud­son ap­peared in more than two dozen films un­der con­tract to Uni­ver­sal be­tween 1948 and 1954. Ea­ger to learn, he blos­somed un­der the direc­tion of Dou­glas Sirk, whose ro­man­tic tear-jerk­ers Mag­nif­i­cent Ob­ses­sion (1954) and All That Heaven Al­lows (1955) turned Hud­son into a heart­throb at 30.

With the hugely suc­cess­ful epic Gi­ant (1956), Hud­son was an Os­car-nom­i­nated ac­tor and soon Hol­ly­wood’s most pop­u­lar star.

Rou­tine dra­mas fol­lowed un­til 1959’s Pil­low Talk with Doris Day re­vealed Hud­son’s knack for light com­edy.

He re­mained an au­di­ence favourite for sev­eral more years de­spite undis­tin­guished movies. Imag­ine what might have been had Uni­ver­sal fol­lowed through on its orig­i­nal plan to cast Hud­son as lawyer At­ti­cus Finch in To Kill a Mock­ing­bird.

All the while Hud­son lived and loved on the down-low. A sham mar­riage around the time of Gi­ant quelled the gos­sip for a time. Pub­licly, he played along with the fan mag­a­zine im­age of the happy if lonely bach­e­lor try­ing to find the right woman when he was ac­tu­ally try­ing to find the right man. Promis­cu­ity and mean­ing­ful re­la­tion­ships marked his pri­vate life. Had Hud­son been a straight star, he may have been mar­ried sev­eral times and en­vied as a ladies’ man.

Grif­fin sug­gests that Hud­son’s bet­ter per­for­mances — the para­noia clas­sic Sec­onds (1966) be­ing one ex­am­ple — came with roles in which he could iden­tify with a char­ac­ter’s in­ter­nal tur­moil.

Wisely, the writer ex­plores Hud­son’s films and TV shows with­out try­ing to make them more than what they were: gen­er­ally av­er­age en­ter­tain­ment punc­tu­ated by oc­ca­sional hits and many, many misses. (TV’S Mcmil­lan & Wife re­sus­ci­tated his flag­ging ca­reer in the 1970s.) Like most other ag­ing stars, Hud­son strug­gled to find good roles as the wrin­kles ap­peared. Al­co­hol and cig­a­rettes took a toll on his health long be­fore the AIDS di­ag­no­sis.

Given his gen­er­a­tion’s in­tense ho­mo­pho­bia and the 1950s Com­mu­nist witch hunt that ru­ined so many ca­reers, it’s un­der­stand­able that Hud­son didn’t want to risk ev­ery­thing as a gay-rights pioneer.

But he was in­dis­creet enough that his se­cret was widely known or as­sumed in Hol­ly­wood and else­where (FBI and po­lice files sug­gest as much). He oc­ca­sion­ally heard gay ep­i­thets tossed his way, even when he at­tended the Los An­ge­les premiere of Ice Sta­tion Ze­bra (1968).

Grif­fin’s in­ter­views and cor­re­spon­dence with many of Hud­son’s co-stars — among them Carol Bur­nett and fre­quent costar Doris Day — and many of his lovers show how pro­tec­tive they were of their warm, loyal friend.

Had he lived into the next cen­tury, the aban­doned and abused boy from Win­netka might have dis­cov­ered a pub­lic ready to root for him to be who he re­ally was.

UNI­VER­SAL PIC­TURES

Rock Hud­son, pic­tured with Doris Day in Lover Come Back (1961), hid be­ing gay dur­ing his ca­reer, a time of in­tense ho­mo­pho­bia.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Doris Day and Rock Hud­son were fre­quent co-stars, work­ing to­gether in sev­eral rom-coms in the 1950s and 1960s.

UNI­VER­SAL PIC­TURES

Doris Day and Rock Hud­son share some ban­ter in Pil­low Talk (1959), one of sev­eral rom-coms in which they starred to­gether.

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