For those too young to remember him, Rock Hudson was a huge movie star in the 50s and 60s. Born in 1935 he went to Hollywood after serving in the US Airforce during World War II and was discovered by an agent, who groomed him for the film business. Well over 6 feet tall and stunningly good looking, he was the perfect heterosexual woman’s dream man for the period.
Except Rock Hudson was gay – a fact which only emerged publicly during the AIDS epidemic in the eighties. He died of the disease in 1985 – the first major celebrity to fall victim. Hudson was not unusual in being gay. Much of Hollywood of the 50s and 60s was rampantly homosexual and everyone in the business knew the truth but the movie publicity machine kept it out of the press.
In the film we learn about the agent who groomed Hudson, and was also one of his lovers. The agent even arranged for a sham marriage to his secretary for the star to keep the rumours at bay. Hudson’s close friends and lovers reminisce with great affection about the man they knew and the all male pool parties they enjoyed together – nothing that would shock today’s more open society but would have been scandalous at the time. All this is interspersed with “beefcake” shirtless studio portraits and film clips illustrating Hudson’s professional face, including his first big hit Magnificent Obsession opposite Jane Wyman; a series of saucy for the times romantic comedies with Doris Day and Giant, the film which earned Oscar nominations for him and James Dean (also a closeted gay man) and created his close friendship with Elizabeth Taylor – a relationship which was to be a source of support in the sad last act of his life.
In contrast to the earlier material, which is pretty light hearted, as now elderly men reminisce about their enjoyable and sexy younger days, when we are reminded of the AIDS epidemic, the terrible toll it took and the bigoted reaction of the straight world, Hudson’s story becomes dark drama. Again the truth was kept hidden for as long as possible, with the press remarking on how thin and ill Hudson was looking. But he kept on working while he could, including his role in the television series Dynasty, involving a romantic scene with Linda Evans, which caused outbursts of self righteous outrage in the press, when his illness was finally revealed.
One of the contributors to this last act is Tales of the City author Armistead Maupin, who was a close friend of Hudson and who recalls advising the star to come out as gay before his illness would force the truth into the open.
So this is Rock Hudson – the true story of Roy Fitzgerald, a gay man who played the role in public of sexy, manly movie star Rock Hudson for nearly all his adult life. And it’s a very good story. Would make a good feature film one day as well. The gay life of Hollywood that the fans of that bigoted period never knew about.
ROCK HUDSON: ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWED is available on digital platforms from 23rd October.