“All That Heaven Allows: A Biography of Rock Hudson” by Mark Griffin— Remembering Rock

Griffin, Mark. “All That Heaven Allows: A Biography of Rock Hudson”, Harper, 2018.

Remembering Rock

Amos Lassen

It took a while but we finally have what is considered to be “the definitive biography of the deeply complex and widely misunderstood matinee idol of Hollywood’s Golden Age.” He was quite a man— beautifully handsome, broad, clean-cut. He was what represented the movies back then and we loved him. He was the “embodiment of romantic masculinity in American film” in the ‘50s and ‘60s”.

He was a fine actor and an Academy Award-nominated leading man. performances Hudson won acclaim for his performances in glossy melodramas like “Magnificent Obsession”, westerns like “Giant” and romantic comedies like “Pillow Talk”. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Hudson successfully moved to television and starred in the long-running series “McMillan & Wife” and had a recurring role on “Dynasty” and through them he met a whole new audience and generation. 

And it was onto only audiences who loved him; his colleagues did so as well. However that outward appearance hid his insecurities and conflicts. He grew up poor in Winnetka, Illinois, and was abandoned by his biological father, abused by an alcoholic stepfather, and controlled by his domineering mother. Even with obstacles that seemed to be insurmountable, Hudson was determined to become an actor at all costs. After signing with the powerful but predatory agent Henry Willson, he was transformed into “Universal Studio’s resident Adonis”. It was a different time back then—America was very conservative and the Hudson we saw on the screen was not the Hudson who was a closeted homosexual. Because of this and the fact that it is hard to keep secrets in Hollywood, Hudson was continually threatened with public exposure, not only by scandal sheets like “Confidential Magazine” but by a number of his own partners. For years, he dodged questions concerning his private life, but in 1985 the public learned that the actor was battling AIDS. Learning that such such a revered public figure had contracted the illness, the world became aware of the epidemic.

I have no own Rock Hudson story. When I lived in Israel, there were really no places for gay men to meet except for public parks. Hudson was in Tel Aviv preparing to film his last movie, “The Ambassador”. I came into the park and saw this very handsome man sitting on a bench and he looked very familiar to me. I am a shy guy so I did not approach him but waited till someone else did. This other person right away identified him and I realized who I was sitting close to. He was already sick by this time and while I would have loved something more intimate that an afternoon of coffee and chat, it was what I had. I suppose he felt that since the news about his sexuality was already out there that he could be who he was and go to the park. It was my luck to be there at the same time and Tel Aviv at that time having been a small and close gay community, everyone knew that I had spent the afternoon with the American movie star. (My mother could not wait to share this with her Mah Jong ladies.

Mark Griffin’s book draws on more than 100 interviews with co-stars, family members and former companions. “All That Heaven Allows” gives us a complete and nuanced portrait of one of the most fascinating stars in cinema history.

We get new details concerning Hudson’s troubled relationships with wife Phyllis Gates and boyfriend Marc Christian. For the first time there is an in-depth exploration of Hudson’s classic films. Griffin had unprecedented access to private journals, personal correspondence, and production files and he shares with us the idol whose life and death had a lasting impact on American culture.

This is more than just a book about one of the most determined and hard-working movie stars in the history of Hollywood, it is an in-depth look at America in the second half of the 20th Century.  Griffin did tremendous research and he brings together the American dream with tragedy. tragedy.  He reconstructs the charade that Hudson had to live because of his double life. The book shares  Hudson’s private life with great empathy. Hudson lived a double life in order to maintain his status as a movie star. Griffin’s sources are candid but credible and because of that this is a fascinating read. As a gay man, I had to live that way for several years and it is dishonest and it wears on us. We can only imagine how it affected Hudson as a person who was on stage every moment of his life.

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