A Brief Note on Rock Hudson
Rock Hudson’s great fear at the end of his life was that he would be more remembered as the man who brought AIDS out of the closet, so far as the larger public was concerned, than for his career as a top movie and TV star. Unfortunately he was right. When he is remembered it is mostly for the former rather than the latter. And of course his revelation about contracting AIDS did and still has some positive effects on both the public’s awareness of the disease and the financial support that has gone into trying to find a cure for it… But it shouldn’t be forgotten that for almost two decades (the 1950s and 60s) Rock Hudson was one of Hollywood’s most proficient and reliable leading men. For me it began with the western The Lawless Breed (1953), Raoul Walsh’s bio of the outlaw John Wesley Hardin. Then of course there was George Stevens’ Giant (1956) the film that moved Hudson into the upper echelons of major screen stardom. Before that there was Douglas Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession (1954) and one of my favorite trash movies of all time Written on the Wind (1956) also directed by Douglas Sirk. In all of those films and others Hudson provided a rock solid center for the plot and all the other characters to revolve around. He might not have been a great actor but he was never a weak or poor one and was always a reassuring presence in all his films including the comedies with Doris Day like Pillow Talk (1959) and the others that followed…Take Giant for example. It is always being talked about because of James Dean’s eccentric performance. And the performance is unique as well as eye catching. But to me it seems to belong to another picture. The true anchors of the film are Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. I think that they both carry the story so well that without them the film would be almost negligible in spite of Stevens’ direction or Dean’s performance. That’s how good they are and how necessary their performances and personas were to the film.
Beyond that Hudson provided some other strong performances in films like; Something of Value (1957), A Farewell to Arms (1957),A Gathering of Eagles (1963), Seconds (1966), Billionaire Howard Hughes’ favorite film Ice Station Zebra (1968) and my personal favorite The Tarnished Angels (1958) in which Hudson gives his most subdued and subtle performance.
The term “leading man” doesn’t carry much weight these days. But in the days of the Studio System it referred to an actor who was able to sustain the viewer’s interest for the duration of the running time of a picture. Many tried but few would succeed over an extended amount of time. The ones who did became “over- the- title” stars, the others became supporting players and character actors. Rock Hudson, born Roy Harold Scherer Jr. who then became Roy Fitzgerald before acquiring his screen name from agent Henry Wilson, was one of the ones who rose to the top. He remained a leading man right to the end of his career and provided American movies with one of its best all-purpose leads for men to identify with and woman to sigh about. His contributions shouldn’t be forgotten or undervalued. From genre to genre, westerns to comedies, musicals to melodramas, war pictures to mysteries along with science fiction and social problem dramas he was a leading man for all seasons.