Rock Hudson: The Gentle Giant

Introduction

Why didn’t Rock tell me he had the virus? I might have been able to help. Improbable as it seems, right up to the very end he believed he would beat that thing. He wished to remain proud, brave, to hold his head up high for my sake. He did this by appearing in several episodes of Dynasty. I advised him to rest, but he reckoned working enabled him to forget the monster that was slowly devouring him. Rock Hudson was an exceptional man, one to whom I owe the most beautiful moments of my life.

This was Marc Christian (1953-2009), the last of Rock Hudson’s stereotyped lovers—with few exceptions his small army of conquests were big, blond, macho and muscular—addressing a live audience (by then not quite so ignorant of AIDS) on the French television programme Stars a la Barre, four years after the actor’s death from an AIDS-related illness.

At a press conference of 2 November 1985, however, just one month after Rock passed away, Christian’s attitude—and public opinion—had been less sympathetic. Then he had announced that he would be suing the Hudson estate, Rock’s manager and best friend Mark Miller, and two unnamed doctors for a staggering $14 million because, he claimed, they had conspired to endanger his life by keeping the true nature of Rock’s illness from him, whilst he and Rock had continued having unprotected sex.

There was outrage amongst both gay and anti-gay activists across the United States when Christian won his case—though not without a considerable reduction in damages after Rock’s lawyers launched a Pyrrhic appeal.

A surprisingly shy, sensitive and intensely private man, Rock gave but a handful of in-depth interviews, frequently vetted by him before being submitted for publication. I have drawn heavily on the original, unexpurgated conversations for this much-revised edition of Rock Hudson, published to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of his death—namely the ones with David Castell, Joan Mac Trevor, Gordon Gow, Gérard Néves and several others whom Rock was able to trust. These are to be found in the Bibliography. Of equal importance are the stark revelations of Sara Davidson and the now known to be extremely dubious ones of Rock’s “lavender” wife, Phyllis Gates.

On 24 August 1983, two years before his death, Rock came close to baring his soul when granting an unprecedented interview to Professor Ronald L Davis, Director of the Southern Methodist University of Dallas’ Oral History Collection of the Performing Arts. Being permitted to use these tapes freely was an enormous privilege, and large segments of the interviews form the series of statements and confessions accompanying my text. The tapes and transcripts of the interview are currently housed in the archives of the SMU’s DeGolyer Institute.

As an actor, few would deny that Rock Hudson’s abilities were limited in comparison with contemporaries such as Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, William Holden and even James Dean. Complex lengths of dialogue are said to have confused him, his emotional approach to a role was considerable but his intellectual standing during his formative years was virtually non-existent, and during his early films he frequently fluffed his lines, requiring many takes for the simplest scene. In addition, his on-screen movements were cumbersome, even wooden at times.

On the other hand, Rock was a consummate professional. There were no on-set tantrums or challenging of directors instructions, never any fights with co-stars making him not only a delight to work with but a joy to be around once the cameras stopped rolling. His most important quality, something that positively lights up the screen even in his most banal pictures, was his absolute, completely natural and limitless charisma.

   Now, as I did back in 2004 when I first published Rock’s exciting but ultimately tragic story, I leave the last word to my late friend Sheridan Morley, a hugely respected literary and theatrical figure who met Rock several times during his later years, and spoke to me of him with the utmost reverence:

 He had been programmed by the studios to be charming, but charm came naturally to          Rock Hudson. He really was the last of the great gentlemen stars, there’s absolutely no      doubting that. Rock Hudson wasn’t just a nice man—he was a very nice man.

 

This, then, is the story of that charming, very nice man.