From the mid-1950s and for the next 20 years, Rock Hudson (November 17, 1925 – October 2, 1985) was probably the most famous (and for some of that time, the most popular) movie star in the world. Incredibly tall (6’5″) and impossibly handsome, Rock starred in some of the biggest hit films of that era: GIANT with Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean (he and Dean hated each other); comedies such as PILLOW TALK, LOVER COME BACK and SEND ME NO FLOWERS all with Doris Day (and they loved each other), and such popular weepies as WRITTEN ON THE WIND, MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION and ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS.
In truth, most of Rock’s films (and performances) were less than stellar, and many critics found his acting ability limited, but his good looks and general charm outshone most of the movies, and audiences responded in droves. It has been said that when filming his first movie, it took 38 takes to get his one line right. He gradually learned to relax on screen as the years went on, and he developed a lighter, easier touch, particularly in his comedies with Ms. Day.
Behind his iconically handsome facade was one of the most famously closeted actors in Hollywood: Rock was gay, and his management went to great pains to hide this from the general population. Rock was convinced to marry his agent’s secretary, in an effort to quell the rumors, but the marriage didn’t take and ended quickly. As films and audience tastes began to change in the late 60s, Rock found his film choices becoming slimmer, so when TV beckoned, he became one of the highest-paid actors in history in the popular series MCMILLAN AND WIFE.
Oddly enough, Rock’s place in history will probably be based more on his eventual illness and death from AIDS. Shortly before he died, he admitted publicly to the disease, and it made worldwide headlines. Although many gay men had already died from AIDS-related deaths by 1985, Rock’s passing was a milestone in the fight against the disease, and many celebrities, chief among them Elizabeth Taylor, took up the cause, and star-studded benefits for many gay and AIDS-related organizations were held all over the world. Rock became a reluctant but certifiable “hero” in a way that he never would have dreamed of. After his constant struggle to keep his private life private, his death brought a world-famous face to a worldwide health crisis and changed it forever.
So a toast today to Rock Hudson, truly one of the biggest film stars of his day, and always remembered here at Chelsea Pines.