#ClassicFilmReading: All That Heaven Allows: A Biography of Rock Hudson by Mark Griffin

If you've spent any time on this blog, you'll know that I have a special place in my heart for Rock Hudson. After reading his biography, I'm happy to report that those feelings didn't change. 

This is my second book for Raquel Stecher's Summer Reading Challenge (you can read my review of Ann-Margret's autobiography here!). Other books I plan to read this summer star Natalie Wood, Spencer Tracy, Lauren Bacall and Ava Gardner, so stay tuned. 

But getting back to Rock Hudson... 

All That Heaven Allows: A Biography of Rock Hudson is anything but sensational about a man whose existence rocketed Hollywood, especially towards the end of his life, when he became the first major movie star, or public figure, for that matter, to reveal that he had been diagnosed with AIDS.

What I was struck by is how restrained of a person he was. In reading this biography, it became very apparent that, for as much as he wanted to be a big star, he was also super shy, restrained, and not willing to rock (heh) the boat in his quest to get there. The biggest show of emotion from him for the first half of this book is his reaction to the news that Universal was considering letting him go and he went to the head honcho's office to plead for another chance. 

I'm always fascinated by the stories of how classic Hollywood stars got their start in Hollywood, and Rock's is pretty funny: he parked a delivery truck outside the studio gates in the hopes that he'd be spotted, Lana Turner (mythically)-style and given a contract. 

There isn't so much of a focus on his films, though, so if you're reading and hoping for in-depth reviews of any of Rock's films, or his thoughts while filming each, be forewarned: some aren't even mentioned, and others are rushed over quickly. It's mainly the bigger films he made that merit mentions, like Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven AllowsGiant, Pillow Talk, and his early '60s work.

As his career started to decline towards the end of the decade, there's more of a focus on the films he made to try and salvage his career, like Pretty Maids All in a Row (which I watched last year during Rock's Summer Under the Stars day, and man... that's all I've got to say) and Seconds, which I haven't seen but sounds like a trip that gained a cult following in the last couple of decades. 

There's also focus on McMillan & Wife, a television series he starred in, and his foray into television movies; but I get the sense that Rock wasn't particularly excited about this stage of his career, and honestly, if you were the top box office draw for a stretch of years, would you be excited that your career had gone to television? 

Throughout it all, Rock's personal life is woven into the story. How, as a closeted gay man, he kept his relationships secret, but had a pretty large support network of friends who were also gay and/or kept his secret for him (though, as his career progressed, it seemed to become less and less a secret and more of an open secret). How he found his partners and lost them, how he had to live a secretive life in the shadows and could never truly be free to live out in the open, and that's probably the greatest tragedy of his life, in my opinion. 

It's true for Rock and it's true for anyone who was forced to be closeted in that (or any) era, that they couldn't live openly and authentically. And for all the ways he could have romantic relationships away from the cameras, God...how tragic for him and every gay person who had to come up with elaborate ruses to hide any part of their lives like that. 

For many, this was the man that gave them a reason to care about fighting this epidemic. It's certainly where Elizabeth Taylor got her inspiration (Mark Griffin also notes that she had two personal assistants who'd been diagnosed with AIDS as well, but certainly Rock pushed her to make this her personal cause). I was born in 1987, so I missed this scare era, but it's an utter travesty what happened to a generation of gay men because the world's governments couldn't be bothered to care what happened to them until HIV/AIDS began showing up in straight people or little kids. Even one of Rock's friends, Ronald Reagan, couldn't be bothered to help him out in his dying days. 

It was a tragedy for Rock; a tragedy for every person diagnosed at a time when those in power couldn't care less about what happened to them; a tragedy for the rest of us, because think of what we've missed out on. Who knew if Rock had a comeback in him. Now we'll never know what he could have achieved if those in power had acted sooner to study this illness and slow it down. 

We also learn about Rock's legacy, in that he became a celebrity face of the AIDS crisis and his diagnosis caused Hollywood to reexamine itself, not just in its people, but also the way they filmed movies (kissing scenes were reexamined, consent became a major element for actors and actresses). His death also sparked a lawsuit from his last partner, Marc Christian, who sued his estate for 'intentional infliction of emotional distress' for keeping Rock's diagnosis from him. Accounts differ on how much Christian knew at the time, but he was eventually granted $5 million. 

Overall, I enjoyed this biography of a complex man who mastered Hollywood while living so much of his life in the shadows. If you're a fan of Rock Hudson, I think you'll enjoy this biography. It gives a fuller picture, as full as we'll get, of the inner life of Rock, from his own words and the words of close friends who knew him best. 

PS. Apparently just before he died, there were talks of a Pillow Talk sequel that would see Rock and Doris Day divorced but their daughter is marrying Tony Randall's son and they'd be reunited during the wedding planning. As much as I hate the idea of Brad and Jan divorced, man, I wish we'd gotten this movie! 


  1. Gosh I love Rock Hudson! Thank you for this review. I definitely have to check this out. And my jaw dropped: A Pillow Talk sequel?! Oh how I wish that had happened ::cries::


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