Rock Hudson: The Tale of Two Legacies
As I’m sure you are well aware, every month Turner Classic Movies celebrates a certain star from the classic era. For an entire month TCM dedicates their Thursday prime-time slot to one deserving star — and this month the honor goes to Rock Hudson. What I personally find so interesting about Hudson is that he is a star of two legacies. A man remembered first for his life and secondly for his death.
Publicity Photo of a young Rock Hudson
The first legacy of Rock Hudson is the one he worked for years to create: the true, blue all-American star of the 1950’s. Tall, ruggedly built with a perfectly sculpted jaw line and jet black hair, if Hudson were transposed to the Hollywood of today I have no doubt he would be cast as one of the many larger-than-life super heroes that inundate our screens. But Rock isn’t a star of today, and instead of building his acting career by simply being the manliest of men, he built his acting legacy with romance and comedy.
He displayed his flair for sentimental romanticism as the star-crossed lover, Ron Kirby, in the Douglas Sirk romantic melodrama All That Heaven Allows and subsequently worked with Sirk on two more great melodramas of the 1950s, Magnificent Obsession and Written on the Wind. Later in the decade, Hudson took a step back from the intensity of the melodrama and demonstrated his surprisingly strong command over comedy. In the late 1950s to the mid 1960s Hudson starred opposite Doris Day in some of the most beloved romantic comedies of all time, first in Pillow Talk, followed by the equally hilarious Lover Come Back, and Send Me No Flowers. Yes, at the peak of his career Hudson had created in himself the very image of the perfect male companion. Solid and strong while tender and caring; the very epitome of the man all the girls wanted to get and all the boys wanted to be. And it is this very image that makes his second legacy so ironic.
If Hudson is first remembered for how he lived, then he is also remembered for how he died. When Rock Hudson passed away on October 2nd, 1985, it made headlines. Yes, a major star of the American Cinema had passed away, but more paramount to the national discussion was that he had died of AIDS. The news was devastating, surprising, but most of all it was important. No major star before him had died of AIDS nor had any public figure even admitted to having the disease. Before his death the epidemic was seen as nothing more than that “degenerate gay disease,” something unworthy of public care or substantial funding. When Hudson admitted he contracted AIDS, he gave a familiar and beloved face to the horrible and deadly disease. He gave an apathetic nation a reason to care and educate themselves on a completely misunderstood condition. And this, in my opinion, is one of the bravest things he could have done. After his death, Americans finally began to take the threat of AIDS seriously and a true national discussion began to form. Funding and charity began to appear on the local, state, and national levels as awareness for AIDS began to rise. Thanks to the bravery of Rock Hudson, the ignorance surrounding this horrifying disease has been slowly chipped away and this change in public perception is what creates his second legacy.
So, let us celebrate the life of a man whose death irrevocably changed the world. Be sure to tune in every Thursday to spend the night with one of Hollywood bravest stars: Rock Hudson.
Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub