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All That Heaven Allows: A Biography of Rock Hudson

Review

All That Heaven Allows: A Biography of Rock Hudson

ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS does not hold back any punches. Those wishing to gain a greater understanding of Rock Hudson need look no further for insight regarding his tumultuous childhood, expansive career and controversial private life. Author Mark Griffin has certainly done his research, as we get an exhaustive insider’s look at the legendary actor and his journey in achieving the American Dream during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Hudson was born and raised in the picturesque town of Winnetka, Illinois, to a working class family. His parents --- Roy Scherer and Katherine Wood --- married a month after he was conceived, and rumor had it that Roy was not his biological father, but pictures revealing their resemblance might convince you otherwise. The birth of Hudson, born Roy Harold Scherer, Jr, was not an easy one. After hearing him squall with his first breath, his aunt --- a nurse who helped deliver him --- said she knew that he’d always be heard the rest of his life. And so it was.

Hudson’s youth is important when considering the course that history took. Apart from being an overbearing mother, Kay told her son that he ruined her body during childbirth, and he felt extreme guilt for it. Furthermore, during the Great Depression, Roy lost his job. Feeling useless, he abandoned his family and moved to the West Coast for better opportunities. However, family gossip had it that Hudson was the real reason his father left. Supposedly, Kay was too doting, ignoring her husband. Or was it the rumor that Hudson was not his biological child? Maybe all of this guilt was the reason that Hudson --- after discovering his favorite actors on the movie screen in town --- became determined to one day make a splash up there, bigger and better than anyone who had preceded him. Perhaps he wanted to be heard.

Yet Hudson would have to hide his true self for most of his life. After joining the armed forces, he decided to pursue acting and moved to Los Angeles. At first, he lived with his father, stepmother and adopted sister. When that didn’t work out, he got a job driving trucks to make ends meet. Sometimes he would stand outside of MGM’s gates hoping to be noticed. He was certainly not unaware of his good looks.

"ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS does not hold back any punches. Those wishing to gain a greater understanding of Rock Hudson need look no further for insight regarding his tumultuous childhood, expansive career and controversial private life."

Soon enough, he started dating broadcasting professional Kenneth Hodge, a sophisticated older man. Hodge took Hudson under his wing, molding him to become more refined and hosting parties in the hopes of introducing him to the right people. It was at one of these extravagant bashes that Hudson met his future agent, and the man who brought him out of obscurity --- the infamous Henry Willson --- but it did not come without a price. Even though Willson was one of Hollywood's top agents during that time, people described him as “repugnant” and “like the slime that oozed out from under a rock you did not want to turn over.”

Willson learned from his mentor David O. Selznick --- the producer of Gone with the Wind --- how to prey on hungry actors, trading film parts for sexual favors. Hudson and Willson’s relationship was both physical and professional. They used one another to climb the Hollywood ladder. Initially, though, as an untrained actor, Hudson struggled. He was almost fired by a major studio, and froze, not able to say a coherent word during the filming of his first movie. Still, Willson knew a money ticket when he saw one and did not give up. The shrewd agent was on to something, and Hudson became known as one of the greatest actors of all time.

Even though Hudson graced the pages of celebrity magazines thanks to his captivating looks, critics were not always kind to him and his films, and he had trouble getting good roles. The 1956 movie Giant changed all that, earning Hudson an Oscar nomination, but his career still had its ups and downs.

Audiences adored Hudson, but they wanted to know why he wasn’t married. Willson paid big money, and even threatened a few gossip columnists, so they would not publish articles revealing that Hudson was gay. If so, his career would be ruined as production companies would not hire him. He was constantly in the public eye, but the information revealed in magazines aimed to hide the truth. Publications showed him with beautiful actresses on his arm, saying they were girlfriends when they were just friends. Many of his public appearances with women were set-ups by Willson.

ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS reveals the truth about how celebrity gossip is manipulated by publicists, making us question what we know regarding celebrities today. Soon enough, the general public became so concerned with Hudson being a bachelor that he was coerced into marrying Willson’s secretary, Phyllis Gates, who later wrote a tell-all memoir bashing him, but her motives and stories are up for debate. Insiders said she did know Hudson was gay, and that she was a lesbian.

While filming various movies such as Pillow Talk and Giant, Hudson became great friends with Doris Day and Elizabeth Taylor. Mostly everyone he worked with adored him, saying he was generous, hilarious and kind. He helped everyone he could, and at one point wanted to adopt an orphan girl from Paris he met while on location. When told he could not, he donated a large sum of money to her school in the hopes of bettering her life.

Among Hudson’s boyfriends were Jack Coates and Tom Clark, who were loved by his friends. His latest relationship, however, turned out to be extremely volatile. Hudson fell for the much younger and also secretive Marc Christian due to his good looks and bright blond hair. But eventually he wanted nothing to do with the man, as he was extremely manipulative and ended up suing his estate.

Rock Hudson is noted as being one of the most influential AIDS patients ever. President Ronald Reagan, who sort of ignored the epidemic, changed his tune when he realized that Hudson, one of his friends, was sick. Due to his role in raising awareness for AIDS, a great deal of money was donated for research and to help care for those who were ill. A Christian woman once told Hudson that he had an important ministry to fulfill, one that would be bigger than all of his movies. And as he wrote in a statement read by Burt Lancaster at AIDS Project Los Angeles in 1985, "I am not happy that I am sick. I am not happy that I have AIDS. But if that is helping others, I can, at least, know that my own misfortune has had some positive worth."

Reviewed by Bianca Ambrosio on December 14, 2018

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

  • Publication Date: December 4, 2018
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0062408852
  • ISBN-13: 9780062408853