Friday, February 19, 2010


Andrew Davies and Andre Shafer’s Rock Hudson: Dark and Handsome Stranger has been screened at the Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama sidebar. Universal (gay) star Rock Hudson, one of the top box-office attractions in the United States in the 1950s and early 1960s, died of AIDS complications in his Beverly Hills home in 1985. As to be expected, Hudson lived a closeted life, briefly getting married to his agent’s secretary and brokering a deal with scandal sheet Confidential along the way.

Among Hudson’s best-known vehicles are Douglas Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession (1954) and All That Heaven Allows (1955), both with Jane Wyman; George Stevens‘ Giant (1956), in which he co-starred with Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean, and for which he received his only Academy Award nomination; Charles Vidor’s A Farewell to Arms (1957), with Jennifer Jones; Robert Mulligan’s Come September (1961), with Gina Lollobrigida; and his three pairings with Doris Day: Pillow Talk (1959), Lover Come Back (1961), and Send Me No Flowers (1964).

Hudson’s best notices were probably for his role as a man who gets a new identity in John Frankenheimer’s dark thriller Seconds (1966). On television, he had one big hit, the humorous crime series McMillan and Wife, opposite Susan St. James.

Rock Hudson: Dark and Handsome Stranger features several famous interviewees, including Elizabeth Taylor, Armistead Maupin, Paula Prentiss (Hudson’s co-star in Howard Hawks‘ Man’s Favorite Sport?), Linda Evans (Dynasty), and Heather Locklear (also Dynasty), in addition to Hudson’s assistant of ten years, Tom Clark.

Hudson’s last lover, Marc Christian, who won a lawsuit against the Hudson estate in the 1980s, died in June 2009. (Christian’s death was made public only later in the year.) In 1989, Christian was award $14.5 million in damages because Hudson had hidden from him the fact that he had AIDS. Christian didn’t acquire HIV from Hudson; a heavy smoker, he died of pulmonary problems.

The synopsis below is from the Berlin Film Festival website:

Rock Hudson was a dream of a man; the epitome of masculinity: tall, slim and muscular, with a deep, mellifluous voice. His glossy black hair, sparkling eyes, high cheek bones and sensuous lips made Rock Hudson one of the sexiest film stars that Hollywood has ever produced. Twenty-five years ago, shortly before his sixtieth birthday, Rock Hudson died of Aids-related illnesses. He was the first Hollywood celebrity to succumb to the acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

But who was Rock Hudson really? This documentary sheds light on a famous actor star who performed a clandestine balancing act between his private and public lives; between the heterosexual world of an extremely manly looking screen idol and a darker side of forbidden sexuality lived by a secretly gay man.

The film combines extensive archive material, trailers and excerpts from his films, but also photographs, footage from his private archive and interviews in order to commemorate Rock Hudson’s life and career. The filmmakers met up with the star’s childhood friends in his birthplace in Winnetka, Illinois, and went to New York and Los Angeles to conduct interviews about his Hollywood career. Rock Hudson’s close friends and confidantes – including best-selling author Armistead Maupin (Tales of the City), producer and director Stockton Briggle and PR manager Yanou Collart – all provide an insight into the life of a Hollywood legend.

Film historians Richard Dyer and Robert Hofler, author of the book The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson, as well as gossip columnist Rona Barrett also explain the way in which Hollywood’s star and studio systems function. In addition, actors Richard Anderson and Salome Jens as well as Leonard Stern, who produced a television series with Rock Hudson, all share their experiences of working with the star on set.

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