Today most people remember Rock Hudson as the first famous person to be associated with AIDS. When he appeared on TV and in photos as a wan, dissipated, hollow version of his former self the world was alerted to the deadly disease.
Books could be, and have been, written about those times.
But now, after 35 years, let’s look not at Hudson’s life, but his career. And what a career it was. It could be said that he was probably the last Studio created Star. He signed with Universal in the days (the late 1940s) when talent was not as important as looks. And Roy Scherer had looks.
His agent, the famed Henry Willson, changed his name to Rock (after Gibraltar) Hudson (after the river). And the studio gave him acting, singing, dancing, riding and fencing lessons! And a chance to learn his trade. The story goes that he had one line in his first film, Fighter Squadron, and it took him 38 takes to deliver it.
Nevertheless, he was put into a half dozen other films. He played Arabs, cowboys, Indians, gangsters.
He got the build up in fan magazines. His billing started small but grew. By 1952 he was getting top billing. That year he worked with director Douglas Sirk for the first time in a comedy, Has Anybody Seen My Gal, produced by Ross Hunter. The trio would become big box office for the studio.
Then his Big Break. Hunter loved movies and knew old films that could be updated and remade. He chose the Irene Dunne/Robert Taylor vehicle, Magnificent Obsession and convinced Sirk to direct using Hudson and Jane Wyman. The film was a huge box office hit and catapulted Rock to stardom. He was a genuine matinee idol.
Sirk and Hunter followed Magnificent Obsession with All That Heaven Allows in 1956, re-teaming Hudson with Wyman. Then George Stevens requested Hudson for his big budget, sweeping saga, Giant. He not only received co-star billing with Elizabeth Taylor, but his acting abilities had improved enough for him to garner an Oscar nomination!